Aug. 8, 2005
COACH WEIS: Good morning. By now, most of you have become a little familiar with me and the way I operate and the way I talk and the way I answer questions, so I won’t bore you too long with some of the idiosyncrasies and things that are going on. Other than you could see how moving into a facility (the Guglielmino Athletics Complex) like this, really, is a really big plus for the University of Notre Dame. It’s a big plus for the whole athletic department. I think it will be a big plus for the school. I think going from facilities that I believe were antiquated to now right at the top with everybody with the way Notre Dame should be and what they stand for, I think our players are very, very happy.
Obviously it has not hurt us in recruiting, as well, because when players come in here and see this facility and see what we’re dealing with, it makes a big difference when you’re making impressions in a young man’s mind. I think that that’s been a critical factor in some of our so called early success.
A few logistical things to get out of the way, as you’ll get a roster today and we start going through some things, here are some things of note. Freddie Parish is transferring. We’re in the process of getting that done right now. He came to me, he and I worked on this. We’ve been working on this together here for quite some time and I think that we have this kind of worked out. This is not an anti Notre Dame or anti Freddie Parish deal but I think it’s going to work out the best for Freddie in the long run and I’ll leave it at that. That’s as far as I can see.
Travis Leitko will not be back this year, as far as his future goes, I can’t tell you and for anyone else that I’ve already commented on at a previous time, I’m not really going to go in that direction, nor am I going to answer questions about Freddie Parish or Travis Leitko, so save your breath because I’m not discussing personnel issues.
On a positive note, we just ran a conditioning test early this morning. They were welcomed back this morning with an air horn at 6 o’clock to welcome back to officially being involved. And at 6:15 we went out there and stretched and we ran the conditioning test, which was the culmination of Coach Mendoza’s off season program. As you know, in the summertime we can’t do anything with X’s and O’s. It can only be a limited amount of hours with your strength-conditioning program and the rest of it is school.
Obviously with the NCAA making a very wise move, and very beneficial to the University of Notre Dame, (they made) a very wise move by letting freshmen enroll in summer school before the first semester starts. It has been a huge, huge plus for us, because all the guys we have coming in here were able to get six hours under their belt as far as academics go; and at the same time get in shape, where you’re not counting on a young guy coming in not knowing really what it takes.
Everyone finished the conditioning test which made me happy. Some could have looked a little better in the conditioning test. Some probably would have won the triathlon or Boston Marathon by how they fell to the ground at the end, but the bottom line is obviously Ruben (Mendoza) and his staff have done a great job in the off season because the conditioning from when we left spring ball to now, okay, was greatly, greatly, greatly increased. And I think at least coming into camp, it gives you a better chance to be preventative as far as injuries go when you’re in better shape.
So I was very encouraged with that. We didn’t lose anyone. We had one player who was still going through the last part of his physical between 11:00 and 12:00 today. We expect that to be a non issue and as soon as that gets done, we’ll have the full gamut of everybody with the exception of those couple of personnel issues that I’ve already previously spoken of.
Now, as we start this season, and we work hand in hand with especially the local guys and ladies who are here all the time. But the normal beat writers who are around a lot and some of the national media, I think it’s important that you know that we’re going to try to as best we can accommodate things along the same principle that I said when I first walked in the door and everyone had a fit. I think it’s really important for when you’re running a football program or any business to be on the same page. I think that our players have been educated on dealing with the media, hopefully they will be very representative of the University of Notre Dame and when you ask for them, I hope and I’m counting on them when they schedule something with you to follow up and actually be doing it. So I’m kind of being on your side; if they don’t own up to their end and their responsibility, because I understand that those things take place.
On the other side of that, the flip side of that, understand that we’re not really into the business of passing on information. I know that’s what your job is, to gather information, but we’re not in the business of passing on information, especially any type of information that could be detrimental to us winning on September 3 against Pittsburgh. That’s really the bottom line for us. Now all personnel issues, all X’s and O’s, all injuries, all of those things all have a part in whether or not you win or lose football games, and what’s the way I’ve been – that’s the way I’ve been taught and that’s the way we’re approaching it this season with your own guys.
You know the lay of the land for today is that I’m going to speak with you here for a half hour, and then the coaches are going to have tables out in that locker room today and they are available for you to ask whatever questions you wish. Then our leadership committee will then take over those tables and the other people that you ask for will also be available at that time. So that takes us until 12:30 or obviously, you’ll get a couple of extra minutes there. But the bottom line is that they have to be back in meetings for the afternoon. They all have to be in meetings by 1:30, so just understand that we only have a three hour window of time.
For the first five days, there’s a limitation on the field, and you only get three hours of field of which we’ve already utilized a half hour, and you can only go once a day with the exception of one time with what we did today, as long as you leave a four hour window between that conditioning test and your next practice, which we’re not practicing until 3:45. So obviously being done at 6:45 in the morning, there was plenty of a window there. Today we’ll practice for two and a half hours, and every day the rest of this week will be from 2:15 to 5:15.
There are set rules by the NCAA, no pads on today and tomorrow, shoulder pads the next two days, and then strap it up on Friday and go full go. Then starting Saturday, we’ll be going the alternating two a day, one a day schedules, which is a little tweak from how it’s been here in the past. Because my practices on two days are in the morning or in the evening with no practice in the afternoon we’ve found statistically after doing a bunch of research that it’s always, always important in training camp to follow every practice with a meeting. So on one a day schedules, there’s obviously a morning meeting and night, and two a day, there’s just a meeting in the afternoon, and that allows to you always be following up practice with a meeting and always be preceding a practice with a meeting. So it works out where the coaches have enough time to cover both what they were doing and what they have to do in that practice.
So that is generically the lay of the land. Personnel wise, injury/health wise. Obviously we’re very excited and really looking forward to getting out there and getting after it. And I let the players know in no uncertain terms, don’t expect me to be in my best disposition for quite some time because I think we have a lot of ground to catch up. And I told them, you can worry about me being nicer a lot later from now because I’m not in a happy mood. It’s time to take off a lot of those hats you wear when you’re the head coach and let’s start playing some ball; that’s where we are.
So on that note, I’ll try to open it for you and feel free to fire away.
Q. How much of that is the reality of winning right away and how much is Notre Dame expects it?
COACH WEIS: It’s a fair question if you’re worried about what people are thinking. I’m not really worrying about it. Mind you, the object is to win as fast as we can. So what you have to do, the first message that we are trying to teach the players is, you have no chance of winning if you don’t believe you’re going to win. You have no chance of winning. If you have games you’re already thinking, well, this team is a lot better than us, you really have no chance. So when you’re a football coach or a football player and if you go into a game thinking anything other than you’re going to win that game, you can count on losing it.
So the sooner we can get more people thinking that way, the better our chances are. Now, I understand the question, you know, and we have said in my smart aleck Jersey attitude about I’m not dumb enough to answer that question, but there are not many games that I have not looked at the schedule and said, well, we’re losing that one. I’ve tried not to do that.
Q. Inaudible of the possibility of limited access for the media to the players…
COACH WEIS: Well, what do you need to talk to them about? I’m coming up here and basically answering most of the questions that you’re asking. I think I know more than they do. So if you’re asking a football question, I think that you should be asking it of me. And this way, I can buffer it the way I’d like it to be buffered. You ask some 18 year old kid, what do they know? Really, what do they know? So I’m trying to answer a football question from a guy who has been doing it for a lot of years. I think I might be able to give you a more educated answer most of the time.
And at the same time, I’m trying to protect them from saying something that could get themselves in trouble. For example, you get a young guy who comes in, you ask him, well, what are your expectations? Well, I intend to be a starter, ta da, ta da, ta da. Well, what do you say to the guys that are already ahead of him? Now all of a sudden that’s causing some friction between him and the older guys who are playing for a whole bunch of years.
It isn’t keeping information away from you; it’s protecting them from saying something that really could only be used against them, but not necessarily by you, but might be used against them by their own team or might be used against them by the people we’re playing against. I’m not really big on putting fodder on other people’s boards to sit there and disrespect any team we are playing against for the same reason. I’m not giving any psychological edge to anyone we’re playing by me saying, hey, we’re going to go whip their butt.
Q. Your secondary, which already has limited experience, lost another player today with the transfer of Freddie Parish. What kind of expectations do you have of the secondary?
COACH WEIS: Well, I tell you what, the one thing you’ve got to judge from is the guys that are on the field. You know, Freddie in springtime wasn’t on the field hardly at all because he was doing some things academically to get his academics straight, which he did, but I hardly had him out there at all.
So for me to make a judgment from some guy who was on the fold once a week, it’s tough for me to make a really big evaluation of where he stood. So I can only make a statement on the guys I’ve seen so far. Now, we’ve brought in three safeties as you know and they are going to get a chance to get involved in the mix. We have plenty of guys on the depth chart that we have actually a lot more information on as far as evaluation because they were actually out there. In the springtime, I’ve only been here one semester and there were a lot of guys that were not out here very often. Those are the players that just like the freshmen, we have to gain more information before I can make an evaluation of where they stand.
Q. I realize this is the first time that Pittsburgh will face you, but also the first time you will face Pittsburgh and they have a new system under Dave Wannstedt. How do you prepare for Pittsburgh?
COACH WEIS: Two things. I think that Dave knows me and I know him. So I think Dave has a pretty good idea of the things that I like to do. And I have a pretty good idea of the things he likes to do. That also care he’s over to Rick Minter and Matt Cavanaugh, because now you have Rick on defense along with Bill Lewis and Jappy Oliver’s influence, and you have Matt Cavanaugh on offense. We kind of all know each other. So even though we’re coming from different areas, there’s still some familiarity as far as schemes go, which is an equalizer. I think that they are a great football team, will be very well coached and they will be very challenging.
Q. Pretty overwhelming, playing under pressure and everything, is that something you need to talk about week in and week out?
COACH WEIS: I think pressure is something that’s self inflicted. It’s how you handle pressure.
The way I’ve learned how to coach is you lay it on the line, you let it all out when you’re installing your game plan. That’s what Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday are for. I think it’s really important when you talk about pressure, and to be at your best at handling pressure on Saturdays. Because if you lose your composure, as you’re affected by any outside force, pressure included, you’re going to lose your composure and so will your team. I think it’s really important. Now, of course I’ve told the players that when it comes game day, all bets are off on keeping your composure. But where a lot of people know that where I’m a fiery type of guy, I’ve also been taught that pressure is something you just bring on yourself; it’s how you handle situations and I think it’s important for you to be able to handle it on and off the field.
Q. The quarterbacks are you happier where Brady Quinn is now, or how far away is he getting where you want to be?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, he’s battle tested because he’s played in 21 games. And he has shown before I walked through the door, he has shown one quality that, you know, it’s easy to say that he’s all day tough. You don’t have very many quarterbacks that fall into that category that are all day tough. Well, he obviously is one of them.
Now, once you take that ingredient, then you have to find out what the key components are that he does as a quarterback. Is he intelligent? Yes. Does he have arm strength? Yes. Does he have touch? Yes. What he probably lacks is experience as far as reading coverages and really understanding schematically in my offense how plays are going to be run; in other words, where the ball is supposed to go based on what they do, and the sooner that myself and Peter Vaas and Michael Haywood can get that conveyed to Brady, I think you’re go going to have a very good player.
And obviously one last thing, the most important element of a quarterback, without a doubt, is their leadership ability. And the fact that the team voted for him as a junior to be the offensive captain in a landslide, it obviously tells me without me even having to say it myself, what the team thinks of his leadership ability.
Q. Inaudible question about the team’s development during the upcoming preseason?
COACH WEIS: I’ll let you know in September. We’ve got a lot of time. The one big advantage between now and August 23 see, you have to understand that I look at this in segments, okay. I have from now until August 23 where I can have him 24 hours a day, because that’s when school kicks off.
So trust me in that timeframe between today and the night of August 22nd, you can bet that this team will be mentally and physically challenged, so that by the time school challenges and we have to tone it down to 20 hour weeks, the offense and the defense, the defensive schemes are going to be in.
Q. Looking at the schedule, those first four games are really tough
COACH WEIS: You sound like the alumni.
Q. Do you think you will have trouble getting the team ready for the schedule?
COACH WEIS: The way I look at it, what’s the biggest game of the year for me? September 3. Do you think I will have any trouble getting a team up to play Michigan? Do you think I’m going to have any problem, any trouble getting the team up to get home for their home opener against Michigan State? Do you think I’m going to have any trouble getting them ready for Washington on the 24th of September? Okay, because you know that’s what it’s going to be for them, it’s going to be one big distraction the whole week. I’m already on top of that. How about going on the road to play Purdue, who whipped you pretty good last year? And then coming home to play USC? Give me a break. If you can’t get the team up to play those teams, then you’ve got a problem.
So let’s just worry about September and not worry before the games are played. Let’s worry about being ready for the first one and let everything else take care of itself.
Q. Inaudible question about the assitant coaching staff?
COACH WEIS: I tell you what, I’m very, very fortunate, first of all, that Notre Dame gave me the resources to be able to get a staff like this. I’m going to tell you a telling tale which is more important than just answering that in a generic sense.
I flew in for the first official visit the week of the bye week, the first week in January. I flew in and literally met these guys face to face, together, for the first time about 20 minutes before we take the recruits out for dinner. So here I am, I fly in there, I meet all of these guys, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen their face. I’ve been negotiating with them, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them. But more importantly, I sat there that night at dinner with all 11 of these recruits, of which 10 ended up coming and I watched these guys work together and I said, this is the first time these guys have ever worked together? I think the chemistry is a very, very critical factor when it comes to coaching, and I think that this team, this staff, has great chemistry.
Q. Inaudible question about the Patriots and their team attitude?
COACH WEIS: This might sound like an abstract, but this is the answer to the question. Now, whether I can get it done or not is a whole another issue. The abstract is this, and this is what Bill Belichick was able to do: He was able to get individuals to suppress their egos, to view the team as more important than themselves. That’s the simple answer that I can give you to that question.
Now the complexity involved with a team is a whole separate issue, but that really was it, to take a bunch of guys that supposedly these pro football players have huge egos and you never would see it. You’d never see it. You’d never see anyone with a huge ego. And it was the coaches, it was the management, it was everyone, where everything was about: What can we do to help us win. That’s what it was about.
So that’s what I’m trying to attain. The first one is the easy part. The second part is the tough part. That’s what we’re working on. Somewhere along the line, hopefully before September 3, but somewhere along the line, this universe is going to get to that point, and when we do, look out.
Q. The offensive line, what do you plan to do?
COACH WEIS: Just talked to them last night about a couple things. In the first night you can only do administrative things, organizational things. You really can’t talk about football.
When you talk about attitude, which we then got to this morning, when you talk about attitude, I think that often with offensive players, you have to get them with defensive mentalities, because too many times offensive players get pushed around because those guys on the other side of the ball talk too much and they are not willing to back it up.
So what we have talked about, I talked at length with the offensive line, particularly about this today; it was about playing with a defensive mentality. That means be aggressive, not the one who is taking the blows, the one who is delivering the blows. So we are working on that on that answer.
Q. Can you talk also about Darrin Bragg?
COACH WEIS: Darrin has had some shoulder injuries and thumb injuries here in the last year that really has kept him physically from being able to really throw a football. I just felt that he was too good of an athlete if he could not throw a football, to just list him on the depth chart just to have another guy on the depth chart. I try to take each one of these kids and put him in a position where they have a chance to compete again on the field, so that’s what we’re dealing with Darrin.
As far as everyone else, we’ve got David Wolke and after Wolke, we brought in two this year as freshmen, Marty Mooney we had; we brought in Dan who won the state championship in Omaha, but really they are the five guys that are on the roster, and from there, the first thing we have to do is find who No. 2 is. That’s the important thing. We know who No. 1 is. We’ve got to find out who No. 2 is.
Q. In terms of play calling, with your expertise in offense
COACH WEIS: I’m calling the plays. That’s the end of that question. (Laughter).
Q. Inaudible question about Darius Walker and the toughness Brady Quinn?
COACH WEIS: I think that being exposed to as much playing time as he was last year, you know, he got his feet wet, and now he knows we’re counting on him to be ready to go for multiple carries every game and it’s a little different when you’re not only competing but you’re the lead dog.
It’s a little different now. He knows, I just talked to him right over here the other day, about how mentally tough he was going to have to be to be able to go from a part time player to a full time player. I said, “How many touches you can get?” Well, it’s related to two things; how many you can handle and how well you do. That’s a growing process when you’re going from freshman to a sophomore. Usually the most significant progress you could see in a football player in any organization that’s after their first year, after they have gone through a system for a year and they are going into their next year, you know, usually that’s where progress is made in leaps and bounds.
As far as being all day tough, it’s really tough to find a quarterback who takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. I think (Brady) definitely fits that definition.
Q. Inaudible about his concern about the negative perceptions of the program?
COACH WEIS: Forget about just the negative perception. I think the team was fractured and after that Coach Willingham was gone and I wasn’t here and there was that window in between where they are kind of like, going left on their own, I think there were a lot of little groups that all had their own opinion.
Then if you take on top of that, let’s expand that to the alumni and all of the supporters of the program, I think that one of most challenging parts of this job walking in the door will try to get them back together and try to gain unilateral support. You want to know something, I think I got them back together and I think that the support teams to be pretty strong, so it comes down to how you play. And that’s we’ve gotten past that stage now. Now we’re worried about now we’re worrying about just how we’re going to play and that’s what we’re working on.
Q. Inaudible question about a possible `honeymoon period’ with his staff?
COACH WEIS: I think what you heard me say, it’s just a logical reaction that people have. I’m done things kind of the right way and I haven’t upset you people too many times. But the bottom line is, playing a game, it’s easy to sit there in front of you and answer questions, because you can just answer the questions without having to back them up. But you know, you have to start backing them up because if it’s not, it’s just a bunch of hot air.
Q. Can you talk about how you instill confidence before they actually have any real success in game situations?
COACH WEIS: That’s a good question. I think the first thing that you do is you take the components of the team, because you can’t do it if you’re just singling out individuals. You can’t just say, well, Brady Quinn is going to start up in two years, so he’s going to just light it up.
What you have to do is you have to take a culmination of all the people you have and say now, let’s look at, this let’s look at this logically. Can these guys play? Can these running backs run? Can these receivers catch? Can these tight ends run and block? How about the offensive line? How about the quarterback? Before all of sudden they are looking at it and all of a sudden having excuses for why they shouldn’t do well, they are having reasons for why they should do well.
And the same thing with defense, people talk about inexperience. Okay, well now all of a sudden, let’s look at what we do have, not who we don’t. Let’s look at where that is. We’re all sitting there and you start the first two deep on defensive line and the first two deep at linebackers and talking about the secondary all of a sudden when you start seeing these things together and you get 11 guys, good football teams can compensate for inexperience by being aggressive. And you count on these guys are going to be flying the ball because that’s the way they are being coached.
And last but not least, okay, and we should never, ever shy away from the importance of special teams. And I think that’s the critical factor; the easiest way to improve the fastest is on special teams, because not enough people spend enough time on special teams. And trust me, we will be spending a lot of time getting special teams ready to go. Virginia Tech, didn’t take long for that team to start being more competitive, solely on the fact that they played sound defense and their special teams were kicking butt.
Q. Inaudible question about the concept of leadership?
COACH WEIS: I think that it’s really important in college football when you are away from the players the whole summer, I think it’s really important to let the players decide who their captains are. The only problem with captains is they usually give you the voice of a team, but they might not give you the voice of what one group of position people think.
In other words, Brady (Quinn) and Bradon (Hoyte) have done a great job, but they might not help to tell you what the DBs are thinking or they might not tell you what the tight ends or offensive line are thinking. So by having a member from each one of the position groups to kind of be there to voice the opinion of their groups, you never have to be you never have to be concerned with everyone being able to get their say. And you know, sometimes they give you an idea that you can use and other times, you say, you’ve got to be kidding me.
But the whole point is they know they have a voice. I think it’s important for them to know that. This leadership committee and the captains did a great job in the summertime when the coaches aren’t there of making sure that we got to the conditioning test, what happened today was going to happen. It wouldn’t happen without a strength coach, but it certainly would not happen without those leaders stepping up and taking some of that responsibility on their own shoulders.
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