Wait Until Charlie Weis Gets “His Players”

“Give him a few years to recruit and bring in the right players for his system.”

How many times have we heard this garbage before? A coach, married to a certain offensive or defensive system, fails miserably in his first year at a particular school because he cannot adapt. Rather than tailor a scheme around the talent on hand when he arrived, said coach takes square players and pounds them into a round hole.

Often with disastrous results.

A fantastic example this season is Greg Robinson at Syracuse. Robinson inherited option based offensive talent from Paul Pasqualoni, and “installed” a sophisticated West Coast offensive passing attack. The result? Syracuse is a substantially worse passing team this season than last. Their overall production on offense is also down substantially. And, their starting quarterback has seen his completion percentage drop from 58% in 2004, to 50% in 2005. It should be no surprise that Syracuse, which was 6-6 in 2004, is currently sporting a glossy 1-5 record.

Why else is installing “your” poorly suited system bad (as if anyone needed more evidence)? Well, since your offensive production is down (as the Syracuse model shows), it gives your team virtually no chance to win a game unless your defense is capable of scoring points (just look at ND in 2002 under Willingham). It also makes your team dependent on recruiting to solve its offensive personnel problems. And, how many freshman come in ready to start on offense? Defense? Sure, one can go after more experienced Junior College players, as an attempt at a quick fix, but those athletes typically don’t pan out at a greater rate.

So, essentially, now we see where the “a few years to recruit” part comes in. Year one is a wash, and years two and three are typically spent hoping the young talent you brought in that better “fits your system” develops quickly. But, how many coaches last more than three years with a losing record? Most schools do not have the patience of a Kansas State, Virginia Tech, or Rutgers. These are/were schools that were trying to build programs, not improve them. Syracuse already had a winning tradition prior to Robinson’s arrival.

Now, that’s not to say certain coaches don’t have instant success with their system. Joe Tiller turned the Big Ten on end with his “basketball on grass scheme.” Mike Leach made some immediate noise in the Big Twelve with his Air Raid attack at Texas Tech. But, were these coaches smart, or just fortunate that they had the talent on hand to run their system already? Are Urban Meyer’s struggles at Florida evidence that eventually, anyone with a particular type of philosophy could eventually get burned?

My thought is that many coaches are just plain stubborn. They have found something that has worked, or they are familiar with, and changes are difficult to make. As we have seen in college football over the years, more often than not, one cannot consistently succeed by being inflexible unless they recruit like mad men.

Now, Bill Callahan might be able to overcome his option talent meets West Coast woes at Nebraska. The Huskers, who went 5-6 last season, are 5-1 this year (although his offense has not been substantially more productive, even with an infusion of more suitable personnel). But, would he have had more success last season (and this season) offensively had he tweaked his system to accommodate the talent he had when he arrived? It’s possible.

I would go so far as to say that it is very likely.

Which brings us to Mr. Flexible, Charlie Weis. I was wondering just yesterday what kinds of things he would have created in his laboratory had he taken over the Irish in 2002. I think it is safe to say that Carlyle Holiday, Jared Clark, or Matt Lovecchio, the three quarterbacks on the roster at the time, would have been much better off under his tutelage–no matter where they ended up position-wise–and offensive production would have been improved. Just look at the difference Weis has made after installing his “scheme” this year, and, quickly making the transition from complicated and restrictive West Coast Offense to a simple and player friendly system.

What do you call Charlie’s offense, anyway? I’d like to call it “The Hodgepodge.” It is a simple collection of what works. It just happens to be well disguised.

Part of me feels like, if Weis inherited what Callahan did at Nebraska, or Robinson inherited at Syracuse, he would most certainly have run some option. Possibly out of the spread, but maybe out of the traditional I formation. He would have thrown in more passing, certainly, but probably allowed the offense to evolve to a pro style attack over time. Some coaches believe in production over aesthetics. Weis is smart enough to tailor his system to what he has, and what that talent can accomplish, not the other way around.

So, you might be asking, am I saying Gregg Robinson is stupid? Well, let’s say that Robinson is–incredibly optimistic. By acknowledging time is necessary, you are admitting that winning right now is not important. You are also asking for an incredible amount of patience from a generally impatient crowd.

The other side of this ridiculous argument is when does a coach get the “players he wants?” Most of the time, coaches actually get very few kids “they want.” If they are fortunate, they get some players they need. But, want? If Notre Dame got the players it “wanted,” Reggie Bush would be playing tail back, Ted Ginn and Derrick Williams would be in our wide receiver rotation, and our three deep at QB would be Brady Quinn, Brian Brohm, and last year’s uber recruit, Mark Sanchez. It simply does not happen that way. Especially at a school like Notre Dame, where, for academic reasons, we are unable to recruit a fair number of the top student athletes.

That is why being able to win now, with what you have, is so important. Like Forrest Gump says, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

So, has Charlie had to wait to bring in “his players?” Sure doesn’t look like it. Besides, didn’t it feel like most of the players on campus were his “guys” when he arrived?

His type of guys, anyway.

Please send questions or comments for Todd Carr to nddomehome@hotmail.com

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