In the span of 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis made two statements that should make anyone who once voted “Aye” regarding his 10-year contract squirm.
The first concerned a follow-up question. The original query had been, “Why are you the right man for this job?”
Distilling Weis’s reply to its essence, he said, “I’m confident that the program’s going to go where we all want it to go.”
The follow-up question — Why? — elicited this response: “Because I think we’ve got pretty good players. And I think when you have pretty good players, you have a chance of being pretty good.”
That is true. But if you buy that argument, then Weis owes his success (a relative term, agreed) more to his acumen as a recruiter than as a coach. We will return to this.
The second statement was a response to a clumsily worded question, courtesy of yours truly, which, if I had any rhetorical skills, would have been simply this: “If everyone knows that Navy lives by the triple option, why can’t someone design a defense that absolutely forces the Midshipmen to pass the ball?”
“I think they're so good in their system and it's so unorthodox, that everyone in the country knows what's coming,” Weis said. “It's the same thing. Everyone knows what's coming. But at the end of the game almost every week, doesn't matter who they play against, usually they have 300 yards rushing. It's just what they do.”
Later on it occurred to me: Coach Weis was saying that Navy has a decided schematic advantage.
That may be a cheap shot. But it’s true. The Middies are 6-3 this season and ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing offense despite having marginal FBS talent. Certainly the sailors have less overall talent than most, if not all, of Notre Dame’s opponents.
And yet, since 2005, Navy is 31-16 overall and 1-2 in bowl games. In that same time span, the Fighting Irish are 27-19 and have gone 0-2 in bowl games.
Since the 2005 season, Notre Dame has had 14 players selected in the NFL draft. Granted, U.S. Naval Academy gridders have post-graduate service obligations, but how many Middies would have heard their names called from the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the past three drafts?
The distressing aspect about facing Navy this week, of all weeks, for the Irish, is not the fact that the Midshipmen beat Notre Dame last season for the first time in 44 years. Nor is it the fact that Navy actually has a better record (6-3 as opposed to 5-4) than the Irish.
No, the most distressing part, and what is more starkly clear than a freshly swabbed deck is that Navy is better-coached than Notre Dame. The Midshipmen clearly have less-talented players. And they clearly execute their system better. How else do you explain that?
Navy is a better-coached outfit than many schools, of course. But you may recall that in 2005, Notre Dame made Charlie Weis among the best-compensated, if not the very best, in all of college football. And certainly there are few, if any, coaches who were given a 10-year window of opportunity. What is Notre Dame receiving in return for its money?
Recall what Weis said about the Navy offensive attack. “Everyone knows what’s coming,” he said. “But at the end of the game…usually they have 300 yards rushing.”
Compare that to what Weis said about his own offense earlier in the very same press conference. “I think one thing that we have to make sure we do,” said Weis, “and we're going to make a big point of emphasis this week, not that we don't do it every week, but that's going to be to make sure that, especially with the way this secondary plays, that you just take what they give you.”
Quotes can be taken out of context. And there exist fine details of offensive theory that are beyond my comprehension and yours. But can we not agree that Weis is conceding that Navy has an offense that can execute its system regardless of the defense you employ, while Notre Dame has an offense that must adjust to the defense’s tactics? Which one sounds more reliable to you?
Personally, I like Charlie Weis (yes, I’m the one). I read the abuse that he takes in print and am disturbed by how personal it often gets. Earlier this week, Jason Whitlock wrote a column for FoxSports.com in which he consistently referred to Weis as Pear Bryant (Whitlock, apparently, does not own a mirror of his own) and worse, as “a coward and a bully.”
I may not be prepared to nominate Weis for Man of the Year, or even for a Comedy Central roast (featuring Jeffery Ross, Sara Silverman and of course, Dana Jacobsen). However, if any other coach had suffered the catastrophic sideline injury that he did back in September and yet stoically — and stubbornly — refused to allow it to alter his schedule, would not some national media type had championed this in print?
Weis does not deserve that abuse. Nor does he deserve to be among the three highest-paid coaches in college football. But the latter, among other factors (i.e., the manner in which Ty Willingham was dismissed) begets the former.
What is salient, though, and worrisome, are two factors: 1) Is Weis the type of personality who can properly motivate his players? and 2) What is the identity of his offense? His team?
Yes, Notre Dame has “pretty good players.” In fact, its scoring prowess is largely the result of the precocious and prodigious talents of wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Both are underclassmen, as are nearly all of the team’s playmakers on offense.
The Irish will be better next season because these players will be more experienced. And because the schedule is 300-thread count soft (Washington and Washington State? Really?).
But will they be better because of the coaching? Weis said yesterday, in effect, that he is the right man for the job because the arrow is pointing up, and that the arrow is pointing up because he has pretty good players.
That should alarm you. That’s like a car salesman convincing me that I should buy the car because he’s an excellent salesman. It’s not about the salesman; it’s about the car.
Right now, Notre Dame, your product is as attractive a buy as General Motors.
Brian Kelly hasn’t been comfortable naming a starting quarterback after the unexpected exit of Everett Golson, but Keith Arnold writes that Kelly has made a final decision and Tommy Rees will be the Irish starting quarterback, at least heading into fall camp.
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