November 23, 2008
An Interview with:
COACH CHARLIE WEIS
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. I know we’ve been asking all year about this. One of the major problems throughout has been the running game. Yes, you could have gotten the running game going. Might have gotten fewer possessions. Have you been able to spot anything yesterday that went wrong or what you can do better there?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think that yesterday the only the best production we had was running the ball to the open side, not to the tight end side.
Not because of the blocking of Kyle, necessarily, but because we’ve been running so often to the tight end side, that they were loading up there some.
So, really, the most production we had we had some good production with Armando. It was just really running the ball to the open side.
But really you have to be able to run the ball more consistently, especially when you get an opportunity to finish a team out. I think that that becomes critical. And I think we had too many runs for no gain or losing a couple yards that put us in a little bit of a bind.
Q. Considering you’ve had a couple of losses this year, is it easier this week because it’s a rivalry game, to get the team out of the tank a little bit?
COACH WEIS: Well, USC will certainly have their attention in a hurry. But I think first things first. Anytime these guys come in, you have to deal with what’s just occurred before you get going to USC.
Obviously a team with the caliber of USC and always being such a big game and being Thanksgiving week, there’s a lot of things that create a sense of urgency because their time gets pushed up some so that you can give them some time on Thanksgiving day to actually have Thanksgiving dinner like everybody else does.
Q. Is this automatically always the biggest game of the year, no matter what?
COACH WEIS: Well, I mean, it’s a big rivalry game. I know that everyone would like to sit there and say that it’s just about USC. But I think that Notre Dame has so many natural opponents that they play year in and year out, home and home, that you have to take them as they’re dialed up.
Like just the fact that it’s at a different time every other year, you play them at home in October. You play them on the road the weekend after Thanksgiving. I think that you just have to be worrying about the ones is their doubt up because there’s too many teams in the homeandhome variety.
Q. Just seeing what Pete Carroll has done there, do you think he’s set the mark of what other teams throughout the country are trying to match?
COACH WEIS: I think Pete has just done an excellent job of going in there and getting topnotch athletes that are competitive week in and week out.
And he’s got a whole bunch of them. And somehow he’s been able to not only get a whole bunch of them but keep a whole bunch of them happy, because they usually end up staying there.
You look at the running backs, which we’ll get to later on, and you have a guy like Mark Tyler who we want really bad and he’s their fourth halfback. So as you look at their depth chart, he’s done a really good job at assembling a good amount of talent and they play that way.
Q. Would there be any circumstance, if you lose this game, would there ever be a reason why you wouldn’t want to go to a Bowl game?
COACH WEIS: I think the downside of not going to a Bowl game is the extra practice that you miss to develop your younger players. No one’s jumping up and down to go to a Bowl, if you were to lose the game and end up 66, no one is jumping up and down to do that.
But at the same time that’s multiple practices and development that could be going on that you end up losing out on. And I think in your program’s sake I think it ends up hurting you in the long run.
Q. Yesterday you didn’t want to answer the big picture questions. Now that you’ve had a day to look at it, especially in light of when you came in here you kind of gave the team a talk about the 57, 66 aren’t good enough. And at this point your record is slightly below that.
COACH WEIS: I have given some thought to that and I do have my response to that. I think that it was important yesterday for me not to respond to that, because I just think that I would not have given a thoughtful answer and not exactly sure how it would have come across.
But I’ve kind of reflected back off of last year to this year to next year. So last year I think we were pretty crummy football team. We were 39. We were playing a whole bunch of freshmen and sophomores. And firstyear players.
And it really looked that way. There were multiple games last year where we just didn’t lose but I felt we were basically noncompetitive as the game went on. So then we go to this year. Now, these guys have now another year under their belt.
Now we’re sitting here 65. So you sit there and look at the five losses. And three of the five losses you had double digit leads. In North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and yesterday, you have double digit leads.
As a matter of fact, in none of the games were you noncompetitive. There wasn’t one game where you didn’t have a chance to win the game, unlike last year where there were multiple games where the games were over early and just put away.
So what you’ve really done is you have taken these guys who were a bunch of pups, now have a year under their belt. Going from a crummy team to what I think is a decent team. I wouldn’t say we’re anywhere near good but I would say we’re decent.
And I say as you look forward into next year, as you take the next step, if you take a step from three wins to six or seven wins, not including a Bowl game, going to the next year, you should expect the progression to be at least as good if not better. And I think that’s really you have to sit down and reflect. You have to look at the difference how you played in the losses last year versus the losses this year where you stepped up from where you were last year from where you are this year.
And with a good portion of these guys now with two years under their belt coming back for next year, you’d have to say you have a chance of being pretty darned good.
Q. Do you feel pretty comfortable right now with your job status?
COACH WEIS: I think that the team has a chance of being pretty darn good next year. I can’t worry about my job status. I’m the head football coach. And that’s what I intend to be.
Q. As you look at the penalties and the mental errors in week 11, have you found a reason for the delay in development? Are these things that you’re seeing in practice? Is there a way to have you thought about just why this keeps happening?
COACH WEIS: Well, there are two different issues now. So let’s separate penalties from the mental areas.
Penalties as they occurred in the game I can go through every one of them I can talk about the two on defense, which were aligned off sides and defensive holding/pass interference call, where Harrison was riding the guy down the field. That’s a type of call where normally when you stay engaged with somebody, which he was engaged with him the whole time.
Normally you don’t see something thrown on that one. I could give you a half dozen times where we’re running 30 yards down the road where we’re engaged the whole time and I don’t see a flag. But then it’s a he said/she said and you’re making excuses on it.
I can think of the three holding penalties on offense, two of which I saw and one where I didn’t. On the first, on the run that Armando ran down by the 5yard line, the penalty on Danny, that was actually behind the play.
Now, he was holding on the play but it was behind the play. It was unnecessary. It really just we didn’t need to do it. And then another big call on the holding call on Grimes on the screen to Kyle that went for a whole bunch of yards.
And looking at the tape, I’m not going to argue with that one either. But it’s 20 yards down the field. And he’s trying to hold on and hold on and trying to make a play because it’s a slow developing play when it’s a screen.
So if you look at each penalty in the game, usually there’s a different set of circumstances. The only one I’m really not commenting on is the one with Turkovich, because I really couldn’t tell on that one. Was he engaged? Was he not engaged.
Mental errors are a totally different answer. I think sometimes mental errors come from things that you’re not expecting to see. And sometimes teams do things that you haven’t seen all year and then you have to react to them.
And I think that the more experience you have very seldom do we make a mistake where you call something that everyone has a lot of familiarity with and they wind up with something that’s sort of like what they looked like when we turn somebody free. That doesn’t happen very often. But there were a couple of instances on both sides of the ball yesterday where we just made a mistake that ended up costing us.
Q. In the bigger picture, as these things might keep happening from game to game to game, is there a reason when you sit back and look at it why it happened over and over again?
COACH WEIS: I’ll give you an example offensively. Like last week against Navy, we had the least number of mental errors we’ve had the entire season. And now this week against Syracuse I would say we had a few more than we had last week but the number’s drastically down from where it was four weeks ago.
So I would think both on offense and defense, even though you still have mental errors in the game, I think you’ll find the number of mental errors has been continually decreasing.
Q. Last, how do you handle the pressure of these situations? Do you rely on your family? Do you put it behind you immediately? How do you deal with it?
COACH WEIS: The first thing I had to do after the game is deal with the emotion of the players, especially the seniors. And as I told you before, win or lose, there were going to be guys pretty tore up. And having lost, I made sure before I went and did media I made sure I spent some extra time making sure I saw a bunch of those guys. I couldn’t get to all of them.
But I tried to get to a bunch of those guys. Then after doing media, which is always my favorite after a game like that, then my attention, because I had recruiting going on, my attention briefly turned to my wife and my son, who were pretty tore up.
But then you go to recruiting, and you can’t like all of a sudden, you’ve got a bunch of top recruits in here. You can’t say all of a sudden I’m not going to recruit today because I’m not in a very good mood and kind of brings you back to reality because then you’re back to work all over again in a very calm demeanor.
And I think that the problem is you have to mix and match a whole different bunch of things. Your own players, your own family, recruiting, all those things have to mix. They have to coexist and sometimes it’s tough going from one hat to the next.
Q. I think it was last year’s USC game was kind of a rock bottom type deal, and you had Mike Floyd and maybe Trevor Robinson and Jonas Gray were in that, and I think Floyd committed. You have some top recruits in this weekend. What do you tell those guys after a game like that and how do you feel like you were received?
COACH WEIS: Well, obviously I can’t go into the players, but you sit there and say, now, could you have been the difference between us winning and losing? That’s the first question you ask them. And a one point game, most every recruit would look at it, a game like yesterday, and say they could see themselves being the difference between winning and losing.
I think all the guys I’ve talked to this morning. And once again we can’t get into particulars, I think that they all saw that the conversation I just had with Tom about last year to this year to next year was really the same thing that we talk about.
I said: Did you want to come in on a crummy year, decent year, a year that we were pretty darned good? So I think that they see the same things. They look at the depth chart. They see the players. They hang around the players. Our players do a very good job in recruiting. In good times and bad, they always do a very good job in recruiting.
And usually by the time I have an in depth conversation with them on Sunday, usually they have a really good feel for field of plays and seldom is there much of a negative overtone in that conversation.
Q. In terms of lessons that you’ve learned this year, maybe what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned and maybe the most painful this year?
COACH WEIS: Most valuable and most painful? I’m trying to think if I should defer this to a couple of days as well, Eric.
I think I’d have to think of that one. I’m more than willing to give you an answer, but once again I think that they’re fair questions but one I’d like to give a little time on thinking about, okay?
Q. Jimmy is sitting at 52 in the nation passing efficiencies. Has jumped way up then he’s found this level in the 50s. Did you expect him to be higher in that standing?
COACH WEIS: I wasn’t expecting the little rut we had there for a game and a half or that little rut that we were into. But I think yesterday, there’s a couple of throws he’d like to have back. But yesterday he started to manage the game much more efficiently than he had in the last couple of games.
And no picks. Didn’t try to force the ball. Didn’t try to force the ball. Took a sack at a time when it was actually, even though it was a big loss, it was a smart play to take a sack because he would have been just throwing the ball up in the air. And when that ends up happening, you can end up getting a ball intercepted very easily. I thought yesterday he made definite strides back in the right direction.
Q. I know that probably you love people bringing up old quotes of yours and throwing them at you. But I’m not exactly doing that. But I think when you came in you felt like you can make a difference with a team that was basically 500. What is it about where do you feel like your expertise is going to make a difference in this team jumping from 6 and 5ish to BCSish?
COACH WEIS: I think we have a lot of young talented athletes that are gaining in valuable experience. I think that we all, whether media or coaches, can identify that one of the major issues that we’re dealing with is finishing the game. You would say it and I would say the same thing.
I think where I expect the biggest change or biggest uptick is in that quality, because experience is usually the one that puts you over the edge on that one. And I think that’s what a bunch of these kids are now gaining. I move it in the right direction for that one alone.
Q. With the students/fan Charlie Weis of how many years ago, be patient with the Coach Weis that we see today?
COACH WEIS: I never missed a pep rally, and I never missed a game. And that’s one thing I can tell you. Wouldn’t have made a difference to me if it was 35 degrees yesterday or 85 degrees. I would have been there because I had a bunch of friends on the team and I felt that no matter what happened, I was going to be there and feel like I was part of that team.
I was going to feel the wins and feel the losses and when we won the game, even though I wasn’t a player, I felt like I won. When we lost a game, even though I wasn’t a player, I felt like I lost.
So at least when those football players would go to class on Monday, I could feel their pain because I felt it right along with them.
Q. With that connection to the student body in mind, what did you think when you heard that snowballs were flying into your bench from the student section yesterday?
COACH WEIS: I was taken back about it, to tell you the truth. I was caught a little off guard because they started coming early. And I think that maybe it was meant in fun at the start of the game. But it’s a dangerous thing. And it’s just something I wish would have been avoided.
Q. You were talking about a little bit about the prospects last year and this year, next year. How many of the things, the problems you’re looking at with this team the improvements that need to be made are things that can only be made in the off season when you have an extended amount of time to go really big picture with this group?
COACH WEIS: I think you can make more strides in the off season, because you can take a few things to make a point of emphasis and emphasize them for multiple months. During the season you’re weektoweek, whereas the off season you can identify problems and then spend extensive amount of time directed at those specific problems.
Q. I know that after a loss you make sure the players feel considering where they are mentally, do you feel like there’s a fragility there that if you hammer them again they may
COACH WEIS: I won’t be hammering them. But I will be matter of factly addressing the problems. I think that no matter what the problems need to be addressed. I don’t think you can ever you just can’t say, hey, it’s okay fellas. That’s not the way to go. The problems have to be addressed, and they will be.
Q. This may sound a little rhetorical. But after the game, Sam Young said that he felt Syracuse wanted it more, which seemed like it was our statement on senior day against a team with a lame duck coach. When it comes to motivation, how much of that do you put on the players themselves to motivate each other? How much of that is on you, how much of that is on the system?
COACH WEIS: First of all, I didn’t hear Sam say it. And I don’t know the context in which he said it. And he’s on the leadership committee. So I’d have to defer that one to him, because I don’t want to take one quote that somebody said without the whole ball of wax. I think it would be out of line for me to comment on that one.
Q. Robert Hughes didn’t make
COACH WEIS: There’s two or three times we were going into the game. But then the mode switched from a mode where we were going to have to spread it out. And when we spread it out, the best guy for us to have in the game is Armando.
He was two or three times he was dialed up to go up, but then something happened in the game, either it was a long drive or something else that had happened where we were going to change modes and went from him being the lead dog to Armando.
Q. I know you’re focused on this week and the Bowl after that. How much time do you spend in how you want to spend your off season, what changes do you want to make if you feel you need to make changes at all?
COACH WEIS: I’ll have plenty of time on the road. I spend probably the first three weeks in December on the road. So usually when I’m on the road is when I am away from my wife and my kids. So I have a lot more hotel time and that’s when I usually start addressing those things.
Q. Tom asked you about the running game and you told him why you kind of support it. But what are the problems? Is it technique? Is it effort? Is it the team?
COACH WEIS: Depends week by week. Like what were the problems yesterday? Because they weren’t the problems last week. So last week they weren’t problems. Last week the running game was fairly efficient. This week you were going against a different defense that decided to make you go away from the tight end side by how they were slanting and overloading their linebackers and pushing them that way and making you run that direction. That’s what you end up doing.
You end up starting to go in that other direction. When you’re running to the open side, when you’re running to the open side, there’s only so many runs you could dial up to that open side because you’ve got a lot less versatility.
Q. How about Brandon Walker. I know you talked to him after the game. Did you do anything to
COACH WEIS: Remember, now, the true makable field goals in the game, the ones that weren’t borderline, he made.
So you have the mishandled I’d say it was a combination of a knuckle ball snap and a mishandled snap on the short field goal and that stretch in the third quarter where we weren’t taking advantage of the field position. We had that one and the ball gets put down and he’s just trying to punch it through.
It’s tough to blame him on that one. The other field goals were a 48yarder and a 53yarder, and you hoped you’d make one of those field goals, especially the first one. But certainly you’re hoping for the second one.
But in reality he came up a little bit short, especially on the first one.
Q. Does he just kick regular balls? Are those balls he uses, are they
COACH WEIS: It’s tougher to kick a ball in cold weather games. But it isn’t like they have balls over there warmed up by the heater or anything like that. It’s a little tougher to kick a cold ball. But he made that 45yarder right down the middle; but that 48yarder in the same direction, you’re hoping he makes that one, too.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.