SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- If this were, say, Boise State, the Broncos would be on the rebound.
But Boise State doesn't pay its coach $3 million per year or award extensions after seven games, or have its own network.
|Weis admits the Irish had problems mixing veterans with freshmen like Jimmy Clausen. (Getty Images)|
The truth is Notre Dame football is nearing a crossroads. After a 3-9 season, there are a lot of positive vibes, but everyone from Kevin White to the leprechaun knows what happens on the field is all that matters.
As always, Charlie Weis is willing to talk about it. Notre Dame's coach sat down earlier this week with CBSSports.com for 40 minutes to discuss a wide range of subjects. Basically, we wanted to know where the program was headed.
Give Weis credit. Standing pat is not his style. As you will see in the Q&A below, he read the riot act to his staff but did not fire any of them. He gave up play-calling and decided to delegate duties. It's what good head coaches do. Backed into a corner, he intends to come out fighting in 2008. The schedule is friendlier. The roster, while young, should be easier to manage. There was a clear gap between the young players and the veterans last season.
A Boise State can rebound, go to a bowl and be good again. Weis and Notre Dame, though, have to be more than good.
(Note: The questions were asked in this order. They were not re-arranged.)
Q: So what is the quarterback situation with another blue chipper (Dayne Crist) coming in?
A: "In the ideal world -- forgetting about who is the starting quarterback -- the two guys you already have here (Jimmy Clausen, Evan Sharpley) play and that guy (Crist) doesn't play.
"That's one of the scenarios. ... At the same time, the kid is too good to not come in here and give him an opportunity to compete to see if he can go from here all the way to the top. At least give him the opportunity.
"Especially last year, we had so much uncertainty at the quarterback position right to the start of the season, actually into the season as well. We're not in that boat anymore. Jimmy knows he's No. 1. Evan knows he's No. 2 and Dayne knows he's walking in No. 3.
Q: Handing over the play-calling duties must have been like cutting off a limb for you.
A: "It was probably one of the tougher things I've had to do in coaching ...
"Once we got eliminated from bowl contention, I knew I had this block of time that was already pegged for bowl practices. I figured, how am I going to use this time ... what might I put in its place? It gave me a chance to go back to February of 2005 right until the current time. When I walked in the door I was running and really haven't slowed down.
"I got through the first couple of years OK then (we) had a huge drop-off in Year 3. It is what it is. There's no sense trying to hide it, trying to pretend.
"I've filled up boards as big as those two boards (in the conference room) with things that needed to be addressed. One of them was: How do you become the best head coach?
"Obviously, I didn't come here to not win. Obviously, I didn't come here to not be successful. ... (My conclusion was), 'Well, really you're only involved in half the team right now. You're head coach of the defense but you're very seldom around them.'
"I'm trying to look through the eyes of the players. I believed that since we were playing so many young guys who didn't really know me, the players, when they made a mistake, were more concerned with getting yelled at than letting the team down.
"Until you get the players more concerned with letting the team down when they make a mistake you can't solve the problems. I said, 'Well, I have to change how I'm doing it.'
"I always want to make sure I'm involved with developing the quarterback. That's one of the things I do well. I always want to be involved with the schematics of the passing game. (But) if you're going to call the game you have to be in there from the beginning of the game plan until game day. You have to be in there all the time. I really don't think that coincides with being a good head coach."
Q: Was there a sudden revelation or did this happen over time?
Will the Irish finish above .500 in '08?
Yes: They'll improve
No: 6 wins and 6 loses
Yes: Expect a BCS Bowl
No: They'll stink again
Total Votes: 9,418
A: "I remember having a conversation with (Eagles coach) Andy Reid a year or two ago, and he had been calling plays. He turned it over to (offensive coordinator) Marty Mornhinweg. ... It's a little different in the NFL because there's less (players), and he had Jimmy Johnson running the defense. He had this veteran of 100 years running the defense.
"They're (NFL players) more mature people. One of the things I really viewed, so many of our kids were 18, 19 years old. You can't talk to those kids the same or should I say, they don't respond the same, to the same conversation that a 22-year-old might have. They get shell-shocked.
"This year we're going to have 16 fourth- or fifth-year players in the program. We're still a year away from having balanced distribution of the classes. We have a lot of good athletes here on campus. I can't afford to let all these young guys go through another year of the maturation process without us fast-tracking this."
Q: You had to subjugate your ego on all this, didn't you?
A: "You had to completely suppress your ego. You had to check your ego at the door."
Q: How hard is this that?
"It's not like these thoughts don't go through your mind all the time. You remember, now, I came from an organization where everyone checks their ego at the door.
"This was not a novel concept. Since I've been here I really haven't had the time to pull back and say, 'OK, you want to win a national championship sooner rather than later. You want to get back to a perennial top 10 team, how do you do that?'
"It can't be by wishful thinking. It can't just be by recruiting good players. There's gotta be ... 'You changed the mentality when you first got here. Now, did you regress or (is) the mechanism you initially put in place not sufficient enough to attain the goal that you really want to get to?'"
Q: When you went to speak to Bill Belichick before the Patriots' last regular-season game against the Giants, was that more of an affirmation of what you had decided or did he add to it?
A: "Whether I talk to Bill or one of the other guys, almost every one of these guys was a coordinator in the league. ... They've all been able to cut the cord and let the coordinators coordinate. They'll be involved with one side of the ball more than the other, but still if you don't let the coaches coach then you can't be the head coach.
"My question is, 'Was I the head coach or was I the offensive coordinator?' Which one was I? My answer is I was probably too high a percentage offensive coordinator and not a higher percentage enough a head coach. I'm flipping those percentages."
Q: It shows -- I don't even know what the word is -- maturity as a head coach to change like that.
A: "I could have done this after we started winning. I would have done it for the wrong reason. I would have done it just to (say), 'OK, I told you so.'
"It's a lot tougher to do this at this stage right now, but I think that it's important if you really want to get to the top. You have to make some serious changes to go ahead and get there.
"There are a lot of people who wanted me to go ahead and make a whole bunch of staff changes. I think that would have been the most hypocritical thing I could have ever done after a 3-9 season. What am I going to, create scapegoats? Start throwing coaches under the bus?
"I sat there with this staff (and said), 'Let me tell you this fellas. No one is going. There are not going to be any scapegoats here. Now, in return -- where publicly I'll take the blame -- the accountability factor has to go up exponentially.
"I can't tell you how many people sent in resumes (saying), 'I heard you were letting this guy go.'"
Q: The word gets out ...
A: "That's the whole point. I'm the word. It really annoys you."
Q: Big picture, what happened last year?
|The defense should get a nice boost with the arrival of Jon Tenuta. (US Presswire)|
"Talking to (tight end) John Carlson and (defensive back) Tom Zbikowski is not the same as talking to (freshmen) Jimmy Clausen and Brian Smith. It's apples and oranges.
"I was down there with them this morning, part of my new program. Approachability. I was down there at 6 o'clock with the team just talking to them, 'What do you weigh? Get to class. Let's get going. Do you want me to call mom or dad?' I made sure I said something to every kid down there."
Q: You were pretty hard on Brady Quinn in the beginning, how hard is it for a Jimmy Clausen?
A: "You're not as hard on those guys as you were with Brady. That part is overrated with Brady."
Q: How much of an impression did Jon Tenuta make in those two games against Notre Dame? (Note: The respected Tenuta was hired from Georgia Tech, where he was defensive coordinator, to be assistant head coach for defense. Georgia Tech gave up a combined 17 points in splitting games with the Irish the past two seasons. Corwin Brown remains Notre Dame's defensive coordinator.)
A: "Even though you knew what they were going to do, it wasn't like you couldn't study a scheme well enough.
"I looked at their players -- I thought they (Georgia Tech) had good players on defense -- I thought they were playing above their ability. It wasn't just scheme. It was getting players to play above their ability.
Q: Are we going to see all these crazy blitzes that Tenuta is known for all the time, then?
A: "I'm going to leave it up to those guys. I told you I'm just a head coach now."
Q: And assistant special teams coach ... (Note: Weis named himself to that position and moved assistant Brian Polian over to be special teams coordinator.)
A: "I really felt like I couldn't hang Brian out to dry and make him sole special teams coach. ... My presence in all those meetings and standing out there on punt return, instead of the assistant coach standing out there on punt return, creates a sense of urgency.
"I'm also going to go spend some time with (Virginia Tech's) Frank Beamer ... I want to know how the heck he does it. Why try to re-invent the wheel? Why not go to the guy that does it best?"
Q: Do you feel pressure?
"I never feel pressure from outside if that's what you're saying. I just feel, what's the right word? ... What I'm trying to say is I have more passion to be successful right now than I ever have before. Because everyone is doubting whether or not it can happen.
"Whether I'm more impassioned, whether I'm more driven, you couldn't find me at any point in my life any more inherently driven than I am right now."
Q: How personally did you take 3-9?
A: "As the leader of this team, I felt like professionally and personally we let people down. Not due to lack of effort, not due to short work hours. Just by production. It is what it is. Three-and-nine is 3-9. Like Bill (Parcells) said, 'You are what you are.'
"I took (the staff) out for dinner that night of recruiting. Everybody had a good time. The next morning we came in here and I said, 'Guys, we're 3-9 right now. How do we fix it?'"