Tuesday, December 4, 2007

2007 Review: Coaching

As I mentioned previously, I wanted to go position by position and provide my thoughts on 2007 with an eye towards 2008. I purposely took more than a week following the final game to do this because I wanted to be as objective as possible. These are just my thoughts and opinions and as always, I welcome your insights, disagreements, and opinions as well. One thing I will not be doing is assigning grades to any of the positions in these reviews. I feel neither qualified nor comfortable doing that. I am starting with coaching because as Coach Weis has said on many occasions, that s where you have to start when analyzing your program. So here goes....

I think that in a candid moment, Coach Weis would tell you that he has learned more about coaching football this year in a time of struggle than he has in any previous year. This year had it all for a coaching staff -- youth, inexperience, QB controversy, transfers, etc. Some have called it a perfect storm. I tend to agree. First, let me say right off the bat that I think Coach Weis and staff made some mistakes this year.

I think one of the biggest issues was the failure to establish a QB in training camp. I think the uncertainty at the QB position was the catalyst for many issues on this team. Charlie took a gamble here and lost. He thought he could steal a couple of wins with Demetrius early in the season to buy time until Jimmy was ready. Many have argued that Evan should have been the starter for the opener. I disagree. Here is what Charlie was looking at: My O line is young and inconsistent. Georgia tech is going to blitz the crap out of me. My best QB (Jimmy) is not physically ready to play. My most experienced QB's biggest deficiencies are his inability to feel/adjust to the rush and lack of accuracy. That doesn't bode well against a team that is going to blitz the crap out of me. I have this other guy who is a heck of an athlete and I know he can get me some yards with his legs. Athletic QBs have given this Tech defense trouble in the past. In that scenario, Charlie decided to gamble on Demetrius. He knew that Demetrius was not ready or able to run the Irish offense so he had to dedicate time to preparing a package for Demetrius. We can hindsight this decision all offseason long, but I think it is useful to consider what Charlie was looking at. I do not think the mistake was starting Demetrius. I think the mistake was in communication and package. From a communications standpoint, I think Charlie would tell you now that he wishes he had said in the fall, "Jimmy and Demetrius are too close to call right now. Jimmy is banged up and not ready to start. A healthy Demetrius right now is better than a banged up Jimmy. Demetrius will be the starter and his play will dictate where we go from here at that position." That would have eliminated all the cloak and dagger speculation and avoided the miscommunication that ensued with Demetrius thinking he had been misled. Again, hindsight is 20/20. From package standpoint, Charlie didn't do Demetrius any favors with that gameplan. I don't say you had to air it out, but you had to give the kid a chance to throw some quick passes at least. I believe the drama surrounding the QB position hung over this team the entire season like a cloud.

I also think Charlie made a clear mistake by not establishing more of a physical mentality in the spring and fall. This has been beaten to death, but it is true. With a young team, they take their cues from the coaching staff. If the coaching staff is not going to hold their feet to the fire and teach them how physical you have to play to win at this level, they simply won't do it.

The coaching staff as a whole also underestimated the leadership vacuum that was left by graduation. In the past, there were older guys to hold people accountable on the team for their actions and play so the coaches didn't have to do that constantly. This year, those guys were gone and no one took their place.

Having said all that, contrary to popular opinion, I think the coaching staff did some really positive things. Let me highlight those:

They recruited a top class and to date, held them together. How many other 3-9 teams do you see that have a top 5 recruiting class???? That doesn't happen by accident or chance. That is hard work, skill, and dedication.

They held the team together. Was the chemistry on this team good? No. Were they a close knit bunch across all 4 classes? No. But when the going got tough, real tough, and the losses mounted, not a single guy cracked publicly. No one threw their teammates or coaches under the bus. For the most part, guys continued to play hard and those that didn't saw their playing time decrease significantly. This year could have turned into Nebraska, with teams hanging 70 on us because guys quit caring. That never happened and the coaches deserve some credit for that.

Ok, here comes the controversial one. I believe this coaching staff, in many cases, did a solid job developing players. You and I can all point to some guys who did not look like they improved from game 1 to game 12. You can blame that on coach or player or both. I acknowledge that. However, I think far too many critics have ignored the players that did develop. That doesn't happen by accident. I am going to give concrete examples:

Watch Jimmy Clausen against Penn State (in my opinion a very average team) and then watch him against Duke and Stanford (admittedly worse teams). Aside from the competition, it is night and day the way he is handling the position and the reads and throws he is making.

Watch Armando Allen's (and for the matter Aldridge and Hughes also) pass blocking at the beginning vs. the end of the season. The improvement is substantial.

Kerry Neal and Brian Smith went from being undersized kids who just ran after the guy with the football to guys you could count on every down to handle their assignment and make plays.

Darrin Walls went from being a great athlete playing cornerback to a technically sound, significantly more physical, cover corner.

I am not mentioning these examples to say how great a coaching job the Irish coaches did this year. I am just highlighting them to show that along with some of the mistakes and negatives in coaching this year, there were positives as well.

I am often asked what the Irish coaching staff needs to do to improve for next year. Well, aside from correcting the mistakes I discussed above, here are a couple of things I think need to happen:

There needs to be an infusion of passion and intensity on offense. Someone on the offensive coaching staff, either current coaches or new coaches, needs to bring the kind of outward intensity and fire that a guy like Corwin Brown brings to the defense. The offensive coaching staff has some really good teachers and cerebral coaches. What they lack, and I think it shows itself in the play on the field, is a rally the troops fiery personality. I do not want to see Mike Haywood leave, but if he does, I believe this presents Coach Weis an opportunity to import that type of guy for the offensive coaching staff.

I think Charlie needs some lieutenants among the players. A tough coach like Coach Weis requires guys on the team who can spread his message and quiet the dissenters. In the past, Weis had that with Brady Quinn, Victor Abiamiri, etc. Those guys bought in fully to what Charlie was selling and as a result everyone else toed the line. Charlie really needs those lieutenants this offseason more than ever. Spring practice and fall training camp is going to be brutal. Charlie and the coaches will be riding the team harder than they have ever been ridden. The Irish desperately need to have some players who are in a position to lead understand that, embrace it, and sell it to their teammates.

Those are my thoughts on coaching. In the coming days/weeks, I will be providing similar commentary individually about each position. Next up: Quarterback. I look forward to your comments.


Jared said...

I like the Heywood comment - I hope he gets the job (for his own sake) and it would be a good opportunity for ND to bring in a motivator for the O.

I think Sam Young and Jimmy Clausen are going to be those Lieutenants after this offseason. You know about Sam's morning visit and JC really started to show some fire at the end of the season although he (I believe) held off for most of the year since he was a frosh.

Here's to a HUGE offseason.

IrishGlory said...

Jared - Thanks for the comments.

I hope Haywood gets the job as well. He is a good guy, good coach, and Houston is home for him. He has paid his dues and deserves a shot to run his own program if he wants to. With Charlie being the guy to control the Irish offense, it would be next to impossible for him to land a big-time O coordinator. Therefore, I thik he should go after a young up and comer with some fire.

I feel strongly that Jimmy will step up and be that lieutenant. I am not sure about Sam. Sam's personality is much different than Jimmy. Sam is a pretty quiet kid and it doesn't come as natural to him. A guy like Aldridge could be another guy on offense and I think Bruton, Kuntz, and Mo Crum have to do it on D.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is hard for an assistant coach to be that leader on offense because of CW's intimate involvement on that side of the ball.

After the last three years any strong willed offensive minded guy will see that CW runs the show. I believe this will be a roadblock to replacement.

Also, where were the assistant coaches when the practices were NFL like and not physical. Some of these guys had to know that was not the way to go. Were they intimidated by CW?

Face Mask said...

A younger highly motivated approachable coach may indeed be just the guy we need to fire up the OL.Being held accountable by the guy next to you in the huddle is a must and I think these leaders will emerge by the time spring pactice rolls around.Nothing brings a team togeather like good hard practice.

Face Mask said...

We should not be taken aback when we see the leadership within the team undeveloped as one of the goals of the football program is to produce tough young leaders.They are still in the developmental stages.

IrishGlory said...

I agree with many of the comments posted. I don't think you need to be on the football field playing or practicing during this time for leaders to emerge. The guys right now are in an intensive weight training regimen in the early morning hours with no games or practices on the horizon. Who embraces that rather than complains? Who pushes others to do 1 more rep even though the coaches aren't watching? Who picks up a teammate who may be having a hard time getting up for these workouts? There are many opportunities for guys to step forward and lead right now.

Irish Chris said...

I saw a lot of progress with Duval as well.
The kid could hardly get open early in the season.
Once he started running better routes and got more physical with the defenders, he seemed to be open more often.
I look for Bruton to be a great leader next year as a senior.
All the skills in the world and the players really seem to like him. he can step right in for Zibby.
Is he eligible for a 5th year?
That would be awesome to have 2 more years with him.