On-the-Job Training is Overposted by Scott Engler
(The Rock Report) – Here’s how I started last year’s column, On-The Job-Training:
“At this point it's hard to understand how a realistic fan could have confidence that Notre Dame will improve to championship caliber under Weis.”
This article is mostly a rehash - different year, same problem. Here we sit, a year later and Charlie is still throwing darts trying to figure out what’s wrong. Weis’s tenure has been a litany of bumbling, head-scratching moves.
Let’s start on defense.
In five years he’s had four different combinations of defensive coordinators: Minter, Brown, Brown/Tenuta and Tenuta running a 4-3,3-4, 4-3 and a 4-3 that blitzes constantly. A defense that has never been ranked higher than 37th and five years later is worse than in any previous year.
Someone actually suggested Tenuta is the problem. No. The problem is that ND has a head coach who has no clue what to do or what works. This defense, returning almost the same personnel, is now ranked 79th in the country and was gutted by Navy.
How about offense, Charlie’s strength?
Let’s step back. Mike Haywood was hired as an offensive coordinator in name only as Charlie ran the offense to a brilliant year in 2005. Charlie and quarterback coach Peter Vaas parted ways in 2006 (he was the one person who reportedly could contradict Charlie.)
2006 saw a marked decline in performance. Quinn dropped from 8.7 YPA to 7.3 YPA and from 326 YPG to 263 YPG despite throwing the ball more in 2006. Charlie was trying to throw himself out of a hole, but lack of protection and focus on a passing game the required a high amount of precision crippled the Irish who were pummeled the last two games of the season. Charlie complained the plays were good. No Charlie, they required too much precision to work.
2007 was an unmitigated disaster with the Irish finishing last in all of college football in offense. Charlie refused to run, which resulted in an injured Clausen getting sacked for an NCAA record at the time. Our OL couldn’t run block and couldn’t pass block. It was the worst offense in Notre Dame history. The Irish averaged just 2.1 yards per rush and 75 yards rushing a game.
Notre Dame finished 90th in the country in the Sagarin ratings… below Richmond, North Dakota State, Delaware, Navy, Florida Atlantic, James Madison and Wofford.
How did Charlie change for 2008? His solution was to promote Mike Haywood, a coach with no experience calling plays, to offensive play-caller. Charlie declared he was going to "pound it" and had the offensive line beef up, but instead, he went right back to a passing game with slow offensive lineman that couldn’t block effectively on screens or execute in the running game. The result was a bungling offense that averaged less than 20 points per game until Hawaii.
Think about that: Two years in a row with an offense that couldn't manage 20 points a game on average during the regular season. Offensive genius? A hundred coaches in the country could have generated more offense.
Magically Charlie realized that (okay after an NDNation article) that winning teams were highly effective in the rushing game and Charlie made it his goal for 2009 to average 4.6 yards a rush. So Charlie, after four years you figured out we need a good rushing game?
Notre Dame’s offense is much improved, but still only managed 21 points against Navy and is averaging 31 points per game (less than 2005 and 2006.) Even on offense, we’re still figuring it out.
What a roller coaster. Charlie made Polian special teams coach in 2007 and we had some of the worst special teams in the country. His solution? To take over special teams himself in 2008, which of course was unsustainable. Special teams improved, but with Charlie not as involved, they’ve fallen off far in 2009. Might help if he had just hired a real special teams coach who knew what he was doing.
Three years into this tenure he decided Notre Dame needed more physical practices.
Four years in he figured out they needed to stress fundamentals.
Charlie’s first two classes were abysmal and mediocre respectively. How many seniors are starting on this team? His lack of focus on the defensive line left gaping holes that are being exploited this year. Mullen, Nwankwo, Ryan, Wade and Richardson are our only seniors on the defensive line… of those, only Ryan is contributing now. Charlie’s recruiting hit its stride with the Junior and Sophomore classes, but cratered again with the Freshmen class. Despite Manti Teo, Notre Dame took only one defensive back who’s hurt and may not play much, one defensive lineman and no quarterbacks (which could haunt ND in 2010 with Crist still on the mend and Clausen likely gone.) He did prove Notre Dame could recruit with anyone in the country, but his spotty early recruiting is coming back to roost. Another mediocre recruiting class and Notre Dame could be headed back down the drain.
What does it all mean?
Putting all of those pieces together, it’s not hard to figure out why ND is still struggling.
In 2008, we had “a completely inexperienced offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator with one year of experience and a special teams coach with little experience and a track record of under performance!?"
In 2009, Charlie switched himself back to offensive coordinator, promoted Tenuta to defensive coordinator and put Polian back in charge of special teams.
In other words, since 2006, every part of the team has been in some sort of disarray.
And it's not the talent. That excuse died. On a weighted basis, Notre Dame has more four and five star upperclassmen than Florida did last year. That orange line to the left was Florida's star average weighted by class year... when Meyer won a national championship. The blue line is Notre Dame.
Yet, even with a big talent advantage Notre Dame still struggled with an under .500 Washington team, mediocre Michigan State and Purdue teams and lost to Navy and a Michigan team starting a twig of a freshmen quarterback with a second year head coach and far less talent.
This was supposed to be the year ND could make a run at a national title, instead the Irish will be fighting for a Gator Bowl berth... if that.
People talk about improvement, but the fact is that even if we win out we've simply flat-lined since Charlie got here. Improvement over your own crappy performance is an illusion. ND has standards and Charlie himself said 9-3 isn't good enough. Speaking of that, what’s more tortuous than anything is watching Charlie try to motivate this team. He purportedly used to motivate by threatening players draft status, now he’s tried to become a player’s coach who wants his team to show personality.
9-3 isn’t good enough.
Dive right in.
No talk, let your actions speak ... or whatever it is this year.
Again, clueless. Throwing darts.
Charlie tried. He made his bucket list and went after it, but trying isn’t working at all.
Talking hasn’t worked either and Charlie’s proven himself a bit of an exaggerator, which is fine if you back it up.
We listen to Charlie talk about “pounding the ball” only to send our linemen off square dancing. He talks about toughness and nasty, yet Notre Dame continually loses the battle in the trenches. He talked about “putting 50” up on the board, but we’ve never done it. He talked about 9-3 not being good enough, yet we’re 6-3 heading to who knows what.
“Charlie ball” hasn’t worked well since 2005.
We’ve waited five years for Charlie to figure this out and he just doesn’t know and worse, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
On top of that, Weis’s demeanor and public actions alienated the ND fan base from the start, making his internal support non-existent. Why a coach making Weis’s money would pursue a public lawsuit for 600k that drags Notre Dame through the media grinder is puzzling to me as was the decision to do “60 minutes” without telling the University and not coming off well.
To be sure, Charlie has done many good things as well. From pass right to small notes to those struggling, he's shown he has a heart and cares about people. Of course, along with that are countless stories of mistreatment which can be hard to reconcile.
Regardless, Weis has become a lame duck now. Weis made some poor decisions out of the blocks and now we’re faced with a tough decision.
It’s one that has to be swift but sure.
What has to be done eventually, must be done immediately.
Charlie has to step aside and Notre Dame needs to find a home run; someone who’s done it before. In executive recruiting for 300k jobs, it’s essential that you find someone who’s actually done the pieces of the job you’re recruiting for. No one hires a high level executive without checking the right boxes. Yet at Notre Dame, with a head coach position worth 10x that, we still are hiring offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and coaches that haven’t proven themselves.
Such willful negligence would be grounds for removing the board in many companies. In fact, most companies.
To be sure, it's worked for some schools, but that’s more by luck than design. Bama, Texas, Oklahoma and USC all floundered around before getting wheel of fortune to work.
Weis can leave with a lot of money and the knowledge that he’s got this team on the right track as far as talent goes. He will not leave it in the abyss Willingham did and hopefully will leave with more dignity.
Notre Dame needs someone who knows what they’re doing.
The players deserve it. They didn’t come here for this.
Tradition demands it.
On-the-job training is over.
~ The Rock