Aug. 30, 2005
COACH WEIS: We are looking forward to finally strapping it up and going against somebody else. It’s been quite some time for these players since their last game, and a lot has transpired in that time frame. And I think that right now they are really looking forward to getting on the bus, to get on a plane to Pittsburgh to go against a formidable opponent on national TV. I know the team is excited and I know the coaching staff is excited. I think we are trying to handle this professionally like a business trip. We know that we’re going against an opponent that’s well coached, and we know that they have a lot of ability on all three facets of the game, from offense, defense and of course their specialists are quite extraordinary. We’re really looking forward to the challenge that Pittsburgh presents us.
Q. What significance or importance do you put on the fact that you have two passionate head coaches going back to their alma maters and playing each other in the first game against each other on such a stage?
COACH WEIS: I think Dave (Wannstedt) would say the same thing that I would say, is that this game is between players, not between coaches. I think a lot of times the fanfare and the attention goes toward the coaches and the coaching staff, but in reality it comes down to which team executes the better, the best.
Both teams are going to be well prepared. I don’t think that’s going to be the issue, then comes down to who executes the best. Like I said before, I have a lot of respect for Dave and his entire staff. I don’t think this should be about Dave and I. I think it should be about University of Pittsburgh versus University of Notre Dame.
Q. You talked Sunday about the practice on Monday was going to be intense, the players knew it; was it, and how did the players react to that?
COACH WEIS: It was easily, by far, the most upbeat practice we’ve had, including training camp. They all understood on both sides of the ball and on special teams what the tempo was supposed to be. There’s a fine line between getting them ready to go and making sure you don’t wear them down, too. We had a plan for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which grades down physically each day, and grades up mentally each day. I think that we got what we were looking for yesterday in our intro to Pittsburgh, and now it’s move on to phase two.
Q. Starting your legacy at Notre Dame, how important is that going to be just in your life, since you graduated here and coming back, and it’s been a long time since now you’ve had the job and now you get to play your first game?
COACH WEIS: It’s important for the whole program. It isn’t just important for me that we go ahead and execute and handle ourselves in a professional manner.
That’s what I expect, that’s what we expect, and that it is this, once again, this really isn’t about me and a legacy. I’m 0 0. Honeymoon officially ends Saturday night at 8:07. Right now I’m just worried about our team being ready to go and that’s my job, and I’m hoping that I’m doing a pretty good job and that they are ready to go.
Q. What are you most excited about for the first time and what are you most uncertain about?
COACH WEIS: I’m most excited about having our players have a chance to compete against somebody else. Training camp is a really tough time because you’re practicing against the same guys every day; and it gets old, it really does, it gets old. And the other thing that comes on the positive is that this is the first time the offense and the defense and the special teams all get to root for themselves together as a team. Usually in training camp, it’s offense against defense because you’re always competing. As far as that goes, they are the two things I’m looking forward to the most.
As far as the uncertainty, the bottom line is, you have to see whether or not your coaching has taken hold, and I feel fairly confident that that’s the case. We’ll get a chance to show it for the first time of 11 times come Saturday.
Q. You’ve talked a little bit already off season about the difference between coaching pros and college. Going into this week, what has been the biggest difference between being offensive coordinator in the NFL and getting ready for your first game as a head coach of Notre Dame?
COACH WEIS: One of them is dealing with the media. Obviously working under Bill (Belichick) and Bill (Parcells), the assistant coaches weren’t guys that had to spend much time dealing with the media.
But more importantly than that, I think more than me going through the culture shock of the time schedule being a little bit different, the freshmen go through it a lot worse than I do. Because the freshmen are the ones that came in here on June 21, went to summer school, went through two classes, then summer school ended and then they went through a training camp. And all of a sudden Tuesday, it was, whoa, now it’s football and school and trying to combine the two.
Actually for me, I have fallen into the schedule nicely where now I have from 5:00 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon to get my business done that normally had to take place from 7:00 at night on. It’s really from a preparation standpoint, this is as good as it gets because you have so much time.
Q. Can you just talk, how important is it to get off to a strong start? The past five seasons Notre Dame has scored a total of one touchdown in the first half the opening games. How important is it to get off to a strong start?
COACH WEIS: Every game has big significance. If you don’t look at each game as important, starting with the first one we only can do something about Pittsburgh. Getting off to a good start would set the tempo for the season; and remember that they are playing, they are out there getting ready, too, and you have to take that into account. You can never, never look past the same intentions that your opponent has, and they are looking to do the same thing you are looking to do.
Q. I think for all the experience your offense has, they are maybe going to have to carry you guys a little bit in the first game because they are a little more familiar with actually being in the game on the field?
COACH WEIS: The offense is just looking to go out there and execute. I don’t think that the offense really can worry too much about what the defense is doing. The offense has to worry about what they are doing. We just heard about, you know, production on offense. Their job is to go score as many points as they possibly can in the game. And to be honest with you, I don’t really care how many points that is, as long as we have more than they do. I think that that’s what their job is.
Remember now, one thing they have a little mental mental work to do because you’ve got Coach Rhoads as the defensive coordinator and the last four years, you know, they have had in the last four years they have been in the top 12 in the country in defense, two of the last four years. And then you’ve got Coach Wannstedt coming in, who has been a defensive guru for a lot of years, and you have to be able to mix and max those different philosophies between the two of them and see you don’t even know for sure which philosophy is going to show up at the start of the kickoff. They have a big enough mental challenge just worrying about themselves and not spending too much time worrying about what’s happening with the defense.
Q. Can you share your impressions of their quarterback, Tyler Palko?
COACH WEIS: Obviously he’s very productive. It was kind of interesting, I went to speak at a Big 33 Game dinner not too long ago, and I sat next to his dad, who is obviously a high school coach and a Pittsburgh area and we sat there and we talked about it. I have a lot of respect for I have a lot of respect for him as a player.
You know, it’s a little different right off the bat because you have a lefty quarterback coming out of the gate and our players have been practicing against righty quarterbacks the whole time. Usually there’s a little different package when you have a lefty quarterback. There’s some little different wrinkles because you are used to everything being strong sided coming from the defensive left, offensive right, and now you have just the flip of that where you have a lefty quarterback where your strong side or your blind side now is coming from the exact opposite side than it would be normally in practice.
I think he’s quite a talent and he’s surrounded by a bunch of talent.
Q. How often do you show the team your rings, if at all, and how do you handle that as a motivation or your resume?
COACH WEIS: I used the ring more for recruiting because recruiting is when you’re dealing with impressionable young men that are trying to make a decision. And every one that’s involved in recruiting process knows that when a kid is deciding between division one programs, one of the things one of their aspirations is to play in the NFL. The ring is a symbol of being at the height of the NFL. I use it more in that vein.
As far as using it with our players, showing the ring is one thing, but telling them what it stands for is more important. It’s not the ring itself and the `bling bling;’ it’s what it stands for. It means that you were the best at what you did.
Q. How often do you show them?
COACH WEIS: Well, any time I’m wearing shorts and a t shirt, I don’t wear it. When I’m dressed up and it’s somewhere where somebody is going to have an opportunity to sell Notre Dame, it’s on. Like now. (Laughter.)
Q. You talked about Coach Parcells and the tremendous impact that he’s had on your life. How are you different from him as a coach and how are you different from him from a personality standpoint?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, he’s won a lot of games and I haven’t. I’m not ignorant to think that I should be put on the same pedestal as Coach Parcells. We’re talking about a guy who is going to be going to the Hall of Fame versus a guy who is 0 0 in his career. I’d say a lot of the things I’ve learned over my coaching my coaching climb up the ladder were centered around him, and how he did things, and of course Coach Belichick and how he did things.
I think Coach Parcells and I have similar personalities, growing up in New Jersey, obviously he’s a little ahead of me as far as that goes. He’s a little older than me, but I think that there’s a lot of similarities in our personalities. The biggest difference is that he can back up what he says because of what he’s done, and I really haven’t done anything yet.
Q. Was there anything along the way where you said, you know, if I’m ever a head coach in this situation, I wouldn’t do it the way he did that?
COACH WEIS: No. What I’ve tried to do is I’ve tried to take the best things that I’ve seen him do and the best things I’ve seen Coach Belichick do, and I try to do that and tweak it with my own personality. I don’t look at the things I wouldn’t do; I look at the things I would.
I’m always trying to take the positives out of it, and that obviously those two guys have had the greatest influence in the last, you know, two decades in my life as far as coaching goes.
Q. You talk about being 0-0, has it been a little bit odd how widely heralded and popular you are for an 0-0 coach?
COACH WEIS: We’ll see how popular I am Sunday. You know how that goes. I think that I’ve done a lot of things, a lot of things to bring a positive vibe to the program, but it still really comes down to how you play. I mean, when you talk it’s easy to get up here and sit there and say, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. But really, it then comes down to whether or not the same thing follows it to the field.
I’m anxious more than anything else to finally get that going.
Q. Is that at all a concern to you?
COACH WEIS: No. No. I think that our players will be prepared and ready to go. If they are not ready to go, there’s only one person I’ll blame and it will be me. You can book that.
Q. Text messaging is something that’s gotten big in recruiting. How much do you guys use it and can you measure the success?
COACH WEIS: We text every single day, and it is a very, very integral part of recruiting now because it counts as an electronic message rather than a phone call and I would say that we talk to several recruits every single day by text. You know, as a matter of fact, I’ve had I’m using text to try to set up Thursday because Thursday is the first day that I can start calling people.
So you have the combination of getting ready for Pittsburgh and realizing that September 1 phone calls can start, so I’m trying to set up my little schedule when I can actually pick up that telephone and call them via text.
Q. What types of things do you text?
COACH WEIS: Depends. Quotes sometimes. I give them a little state of the union during the summertime. I sat there at the All Star Game and flat out texted about everyone known to mankind while my kid was saying, “Daddy, aren’t you going to watch the game?” Any time you have an opportunity to let the kids know you’re thinking of them when they would not think you were thinking of them, you either text them before a game, and then you text them after a game to follow up on what happened.
I’m not going anything that everyone else isn’t doing. I just think that it’s become just part of what you have to do.
Q. You’ve mentioned end of game situations and how you’ve been working on those, can you give an example of maybe a situation that you would put the team in to practice?
COACH WEIS: Well, I’ll give you one, and obviously this isn’t like me thinking of it. You have the ball in your own 20 yard line, it’s fourth and 10, and you have the ball. There’s 10 seconds left to go in a game and you’re up by six. So the logical thing to do is you punt it down there and you know, hopefully they have one play left and they have one play left or no plays left, and you end up trying to return it and you tackle them. But you know they are going to rush the punt and you are on your own 20 yard line, so taking a safety taking a safety is really a good answer.
Well, you can’t really trust your quarterback being able to run all the way back to the end zone, so you have the quarterback take the snap, turn it around, and throw it out of the end zone. I did this the other day in practice and the referees were, “Well, what are you doing?”
I said, “I’m taking a safety.” I said, “Well, I’m up my six, now I’m up by four, they need a touchdown to beat us, whether you’re up by six or four is irrelevant.” I am still on the 20 yard line, but now we’re punting the ball without any rush with your punter punting it instead of your kickoff guy and your punter punting it without any rush with a kickoff team out there covering with the whole field spread. That’s the type of thing you have to be ready for it. Might only happen once this entire year but when it happens, they will know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Q. Rebuilding confidence has been kind of a theme. How big of an aspect of executing in those situations is having the confidence?
COACH WEIS: When we first started, you said we were the Bad News Bears. But I as this has gone on, our players are starting to think on their feet. That’s important for them to understand four minute offense, two minute offense, jump ball situations, fourth and one, are they going to try to draw the off sides, punt out of your own end zone, taking a safety, sideline, leaving practice. You know, now with the replay becoming more prevalent, we even practice hurrying to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball after a questionable call before they can decide whether they are going to use the replay or not. You can get up there and try to snap it and even though you’re only going to get a yard on that play, it keeps them from getting a replay, taking away a big play from you. These are the things you have to prepare for.
Once again, I don’t know when they are going to show up. You can’t practice them every week. But they have been practiced multiple times in training camp, so I think at least the team will be thinking on our feet when that situation occurs.
Q. You’ve talked a little about your coaching and you feel confident about what you’re going to see on Saturday. What have you seen over the last three weeks that gives you that confidence?
COACH WEIS: It’s more how the players have reacted more than how the coaches have reacted. I mean, I have a lot of confidence in my coaching staff, but it’s watching how when we first started training camp and you’re first starting to install the stuff all over again and it doesn’t look very crisp when you first get going and then all of a sudden, you start repeating things, repeating things.
So now, unlike when I got here in the spring, it isn’t just putting in a play and them wondering, well, where does that play come from now. Now it’s, okay, I can see that, I can see that. And especially it start with the quarterback, when he starts to understand just not what you’re doing it but why you’re doing it, you usually have a better chance of success.
Q. You also said you felt like there’s probably too much emphasis on the coach from a media perspective; how have you gone about trying to scale that back or get your message across?
COACH WEIS: One of the things, both with ABC and NBC, they want me to go on air want me to be taped, so that when they go on air for their games, you know, they can have me being quoted. So I said, why don’t you go to the players? I mean, why don’t you go get them on tape so you can have Brady Quinn say something, have Brandon Hoyte say something.
The game shouldn’t be about the coach. I understand the fanfare that comes along with being the head coach at Notre Dame but when it gets to the game now, this game should be about the players. That’s what it should be.
Q. In the NFL, you always had four or five preseason games to evaluate talent and make decisions on depth charts. What kind of challenge has it been to do so without the luxury of those preseason games against an opponent?
COACH WEIS: That goes back to one of the early questions about hitting somebody else now, because we’re used to doing that exact thing. We’ve actually had more practices to get ready people talk about being able to install your packages. We’ve had a zillion practices to put in before school starts, because normally in the NFL, ten days after you start camp, you’re playing a preseason game. So right in the middle of your camp installation, you have to stop and spend time getting ready to play the preseason games. And each week of preseason in the NFL you spend a little bit more time, really the third preseason game you spend a lot of time because you use it almost like a dress rehearsal, and then it tones back down in the fourth game and you try not to get anyone hurt. You guys watch the preseason games, don’t waste your time watching the fourth one because No. 1 job that everyone every coordinator in the NFL is being told by the head coach, don’t get him hurt. Well, they play, they can get hurt.
So right now the thing with us is we’ve had a lot of practices, we’ve had plenty of practices to get ready to go for Pittsburgh and get the season started; I think that right now the No. 1 thing is to make sure we’re just peaking on Saturday night.
Q. You mentioned Dave Wannstedt as a defensive guru, and you’ve been called an offensive guru. Describe how your styles go against each either as pertains to Saturday?
COACH WEIS: Dave is a really good coach, and remember, it’s not just Dave, they have Rhoads there who is a good coordinator who he kept. When he came in there, he kept Rhoads. I think that their philosophies are interesting because, you know, I know Dave; Dave knows me. Now, that doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to end up happening, but now you have to throw the other factors, the other factors that are involved: Who are the other players that are involved; and by players, I mean, the other coaches that have an influence on defensive game plans and offensive game plans. I think that this is going to come down to, I don’t think there’s going to be a trick game. This is going to come down to an execution game.
Q. Other than what the scoreboard tells you each week, what indicators will you be looking at to tell whether the coaching has taken hold?
COACH WEIS: It basically comes down to whether our players actually were mentally prepared and that shows up on the field; did they play hard for 60 minutes, which will show up on the field. There’s some glaring, glaring obvious things that happen. And just like when you watch the game and you’re sitting there watching, saying, well, this happened, this happened, we obviously see the same thing what happened, and then have to go pound ourselves again the next day when we have to go watch it on tape all over again.
Right now it’s time for us to go ahead and start playing and start to play crisp and start getting some production and start hitting somebody else, and then play hard for the entire game, because there are things that I’m really looking for: Mental, physical execution and playing hard for 60 minutes.
Q. How would you characterize the size and complexity of the playbook, and what were some of the initial reactions from players when they first received it?
COACH WEIS: Well, it’s significant in size, but I that is the one thing that they had the benefit from is in the spring, I put it in. So it wasn’t like the coaching staff happened to put it in, because in some cases they were only a couple of days ahead of the players, as you’re putting it in.
But everyone got to hear it from one voice, so there was no interpretation of what to do. So in other words, just like every assistant coach heard it, I did it again this year, so that Peter Vaas could hear everything again, because you know he had come in late and I felt that it was important for him coaching a quarterback to be on the same page with everything I’m telling the quarterbacks so there’s no ambiguity on what I expect and what he expects the quarterbacks are supposed to know. I think that’s giving them they feel much, much more comfortable than they did not too long ago in March.
Q. From a college student’s perspective, college player, do you think it’s an intimidating binder.
COACH WEIS: I’ve said often, we have smart guys here. You only can put so much of it in the spring, so what you did you is try to get the base in the spring.
But now with all of the time we’ve had in training camp, I mean, you’ve got to go way past the basics and you have to go into more of the complexities of the offense. And if I don’t feel comfortable that they understand that we won’t do it, we’re not going to do it just because I like it. I’m only going to do it when I feel our players understand what we’re doing.
COACH WEIS: That is an interesting concept. Some programs kind of do that in their scheduling by scheduling people that they feel are lesser when they do that. I just play by what the rules are. It’s an interesting concept coming from the NFL because you’re used to doing it. The only thing you risk when you do that is obviously you risk when you’re going full speed; before you play for real, you risk losing a player. That is something that I kind of like but I just go by what the rules are and it is what it is.
Q. Wondering if you can talk about what you’ve seen of HB Blades on tape and I know his father played safety, but when you saw his father in the NFL, do you see any similarities on tape between HB and his father?
COACH WEIS: His father was a good player, but what Dave (Wannstedt) has done is he’s turned Blades, last year he was a linebacker and was inside and they have flip flopped them and moved Blades inside. I fully expect, you know I expect Dave to look at Blades like he’s a sacker and he’s very, very athletic and he’s a playmaker and he’s somebody you’d better get a hat on because if you don’t, you’re going to have a long night.
Q. Wondering if there was one trait through training camp that you learned about your team, what would be the most important thing you learned about your team through training camp?
COACH WEIS: If you push them, if you push them, which we did, they will respond. One of the problems is when you have a pushy personality like I do, sometimes when you start doing it, it’s not received with open arms. But I think that our players have responded very, very positively to be impressed and they were pressed.
Q. How long did it take them to sort of start to buy into some of the coaching?
COACH WEIS: Oh, I don’t know if they like me at all to tell you the truth. They may not like me at much, but about midway through spring they start getting it and it was just the start of it. But midway through spring it was kind of a turning point where we started taking small baby steps.
Q. With you and Dave making your head coaching debuts this weekend, do you think it’s become more accepted in the last five or ten years to go from the NFL back to college; and if so, why?
COACH WEIS: There’s been some good head coaches in colleges come from the NFL. I mean, you’ve got Pete (Carroll) obviously, you’ve got Kurt Ferentz, you’ve got Al Groh. Nick (Saban) obviously went a while ago went from the NFL, then went into college and had great success before he returned to the NFL. I think that college has been more enticing to guys in the NFL because if you have the personality to coach in college, it doesn’t fit for everyone, but certain people kind of enjoy it, and I do and I haven’t talked to Dave recently; I think he enjoys it, too.