Reviewing Weis’s Busy Off-Season

Charlie Weis had a very busy off-season this year. He had to replace three coaches while trying to close out a recruiting class that had started to come apart during January with a few decommitments following Notre Dame’s disappointing 2008 season.  After closing the recruiting class out with a bang by signing super recruit Manti T’eo, Weis completed his off-season of coaching maneuvers a few weeks ago with the official hiring of Randy Hart – the last of the new coaches for 2009 with similar success.

As we are about to head into the Spring Football season, I figured now was a good time to give everyone a quick refresher of all the moves made by Weis this off-season and how they will impact the Irish in 2009.

John Latina Out, Frank Verducci In
The biggest problem with the Irish the past two years has been the offensive line. John Latina has coached some very good offensive lines over the years and brought a solid reputation with him to South Bend in 2005. Unfortunately he was not able to build up that reputation or produce a solid, steady offensive line the past two seasons. I still think Latina is a solid coach and that all of the problems with the offensive line did not sit squarely on his shoulders, but he just didn’t get the job done at Notre Dame and it was time to make a change for both parties.

Frank Verducci wasn’t necessarily the “homerun” hire some were hoping for, but I have some high hopes for him. He coached with Hayden Fry at Iowa for 10 years which should show people he knows a little something about developing tough offensive lines. He also spent the past two seasons coaching the offensive line for the Cleveland Browns – a team which ran a similar offense to what Notre Dame runs. Coming from the Browns, Weis was also able to tap into his good friend Romeo Crennel to gauge what kind of coach Verducci is. He’s also received quite a bit of praise for his recruiting skills from the likes of Allen Wallace. All in all, this was a very solid hire.

The Verducci hire will end up being the make or break move by Weis this off-season. With the talent Notre Dame has at the skill positions and on the defensive side of the ball combined with the schedule the Irish will face in 2009, there is the potential for a very good year if the offensive line can come together and become a solid unit. That, however, is a big if considering the inconsistency the offensive line has shown over the past two years.

Jappy Oliver Out, Randy Hart In
Much like Latina, I still contend that Oliver was a much better coach than people will give him credit for. He never had a lot of talent to work with along the defensive line, but got the most out of the players he had. Trevor Laws broke through in 2007 as one of the best defensive tackles in the country. Pat Kuntz was a very productive player under Oliver. Players such as Justin Brown, Ronald Talley, and Chris Frome have all spent time as starters are various times in Oliver’s four years at Notre Dame and that was the biggest problem with Oliver in my opinion – his recruiting efforts were very, very weak. He wasn’t able to help himself out by landing many big time defensive line recruits over the years. Like with Latina, it was time to make a move.

The hiring of Randy Hart took a lot longer than most expected and there were certainly some other big names out there mentioned as possibilities such as Romeo Crennel and Steve Stripling, but in the end this was also a solid hire. Hart has been described as firey and the kind of coach that players hate at the time, but love and respect years after. That is the exact kind of coach Notre Dame needs at the defensive line and that attitude should fit in well with Tenuta and Brown. I would have liked to see Notre Dame land a coach here with a stronger reputation for recruiting elite defensive linemen, but I still like the hire.

Mike Haywood Out at RB, Tony Alford In
Haywood was the one coach who voluntarily left Notre Dame this off-season for the opportunity to become the head coach at Miami of Ohio. Haywood was a very solid coach for Notre Dame overall, but it’s tough to really judge how well he coached the young running backs since the offensive line didn’t do him any favors. It’s also tough to judge Haywood as an offensive coordinator because he was running Weis offense and when it came to play calling there were always questions as to how much control he actually had.

Alford brings a very solid reputation as a running backs coach and has a very good pedigree. He’s been a solid recruiter in Texas and Florida – two areas Notre Dame could certainly use help in. He also has 14 years of experience coaching running backs on the college. Weis moved pretty quickly on Alford and was the only coach Weis hired this off-season that wasn’t on a staff which was replaced (Randy Hart was retained by Washington, but was also part of Tyrone Willingham’s staff that was let go after the season).

Mike Haywood Out as OC, Charlie Weis In
Despite being handed over the play calling duties in 2008, it never seemed like the offense was fully Haywood’s. Instead of replacing Haywood though, Weis inserted himself as the offensive coordinator and play caller for 2009.

This move definitely shows that Weis knows he has to win in 2009. He couldn’t risk bringing in a new offensive coordinator and suffering through any learning curve at all this season. Had Weis brought in a new offensive coordinator this year there would have no doubt been a learning curve with the players and Notre Dame can’t afford to slip up this year. There is a golden recruiting class waiting for Notre Dame if the Irish can simply win in 2009 and put some of the questions concerning Weis’s long term future to rest.

Corwin Brown as Associate Head Coach and Jon Tenuta Calling Defensive Plays
With Weis becoming the full time offensive coordinator, Weis handed more day to day coaching responsibilities to Corwin Brown. As a result, he also handed defensive play calling duties over to Tenuta. Handing the play calling duties over to Tenuta should at least alleviate some of the confusion as to whose defense Notre Dame is running – it’s Tenuta’s with input on game plans from Brown.

This puts Tenuta back in charge of what he does best – attacking an opposing offense and calling a game. It also should put Corwin Brown in a position to do what he does best – interact with the players and serve as more of a motivating factor on the sidelines. Brown is a very charismatic coach and connects very well with the players. He has a very bright future as a head coach ahead of him and this is a step in that direction for him.

Bryant Young hired as Defensive Graduate Assistant
Getting Bryant Young back at Notre Dame was a brilliant move by Weis. Having one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history on the staff in any capacity can only help from a coaching and recruiting perspective. Young has no coaching experience at this point so his role on the staff will be to learn from Randy Hart and offer guidance to the defensive linemen based on his experience. He will also likely be used heavily on the recruiting front for on campus visits. Notre Dame has had major problems recruiting defensive linemen outside of the class of 2008 and having a future Hall of Fame defensive lineman on campus for official and unofficial visits can only help.

Overall this was a very successful off-season. None of the coaches which Weis brought in can really be seen as a downgrade. As a whole the staff got stronger with Weis bringing in more coaches he is comfortable with. Weis’s original staff, which now has just Rob Ianello, Bernie Parmalee, and Brian Polian remaining, was built through phone calls and recommendations more so than legwork by Weis since he was still coaching the Patriots at the time. Will the moves made by Weis be enough to right the ship at Notre Dame and put the Irish back on the course it appeared they were headed after back to back BCS Bowl berths? Time will tell, but on paper this was a very strong off-season for Weis and Notre Dame.

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