Jan. 7, 2005
An interview with:
COACH Charlie Weis
Q. When you were assembling the staff, what was your game plan in doing that? What was the overall plan?
COACH WEIS: Well, the first thing I wanted to do, I wanted some people with Notre Dame ties as part of the staff. I thought that that was one thing coming in. I think that was one of the reasons I was hired here, because I think Notre Dame was looking for somebody that understood Notre Dame, and understood the pros and cons that go with, being at a University like this. When I was assembling the staff, I wanted to find a few people at least with Notre Dame ties was one of the premises, one of the foundations of my thought process.
After that, what I found with Mike Haywood and Rick Minter, who happen to be the coordinators, you bring in a head coach with Notre Dame ties, an offensive coordinator with Notre Dame ties, and a defensive coordinator with Notre Dame ties, I think you're on the right track to get going.
And then after that, it was important for me to surround myself with people who, A, I think were my type of guys, and B, could be structured in such a way where we could take care of multi-facets, which means coaching and recruiting.
So I wanted to go out there and find the guys who had the best foundations in recruiting, and at the same time I wanted to find the guys who I respect the most with X's and O's. And I think I was fortunate enough to come up with a nice combination of the two.
Q. Changing the subject. This past year Notre Dame's rushing game was the lowest -- produced the lowest output that it had in I guess 50 years. What are your plans in terms of striking the balance and reestablishing the running game at Notre Dame?
COACH WEIS: We're not going to talk about the past. So let's not talk about the past, okay? Let's talk about the future.
And here is my simple philosophy to that question: I believe you utilize the players you have. If you have running backs, you run the ball. If you have a quarterback and receivers that can throw it, you throw the ball, as long as you can protect them. I'm a personnel-oriented guy.
We're going to study the personnel we have. We're going to study the new people, whoever we end up bringing in here. We're going to add them to the mix. We're going to see what we have, and that's what we're going to do. My system is broad. I mean, there's been years where I've thrown the ball 65%, run it 35%. This year I ran the ball over half the time. That had something to do with I had a runner that was pretty darn good.
I think rather than reinvent the wheel, you find out who you have, what you can do, and that's what you do.
On the other side of that is when you're playing your opponents, you have to find out what their weaknesses are. If there's a team that we're going against that's not very good against the run, we'll be running it a lot. If we're playing against a team that's not very good in coverage, we'll be throwing it all over the yard.
So, it's your personnel and their personnel, because football is a personnel game. You need to know what your personnel can do and what they can't do, and you need to know what your opponents can do and can't do, and it changes on a weekly basis.
Q. How much time have you had to maybe study the personnel that you're getting back, that you have currently? How much time have you had to prepare and look at that at this point?
COACH WEIS: I think that the biggest problem I have right now is just learning their faces. But I think I know their numbers and what they can do.
I think that the foundation for recruiting, you need to know where the holes are. So I know exactly what the numbers are in every position, down to the walk-ons. I know exactly what the numbers are. We've identified what holes we think we need to fill, and that's what we're trying to do.
I think if you're in the middle of recruiting, you need to know what you already have or else you can't fill those holes.
Q. That was going to be my next question. How do you go about looking at what holes need to be filled, that sort of thing, in recruiting?
COACH WEIS: Sometimes it's numbers at a position. Other times it's ability at a position. See, sometimes you'll have numbers at a position. You'll say, well, you have enough at that position, but you need to upgrade the talent at that position. So I'm not afraid to overload one position if it means getting better football players in here.
And I'm not going to be afraid to short-change a position if we can't get a guy who's good enough to come in and play and fill the spot. I'd rather leave the spot or overload at one position to go ahead and fill the personnel out that way.
Q. What about holes? Specifically, where did you feel you needed to hit the hardest in terms of recruiting this year?
COACH WEIS: I'm not telling you the answer to that question (laughter). You'll probably tell me the answer to that question. Go ahead.
Q. Are there common threads that you're looking for, common qualities of the recruits that you're going after?
COACH WEIS: First of all, that's a fair question. I think with the linemen, let's start with linemen first of all, both offensive and defensive linemen. I'm looking for tough guys. You all heard me when I first came in, and everyone ran with my opening comments, but that's the type of guy I'm looking for.
I think that if you want your team to be a certain way, then you have to recruit that persona, you need to recruit that personality. I don't think toughness is something that you can make. I think you have that. Sometimes toughness can be brought out of somebody. But I think that if you want a bunch of tough guys, then you better recruit a bunch of tough guys.
And then I think that everyone here would agree that one thing we need to do is upgrade the skill positions, and that doesn't mean replace the guys we already have. I think you better start bringing in more skill people that can fill some of those voids. And they could be at any position. And it doesn't mean we'll just bring in corners and not safeties, it doesn't mean bring in receivers but not running backs. It means skill people. You need to go out and improve your skill people.
Each year it might be a little different. You might be able to get more at one position than you really need. But they're good, so we'll take 'em, and we'll worry about the other position the next year. In other words, I'm not going to worry about filling exact slots; I'm looking at a lineman versus skill people. We basically have identified the numbers at those and that's where we're trying to fill at this point.
Q. Also when you were talking about your staff, you said that you were looking for guys that were your type of guys. What is your type of guy?
COACH WEIS: Well, I'll give you two examples. Let's talk about the line, because we were talking about toughness. So I'll talk about John Latina and Jappy Oliver. I mean, these are guys who are smart guys, who are tough guys themselves, who like to coach the guys tough.
In other words, I wasn't looking at -- when we were talking about line coaches, I wasn't looking just at guys that are there to pat them on the back and say, "That's okay," because that's not the way I am, it's not okay. I wanted guys that were good teachers because I consider myself a teacher first. I wanted guys that were good teachers, that coached the guys tough. And I think both those guys fit that bill, fit that mould.
I could talk about every coach for a different reason but I'm just trying to give you an example of what you're asking for.
Q. Not a lot of staffs have three former head coaches. Did you think you needed a little more experience in your assistants to help make sure there was improvement?
COACH WEIS: Well, there's two parts to that question.
I think a lot of times the reason why coaches don't have those guys who have been head coaches on their staff is because they're intimidated by them. You know, "Well, this guy's going to take my job." And that certainly is not one of the things going through my mind.
With that premise, I'd rather get the best people available, regardless of their experience. And I think that those three guys that you're talking about are three of the best, for different reasons.
Going against the Dolphins for the last bunch of years with Bill Lewis, that's the one team I haven't had much success throwing the ball against. Doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out if you can't beat 'em very well in the pass game, well then let's go hire him. "Can't beat 'em, join 'em." You know that old philosophy? Well, that fit with Bill. It didn't hurt from the fact he'd been in college ball for a whole bunch of time, been a head coach at three different places. But the bottom line was I had trouble beating their scheme, so I figured I might as well go get him than go against him.
With Rick (Minter), there have been multiple reasons. Here is a guy that had been at Notre Dame for a couple years when Notre Dame was an outstanding football team, already knew a lot about the school. The fact that he was in Cincinnati for 10 years doesn't hurt recruiting either, that you had a guy that was based right there in the state of Ohio, which is an area in which we really need to be a fertile recruiting ground to us here. Get him back here. That's two.
Dave Cutcliff, who can argue with his past success? I mean, his successes with the Mannings alone, both at Tennessee and at Ole Miss. I mean, when you get three guys with that ability to come and join your staff, if you don't get them, then you're the one making the mistake by not trying to get them.
Q. Is this weekend kind of a crucial weekend because you don't expect to be around the next few weekends?
COACH WEIS: It's going to be different than the other weekends. I think this is critical because we have a number of front-line guys coming in this weekend and this is the best opportunity for me to have face-to-face meetings with these guys. And we have a number of them in here.
I obviously have a plan of attack for the weekends that I'm not going to be here. It's not going to be where they're not going to visit with me, but I have a different mode to get that done.
But this was a critical one for not only the face-to-face, but also it's time to start nailing some people down. It's time for some of these guys, "Here is what the program is. Are you in? Are you on board? Are you jumping ship?" I think that that's where we need to get to.
I think we've been very matter of fact in our recruiting approach this year. You know, obviously we don't get into details on people because that's an illegal NCAA infraction. But I think this weekend will be the foundation for our recruiting.
Q. Kind of a recruiting question, as well. Given the state of the Notre Dame football program over the last decade or so, what can you or will you be able to sell and recruit other than just the name Notre Dame?
COACH WEIS: Well, I have a very easy answer for that question. It's not as loaded as you think. Just yesterday I went on a tour of this new facility (the Guglielmino Family Athletics Center). And I think that Notre Dame until this year, until June of this year, was kind of at a competitive disadvantage as far as facilities went. And this new facility, it doesn't get any better than this.
I went through it yesterday, and I've been through almost every college when we went out to work out players for the draft. And when you walk through that building over there, you'll know what I'm talking about. When the recruit comes walking through the door of that new facility that's going to open up in June, no longer will you just have to sell the name; now you'll have the school and the education and the name, and a facility that will be second to none. When players walk in, they'll say, "Whoa." That's what it's going to be when they walk in there, it's going to be a "Whoa."
Q. Coach, you mentioned that you were very up front about the fact that you can't establish these long relationships with recruits. Along those lines, how do you feel like you've been received with recruits across the country?
COACH WEIS: I think that things have gone fairly well. I think that sometimes you come in with a kid and it's just irreparable and it's too late. The difference is, I don't spend five minutes on the phone with those kids. Within five minutes, I know whether or not we're continuing the conversation because I don't wait around in the conversation to get to it. I introduce my name, where I'm from, and then we go right into, "Okay, here's the deal. I haven't been involved in you, are you interested or not interested?" If they are interested, I continue on.
There's been a few people even -- there's been a few people that have decided to stay where they're already committed to who have called me back and their parents have called me back, said, "You know, I really appreciate the call" -- they appreciate the fact you called them, even though they were already gone somewhere else.
But I do not in any way think that we won't have a successful recruiting class this year. Are there some players that we're too late on? Yes. Okay, just the way it is. It's the nature of the beast. But in no way do I think that I've been received in anything but a positive manner, even with the kids that aren't going to end up coming here.
Q. In terms of existing players, what's your philosophy regarding position switches? At what point do you ponder that?
COACH WEIS: I think that the first thing is I learned a long time ago is you better see what you have before you start making the switches. So when we walked in the door, I like to watch them first. I'm not going to be quick to do anything. I like to watch, see what I have.
I'm going to go off on a tangent with that and compound this issue. It's just like if there's a guy that's on the fence here as far as, Do I want to go to class? Do I not want to go to class? Am I a good guy? Am I a bad guy? I'm right now going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt walking in. I'm going to give them the opportunity to show me what they can do physically, but I also want to give them the opportunity to show me what they're going to do off the field as well as on the field. Are they going to be a good kid? Are they going to go to class? Because, you know, if they're not going to be a good kid, they're not going to go to class, I'm going to make their life miserable, and that's a promise. I will make their life miserable.
For those athletes really I think I've learned from both (Bill) Belichick and (Bill) Parcells is not to judge -- not to be quick to judge about what a guy can do. Watch, just watch. And I think that as far as position switches or changes, I think that they'll come naturally after you've watched for a while.
Q. During your student days here at Notre Dame, the heart and soul of team was comprised of guys from the Northeast, Midwest area, you mentioned Rick Minter's ties with Cincinnati. Then when the program reached a higher level under Lou Holtz, people thought that the recruiting improved in Florida, Texas, "key areas". Do you have a certain philosophy on where you believe that Notre Dame's recruiting efforts should be concentrated?
COACH WEIS: I think Notre Dame should be able to recruit nationally. I mean, this is Notre Dame. You should be able to recruit nationally. But I think sometimes you could spread yourself too thin. You know, I think that if you try to get in all 50 states and the rest of the Free World, let's face it, there's only so many scholarships and there's only so much time to do that.
But I do believe that each coach that comes in, Rob Ianello is our recruiting coordinator in addition to being our receiver coach. One of the things that we met on last night were areas where each coach came in has a background in, has ties with. So I think that there's natural recruiting areas as well as logistical areas or areas that are force fed.
I think the fact that you bring in guys that have ties in certain areas, I think you need to utilize that resource. But I think that Notre Dame should be able to recruit nationally, as well as hitting solid a home run on the Midwest every year. We should be able to do that because those guys are within driving distance.
Q. Considering many of us saw the USC-Oklahoma game the other night, the speed that was on the field, do you have any assessment of where this team is at speed-wise?
COACH WEIS: I think the grass needs to be longer. Next question (laughter).
Q. How much does speed play a part of recruiting for you? You talked about tough guys in the trenches. What about the skill position?
COACH WEIS: I love speed. I love guys that can run. First, I want guys that can play. I think there's a lot of times, like somebody will say, "There's a receiver that run as 4.3." He might be better suited to having those track spikes on because he might not be able to play football. You might say, "He can run fast, he can run a 10.0 300 meters." But what if he can't catch the ball? I like guys that can play. I mean, show me a guy who can play, that's what I'm looking for. I like play-makers.
So speed, don't get me wrong, I love speed, but speed can be overrated. If he's not a football player, what difference does it make how fast he is?
Q. Are you bringing in a speed coach?
COACH WEIS: There is a speed coach. Next question.
Q. Talk about the current players who are already here, their assistance in helping you and the new staff with recruiting. You often say the current players here are the most important component in getting new players.
COACH WEIS: And several of them came back early for this weekend because really they don't really need to be back until Monday. They've been very, very warm and receptive about helping. And they understand that that's part of the deal for the future of the program, that they have to be involved.
I can't say I've been surprised. I've been very pleased at the response from our players, to come back early, even when school wasn't in session this weekend, to be involved in recruiting.
Q. What is the mindset of those current players? You talked before about how these guys have been through a lot.
COACH WEIS: I think that they've been on an emotional rollercoaster. I think that one of the things -- I'll say a couple of different answers to that that are all connected.
One of the things is, when there's a change in head coach, and you have that period in between, there isn't the same direction or the focal point. I think the head coach needs to be the focal point of the program. And I think he's got to be willing to be the dart board. When things are going bad, the head coach has to be up there and make himself accountable first and kind of shield the team. And they went through a period where there was no one there to shield them. And I'd rather take the hits myself, okay, then them take the hits. And then I'll pass on the hits in private when I get back with them.
That's why I'm more than happy to accommodate any media request to talk to a player, as long as I know what the conversation is going to be about, because a lot of times, we do this in the NFL, we coach our players, we coach our players on the media and what's off limits, what they can't say and what they can say. We don't tell them what to say now, but we tell them the topics that are off limits, like injuries.
You'll hear this from now on: "I'm day to day. I'm just trying to get better. I'm just trying to get back on the field." That's the answer you're going to hear from everyone, so just write it down now because you're going to get the same answer. "I'm day to day." They might not be returning for eight months, but they're day to day. That's going to be the answer.
There's certain things that you take the pressure off of them so they that they don't have to -- in other words, there's somebody who is going to coach them on the things they really don't need to be messing with. They already have enough things to deal with, going to school at a tough academic institution, new coaching staff, new offense, new defense, new special teams. Every coach has their own little wrinkles on how business is to be done. So those things are going to take place. There's a number of changes that are taking place.
But I think that with change, there also can be a good opportunity for good things to happen, o because normally everyone buys into the system in the beginning because they want to be a part of the reason why things are successful, not a part of the reason why things are unsuccessful.
Q. How much were you on the road this week? How have you been able to balance the two jobs?
COACH WEIS: I was on the road all day Monday, and we can't talk about where, okay? But we only can have seven coaches on the road for each given day. So I was on the road Monday. I was off the road Tuesday and Wednesday. And I got to work about 9:00 Wednesday night, hopped on a plane, got out here. I was here all day yesterday. I'll be here today and I'll be here tomorrow. Then I'll hop back on a plane late Saturday night because I got a staff meeting 6:00 on Sunday - AM, in case you're wondering (laughter).
Q. You talked about the NCAA rules. Do you have somebody helping you making sure that you don't violate anything?
COACH WEIS: They actually gave me this book about this big when I walked in the door. I actually had to take a recruiting test. Let me tell you something, it's tough. I find myself fairly intelligent, but that recruiting test is tough. You know, it's something you really have to study for. If you just think you can walk in there and take that test and pass it, you know, you're wrong.
But I fortunately passed it with flying colors. I had to take it -- as a matter of fact, I flew -- the second time I flew in, I flew in on Friday to take the recruiting test so I could go see a recruit the next day. So it's something that you definitely have to prepare for.
Q. Anything like freshman year of college?
COACH WEIS: About the same. It's like cramming for an exam, but cramming in a short amount of time.
Q. You have three recruiting weekends after this. Can you give us a general idea how those will be handled? Are recruits coming in even if you're not here?
COACH WEIS: The answer is yes, they will come in. With the new technology that there is these days, there's an availability to have a face-to-face even though you're not here. So let's just leave it at that.
Q. So there will be recruits coming in each of the next three weekends?
COACH WEIS: Yes.
Q. After this weekend, after you get involved in the playoff games you have, how much time would you perceive spending on this job?
COACH WEIS: The same as I've been spending on it. I'll tell you how I've done that. What I've basically done is worked my day, gotten to the point where my assistant coaches on offense all have the material they need to work on for that night, and then the next three hours or so that I would be working on things personally all get pushed back till later so that I then could do the recruiting phone calls for the next three hours. And then those three hours that I would have been doing my football stuff, I pick it up then.
So really what I've done is I've had to put myself on extreme time management so that I could get everything done the same way. And there might be a couple times where there might be somebody on the West Coast that it might be 2 a.m. when I'm finishing where it's 11 p.m. there, where I still might make a couple calls at that time. So all I've done is cost myself a little sleep.
But I think as far as the time management goes, I think I have it down. Now, if it had to go past February, I don't know how much longer I would make it, but I think I have it down till then (laughter).
Q. It's been a while since you've been on the road recruiting, has it changed quite a bit since the last time you've been out there?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, I'm a head coach now. It's a lot easier, to tell you the truth. It's one thing when you're an assistant, you go into somebody's home, and you're not the same as one of the front-line guys coming in. But now when I go into the home, I'm the head coach of the University of Notre Dame. And it's actually a little easier.
Q. How about winter conditioning? First of all, do you expect Coach Mickey Mariotti to still be with the team?
COACH WEIS: January 17th is when we'll crank it back up.
Q. Have you changed a lot from the previous staff as far as how you will approach that?
COACH WEIS: Well, just our involvement in the program -- the coaches' involvement won't start till after recruiting is done.
Q. When you talk about your recruiting, do you approach it kind of like a draft board where you have a lot of different names up there, then you have targets, or is it a little more narrow?
COACH WEIS: I'd say the similarities are great, to tell you the truth. That's one thing I had them do. I don't know if they've done it in the past. But yesterday we walked into our office and we had a personnel board with our personnel and with years of eligibility left on the board, and then I had what we perceived as blank spots at positions where we had holes to fill. Then we had all the recruits by position in our order of rank. And sometimes it's who you think you can get, and sometimes it's who you want. Everything is color coded. It looked like a Christmas tree when we walked in here yesterday.
But I think there's a lot of similarities as far as that goes. Obviously, the difference is in the draft, when you take them, they're yours. Here, you know, you're going after them, and so is everybody else. So it isn't like that. It isn't like, "I want him to fill that spot." Well, so do the other 10 schools that are recruiting him. You might want him, but you might get him instead.
You have to identify which five guys that you would like to get two, you know. When you get two, you move on to the next position.
Q. Can you talk about tomorrow? It was announced you're going to be introduced at the basketball game.
COACH WEIS: Yeah, there's a dog and pony show tomorrow (laughter). But I think that one thing you guys will find out about me is I think it's real important for me to understand that my job at the University of Notre Dame. And my job is not just to be the head football coach. My job is to be a representative of the University of Notre Dame. So when we talked about that, you have a ton of people that are going to that basketball game. I think the basketball game is more important than me talking. But I think it's important for the people from this area that support this school to realize my passion for the success of this school. And I think that we want to thank them more than them thanking me. It's easy to get kudos when you haven't played a game yet. We'll see how many kudos I get September 3rd after we play Pittsburgh.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk to Justin Tuck yet?
COACH WEIS: Yes. No comment. You asked me if I had a chance to talk to him (laughter).
I can't talk about the conversation I had with Justin, what Justin is going to do. I can't do that.
Q. Do you know yet?
COACH WEIS: I can't do that and I won't do that. I just say that we've had very good conversations, okay? We've had very good conversations. That's Justin's call, it's not my call. It's Justin's call on that one. I'm not going to enlighten you on what the conversations have been. I'm not telling him what to do. He's in a situation where it's his call. I'm just telling him my perspective on things without going into our recruiting pitch because my job is just to give him information, my job is not to tell him what to do. That's a personal, private matter from a kid who I did not coach to this point.
And I think that once he's my guy, I'll call up 20 general managers that will take my phone call today. You name a guy, I can call him. I think I can get ahold of (Bill) Polian. I got a connection. But I'm just saying that I can call 20 general managers and say, "What do you think on this guy?"
But until he's my guy, until I've had him, I don't think it's fair for me to do that. I think that's got to be his decision, not my decision. All I can do is let him know more about me and what I stand for, and hopefully that helps give him more information when he's making a decision.
Q. If he said he wanted to talk to Coach Willingham, would you mind calling him for advice on this?
COACH WEIS: No. That was his head coach. I don't mind if he does that at all. I think the more information he gets, the better.
Q. The fifth-year process involves the head coach and a lot of other people. From your standpoint, where are you with the fifth-year guys?
COACH WEIS: Well, I'm learning more about exactly the mannerisms that that's being done, I'm still in the information-gathering stage. I know that some of the guys won't be back, I know that some of the guys will be back.
As far as the process itself, I still want to continue to familiarize myself with the process before I speak. This is one of those things where I don't feel comfortable enough with the whole process yet to be able to answer. That's another thing. When you ask me a question that I don't have the answer to, I'd rather not give you the answer to it at that time.
Q. I've got a couple of recruiting follow-ups. When recruits ask you how soon do you see Notre Dame returning to the elite program, what do you tell them?
COACH WEIS: Oh, now there's a loaded question (laughter).
Well, let's put it this way. I think that any competitive, true competitive coach, has a passion to win. And until you start winning many, many games, you're going to be miserable. And I don't like being miserable. So my answer to that would be: as quickly as possible.
Now, you might say, "Well, no kidding. Everyone knows the answer to that." But it better happen quick because my wife doesn't like when I'm not in a good mood, and I don't like when she's not in a good mood. I'm hoping not too long.
Q. Can you share how many recruits are actually coming in this weekend?
COACH WEIS: I've been informed by the powers that be that when it comes to numbers and direct questions regarding recruiting that it's just better off leaving that one alone. So you don't want me to get on probation the day I'm walking in here, okay (laughter)?
Q. You going to be watching any NFL games Sunday?
COACH WEIS: On Sunday? At 1:00, I'll be watching the Colts play Denver because if the Colts beat Denver, that's who we play. Now, when I get back late Saturday night, I'll also have a rooting interest on the Jets-San Diego game because if the Colts lose to Denver, that's who we play.
That's not a Patriots question, that's who we play. I'm really indifferent who we play. It's going to be a good team no matter who we play. It's going to be somebody that's good. This is the playoffs now, you don't play slouches any more. Whoever it is, it's going to be somebody good and it's not going to be easy to beat them. Even so we are playing at home, it will not be easy.
So at Sunday at 1 p.m., if you were looking for me, you could find me at my desk. That's why we're meeting at 6 in the morning, so we have seven hours to work before that game. Is my math right? That's right. Seven hours to work before that game starts because we'll be watching that game at 1:00.
Q. Do you see some irony that you're facing Dave Wannstedt in your first college game?
COACH WEIS: Well, his defensive back coach is Bill Lewis.
Q. Which Super Bowl ring are you wearing?
COACH WEIS: The most recent one. My son has already taken dibbs on this one. I told him he gets one. I have three of them. I told him he gets one. Each one, they get a little bit bigger. Goes, "Daddy, I want the Giant one. No, daddy, I want the Patriot one. No, daddy, I want the other Patriot one." He's basically saying, "Show me the money." This ring is basically his, he just lets me wear it.