How Weis' New Staff Will Operate
Charlie Weis will serve as his own offensive coordinator and will call plays for Notre Dame next season. Although not unexpected, that was the first bit of news to come out of the first interview session with the Irish coach since Signing Day.
Does that mean he will call plays from the coaching booth, as he did during Notre Dame's 49-21 win over Hawaii, or from the sideline, as he has done throughout his career?
"My wife asked me that, as well," Weis said, laughing. "That's no kidding. She asked me the same question.
"I can tell you that it's a subject we've addressed as a staff. Although I'd say it's definitely on the lower end of fifty-fifty, it's not something that's a five-percent consideration by us at this point. ... I can honestly tell you it's not a no. ... My wife will be very happy that you asked me that question."
Weis had more to say about the pros and cons of a head coach calling plays from the booth as opposed to the sideline, which has been a hot-button topic among Irish faithful since his bum knees forced him to call plays from the booth against Hawaii.
Was it just a coincidence that they all seemed to work?
"You can see it happen before it happens, whereas on the field you can't see it happen before it happens," Weis said when asked to explain the difference. "Therein lies the best advantage of being upstairs. Downstairs is more practical as the head coach. Upstairs is more practical as the offensive coordinator. So the question becomes, which one wins out?"
Weis also acknowledged that he had discussed the possibility of recently fired Cleveland Browns' coach Romeo Crennel, Weis' buddy from their days together in New England, joining his staff as a defensive line coach, which had been widely reported.
It won't happen, at least not this year, which means Weis is expected to make the last addition to his staff sometime next week.
Weis explained the many changes to his coaching staff on a day when several of his recently hired assistants, including former Irish All-American Bryant Young, were made available to the media.
As has been discussed here before, it makes sense that Weis would want to take on these responsibilities himself. This team will be defined by its offense, and that offense has struggled mightily the past two seasons. This is a make-it-or-break-it year for Weis. If you were in his shoes, wouldn't you want to be calling the shots yourself?
"I thought the best chance for us to win this year would be to make me the offensive coordinator," he said.
Several of his assistants will have to buy bigger wallets to haul around the poster-sized business cards required to print their new titles. Consider:
Former title: Defensive coordinator/defensive backs
New title: Associate head coach/ co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach
As associate head coach, Brown will take on more of an administrative role while also communicating the defensive game plan to Weis, who will be spending less time with the defense and special teams as the returns his focus to offense. Brown will not, however, call defensive plays like he did last season. That falls to Jon Tenuta (see below).
If Weis decides to call plays from the booth, it will be Brown who would assume game management duties on the sideline, which means he would communicate with officials and oversee substitutions, etc.
Brown was out of town and unavailable for comment Friday but released a statement through a team spokesperson.
"Last year game planning was a collaborative effort and that won't change this year," Brown said in the statement. "The only thing that will be different is that Jon will call the plays on Saturday but I view this as a tremendous opportunity for me."
Former title: Wide receivers/recruiting coordinator
New title: Assistant head coach for offense/recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach
Weis will be the primary game-planner, obviously, while Ianello will be "a sounding board for the offense when I'm not there," according to Weis.
That means he'll be in charge of teaching recently hired assistants Frank Verducci and Tony Alford the offense and likely being a buffer between Weis and offensive players.
Former title: Assistant head coach (defense)/linebackers
New title: Assistant head coach for defense/defensive coordinator and linebackers coach
Tenuta will call all the defensive plays. Some terminology will change. For example, the Irish went to a 3-4 defense last season although they spent most of their time in a 4-3 configuration once the season began. Tenuta is a 4-3 guy, which means there will be some minor wrinkles. The defense will be as aggressive as ever. That's Tenuta's style. Fans probably won't notice whatever subtle changes occur.
The veteran defensive coordinator had this to say about linebacker Manti Te'o, the linebacker from Punahou High in Honolulu who was the star of Notre Dame's recruiting class.
"He's one of the most dominant guys I've seen coming into any program I've been at," Tenuta said. "The only player I've seen similar to him was Andy Katzenmoyer at Ohio State."
Brian Polian (special teams coordinator), Bernie Parmalee (tight ends coach), Ron Powlus (quarterbacks coach) and Kinnon Tatum (defensive intern) will remain in their current roles.
The four new hires that Weis introduced Friday were:
FRANK VERDUCCI: Running game coordinator/offensive line coach
A veteran offensive line coach at the college and NFL levels, and the son and nephew of New Jersey high school coaching icons, Verducci has the toughest assignment on this staff. It's his job to revive a running game that has ranked among the nation's worst the past two seasons.
"I've done a lot of study on our football team and where our football team is at this point in comparison to BCS championship caliber teams, and we're a distant trailer, in the run game in particular," Weis said. "I felt that with me being the coordinator I needed somebody to put the emphasis on the run game."
Notre Dame averaged 3.27 yards per carry last season. According to Weis' research, national championship caliber teams average 4.6 or more.
"That's 1.3 yards per carry," Weis said. "We're not talking half a yard now. That's obviously an area of concern on my part, and an area that I think has to drastically improve if we're going to play championship caliber football."
Weis said an outsider such as Verducci, who was most recently with the Browns, can be more objective when evaluating the running game than someone already in place.
"Sometimes when you're looking at your own stuff you say, 'If the running back would've cut there we would've had a couple more yards. If that guy would have blocked that we would've had a couple more yards,'" Weis said. "But they didn't. The bottom line is whether they do or they don't."
Verducci said he will demand that linemen give maximum effort, are technically sound and have awareness of the offensive scheme and play as well as the opposing defense.
He wouldn't go into much detail about what he thought had gone wrong in the past, but he did say that the problems he saw with the running game were "correctable."
"Blocking is blocking," he said. "It still comes down to the fundamentals of playing the position and excelling at the fundamentals of the game."
Verducci said the tape of his linemen on the field serves as his resume.
"I'm an optimist by nature," he said. "I tend to accentuate the positive and as a first impression I've seen nothing that would convince me otherwise. I have to rely on what I see on tape. It's their resume as well. The deficiencies I see are correctable."
TONY ALFORD: Running backs coach:
Alford is a veteran running backs coach who most recently had the same role at Louisville. He said he liked the talent he saw on the roster and is looking forward to recruiting with an "ND on my shirt."
"My job is not to keep them happy," he said when asked how he will juggle six halfbacks looking for carries next season. "That's not what I was hired to do. Our job is to win football games."
BRYANT YOUNG: Defensive graduate assistant:
It even feels weird typing that title behind the long-time NFL stalwart's name.
"I'm in awe" the former ND All-American defensive lineman said while looking out at the assembled media. "Do all graduate assistants get this much attention?"
Only the ones who were four-time Pro Bowlers.
Young turned down an offer from the 49ers, his long-time NFL employer, because he preferred the idea of coaching on the college level and because he and his wife, who is also a Notre Dame graduate, love the university.
Young spent a year traveling before deciding he wanted to pursue coaching full time.
"The more I looked at business opportunities, it didn't fire me up like coaching did and working with young men," he said. "That's the thing that never really went away. This is something I have a passion for. ... I want to be able to share what I know and give back to the game."
Weis wants Young to eventually become the program's defensive line coach but first has to make sure that Young enjoys coaching and is an effective teacher. With Crennel out of the picture, Weis is expected to hire a defensive line coach to mentor Young next week.
In the meantime, he will continue to ponder the question of whether he will call plays from above or from the sideline.
Weis was hobbled after blowing out his knee after being hit by a player on the sideline during the second game of the season. Weis has undergone successful surgery on one of his knees already, and said that a second surgery on the other knee has been postponed.
He also said his wife's desire for him to call plays from the coaches' booth has nothing to do with him avoiding another sideline injury.
"I don't think she's worrying about my health," Weis said. "She just wants to win football games. She's like every other fan. What have you done for me lately?"
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