Public vs. Private: Notre Dame v. Michigan State ’05 Preview

When you’re a coach in any sport, fully preparing your team for a game is essential. Drills that emphasize fundamentals are given added weight. Scouting reports are created and imparted. Potential situations that could arise are scrutinized and reactions are rehearsed. Often there is a mountain of information to be gathered and passed on, and a molehill of time to do it. And, it always comes down to one question (that you’d better be able to answer).

How do we beat these guys?

Sometimes the answer is simple. Sometimes it’s more difficult than trying to figure out how Rick Okasek landed Paulina Porizkova.

Now, in the process of answering that all-important query, coaches will offer a detailed assessment of the opponent. Typically coaches will say things like, “they like to do this, or that.” Or, “they don’t seem to do this well.” Discussing strengths and weaknesses, tendencies, etc. Coaches work exhaustively to uncover what his or her team will need to do to succeed. Often in vain.

During this process, coaches will also offer an “overall” assessment of the opposition that will generally go one of two ways. They will either make the enemy sound like Satan and his minions retuning to the earth, or they will say, “My Great Grandmother could hang sixty-three points on these guys, and if we don’t win, I’m changing our uniforms from blue to pink. And, adding lace.”

Some coaches find a home right in the middle. Steve Spurrier sometimes found insulting the other team was the best way to go. Referring to Florida State as “Free Shoes University” was a classic. Karl Dorrell’s calling last year’s USC match up a, “Big ass game,” was an interesting neither here, nor there approach.

No matter where their assessment falls, almost without fail, every coach offers up a differing public and a private assessment. What they say to the press will be different than what they say to the team, and it could go either way. Lou Holtz, for instance, was a master of making Navy sound like the 1985 Chicago Bears at the weekly press conference, then telling his kids in the locker room that the third string had better be in by the second quarter, or the football world would think they liked to wear women’s undergarments. Spurrier might have chided Tennessee publicly with his, “You can’t spell Citrus without UT,” comment, but privately respected that those opposing players were capable of tarnishing his winning reputation.

Now, from what I have seen of Weis, he seems to be from the Lou Holtz School of publicly preparing for the Apocalypse. He started his press conference off this week by reading a laundry list of potentially “intimidating” facts about the recent Notre Dame Michigan State series, and compliments for the Spartan coaches and their personnel. He also pointed out that Notre Dame has lost to Michigan State four straight times at home (even though those losses came under Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham’s underwhelming watches).

Weis also made a very direct point about MSU’s impressive scoring margin in their first two games (even though their opponents were “formidable” Kent St. and Hawaii).

We know Weis said he intended to tell the players the same thing later that day (and he very well could have tried to see if it would work), but I would think Charlie might have countered that Michigan State juggernaut public speech with a “less flattering” private message.

Either way, the point is simple.

It seems the past few times we have “welcomed” the Spartans into our house, we have let them empty our liquor cabinet, and walk out the door with our wife (pretend you actually like your wife). And, our dog. If you’d like to know if that is bothersome, talk to a Michigan fan this week. Sure, the Wolverines chased us out the door this past Saturday, but we still got out of Ann Arbor with their fine china. Worse, the Spartans know the last five times they ripped us off, we sat on the recliner drinking a beer and handed them our wristwatch.

So, public, private (in Lloyd Carr’s case pre-game and post game whining), either way, does it make a difference? When you’re dealing with young men, sometimes it just falls on deaf ears. Warnings are not heeded. Instructions fail to sink in. Execution takes a vacation for three and a half hours. Players are not robots. If they were, M.I.T. would be playing in the B.C.S. championship game every year.

So, what will happen on Saturday? Will the Irish need super powers to defeat the monumentally evil Spartans? Or, is Michigan State more of an impostor with exaggerated capabilities? Will Drew Stanton be running out the front door with our George Foreman grill under his arm, or will we drop him like a bad habit before he has a chance to get his grubby hands on it? As it was during the Holtz years, we simply won’t know until the game is played.

One thing is certain, though. To win this game, we’ll need both of Weis’s messages, public and private, to get across to this team.

I think these players are listening.

Notre Dame 30
Michigan State 24

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