Friday, November 09, 2007

Bob Kuechenberg Does Not Like Charlie Weis...For No Apparent Reason

Bob Kuechenberg (Class of 1968) is, by all accounts, a well-respected 'Notre Dame man' and passionate champion of ND's concept of a student-athlete. He is also, in the same breath, apparently a man who holds grudges, let's anybody with a press credential hear what he's thinking, and refuses to let go of the past as one of the "go-to" quotes for NFL beat writers whenever a team begins to get within smelling distance of matching the undefeated record of 1972 Dolphins (for whom Kuechenberg was an offensive guard, a position he played for Miami and Don Shula from 1970-1984).

Kuechenberg's most recent stretch of headlines have seen him come out swinging - and for the most part, his targets have felt free to swing right back. Last season, with Miami bumbling along at 1-6 and set to play the 7-0 Bears, Kuechenberg was asked by the Chicago Tribune if history could repeat itself as in '85, when Shula and the Dolphins provided the only loss for Mike Ditka's eventual Super Bowl champs:

"I do not believe in this Dolphins team," Kuechenberg said. "They do not have a soul."

But an underdog Miami team once upset an undefeated Bears team, in 1985, didn't it? Isn't anything possible?

"It's not even remotely possible," Kuechenberg said. "The only thing this [Sunday's] game has in common with that [one in 1985] is that the teams have the same names."

Ouch. Not exactly a sterling endorsement from a prominent alum of the program. Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor responded at the time:
"It's another chapter in the grumpy Kuechenberg story," Taylor said. "It's Kuechenberg. He gets up every year and [complains] about something. If it ain't one thing, it's another. He needs a hug and a hobby. It's ridiculous."
Apparently so. Kuechenberg's let the current Dolphins have it again this year in the middle of the rash of "What would happen if the Patriots go undefeated stories?", but has also taken the time to tee off on Notre Dame - or, more accurately, Charlie Weis.

“I want to start the movement -- Charlie’s last name is four letters, and so is ogre, because that’s what he is,” Kuechenberg said. “Look it up, and you’ll find some other adjectives that fit him to a tee.”

“This man has not been a good ... human being might be a little bit broad ... but this man has not been good to anybody who came to Notre Dame. Within the Notre Dame family, when former All-American players say to a man that this guy’s an (expletive), and for no reason, to me it’s karma that he’s getting his ass handed to him.”

Kuechenberg apparently had two reasons for feeling it was appropriate to load for bear (or maybe ogre) and blast away: 1) he had it on good authority that Weis' 10-year extension was a 'blackmail' operation by him of a University in a vulnerable position thanks to the O'Leary mess and the Urban Meyer fiasco; 2) that he had failed to extend a 'thank you' or some sort of personal acknowledgment after Kuechenberg helped steer "two top offensive lineman from St. Thomas Aquinas" to Notre Dame (going out on a limb and guessing he means Dan Wegner and Sam Young). Here though, was the kicker:
“I’ve yet to meet the man, and frankly I hope I never do."
Now, it would be quite hypocritical of me to launch some sort of diatribe against Kuechenberg given that I've never met him. But he appeared on WEEI in Boston this morning for a discussion that was ostensibly about the now very real shot at New England going undefeated, but naturally spent 10 of its 15 minutes on the Irish and Kuechenberg v. Weis, Round Two. All I can say is that for all the criticism "Kooch" has slung at Weis, you would think he'd do better live on the air. He didn't come off like a man who knows what he's talking about. Among the fauxs pas commited over the interview's first 10 minutes:
  • Kuechenberg claimed Notre Dame turned from a 2-7 "dog" team in 1963 to undefeated national champions in 1964. Before anybody could pick up the phone to inform Ara Parseghian, "Congrats! You're now a 3-time national champion!", Kuechenberg was able to correctly jog his memory that Notre Dame had lost the season finale that year to USC, thereby finishing 9-1. So Bob's not off to a great start.
  • The program hosts, John Dennis & Gerry Callahan, tried to pinpoint reasons why Kuechenberg felt so personal about Weis. Had it been one of the old "jilted alumni" standards, that Kooch had tried to visit the locker room before a game and been rebuffed, or asked to speak with the team and been turned away? Um...no. Had Weis made an inappropriate comment to him? No. Had Weis insulted his parents or made unwelcome sexual advances on his wife? No. Kuechenberg again felt confident in the opinion of his friends and fellow alums - none of whom he cared to mention by name, so at least he knows the first rule of spreading hearsay: NEVER admit who told you - to the point where didn't feel an actual meeting with Weis would be necessary to form an opinion on him...and then share that opinion wherever and whenever possible.
  • When asked about Joe Theismann, another former alum, NFL great, and Parseghian-era player who's not only a close friend of Weis but who publicly rebuked Kuechenberg's comments: "He's from New Jersey just like Weis. Forget about that." How about Joe Montana, from Pennsylvania, also brought forward by the media as a witness for the defendant? Or Mark Bavaro of Massachusetts? Or Mike Golic of Ohio? Kuechenberg made passing reference to Montana, calling him "a gentleman" before trailing away into silence.
  • The oddest moment came as Kuechenberg tried to explain his feelings on the Weis extension.
"Tom Benson, the owner of the Saints, gets hold of him a couple weeks before the opening game of his tenure and says, 'Charlie, you belong in the NFL, let me see that contract - oh, that's pittance, tear it up, come with me.' I know that I would, and I presume you two would, and any many of character, I believe, at that point would've said 'Mr. Benson, that is a great honor, I really appreciate your respect for my ability, but I've just signed a contract with Notre Dame, the job of my lifetime, this is what [sic] I'm meant to be, thank you but no thank you.' Instead, what he does is go to Notre Dame's athletic department and says, 'Here's what New Orleans offered and what can you do about it, I can't turn this down.' So he holds them ransom and they extend to ten years from five years. Right there, what does that tell you about the man? I mean, how much money do you need, where are your priorities?"
  • Here's what is inexplicable regarding Kuechenberg's logic (and I say this from a lay perspective, readily admitting that I don't have cold hard facts to refute it. I have to say though, if it is true, then he's got one hell of an inside source at the athletic department, because the Saints have never been a team mentioned in connection with Charlie Weis): he's making the claim that before the 2005 season began, before Weis had ever coached a game, Tom Benson had made the decision to fire Jim Haslett and go with Weis? Or is he saying Benson was making this offer over the summer with the hope that Weis would accept it after one season in college? And that this offer somehow was still valid enough seven weeks later, after Notre Dame nearly beat USC, for Weis to feel confident enough to strong-arm Notre Dame into an extension? Of course, there were reports, from the always reliable blog of an NFL Network staffer, that said "at least one NFL team is quietly exploring the possibility" of offering to buy Weis out. Now, at the time, Weis' buyout clause was $1.5 million. Everybody assumed that the subsequent five-year extension (totaling up to 10 years) that was built on the cornerstone of a "Herculean" (Kevin White's words, not mine) buyout figure were meant to scare off teams from making a serious pursuit at Weis. But according to Kooch, it wasn't just a passing interest - it was a fully legitimate contract offer from the New Orelans Saints that had been in place since the summer! Placed in the context of where Notre Dame was at that moment in 2005, having a succesful rebound season on the field and on the recruiting trail, they would've been stupid NOT to address the issue of Weis' out-clause. Yet according to Kuechenberg, the onus was on Weis to do the right thing and decline any and all opportunities to land a better contract or more money. In the words of Walter Matthau in JFK, "That dog don't hunt."
  • Finally, there was this exchange:
Host: What did he do, other than lose, that so offended you?
Kuechenberg: His demeanor. I believe the student-athlete at Notre Dame is expected to be extra-special. It's all about leadership and I don't think he's providing the right kind of leadership.
Which bookends nicely with his comments in the original Boston Herald about Weis' leadership tactics:
"The Notre Dame student-athlete is held to a higher standard, so what’s with the coach? Hello -- you’re the leader. Act like one.”
OK, now we're getting somewhere. At this point, I figured the fairest thing would be to hear from the guys who actually, you know, have Weis as their leader. We'll start with current Titans WR and former Patriot David Givens, Notre Dame class of 2002:
"He's been a teacher and coach of high school kids and he's got so much experience coaching NFL players like myself. There's no doubt in my mind he would be an outstanding recruiter because he relates so well to young people. I can say this because I've played for Charlie and I played at Notre Dame.
OK, that quote is from Notre Dame's official Charlie Weis bio, so maybe it's a little biased. Tom Brady, you're not being hounded by ND's Sports Information Department, what do you think?
"He's always been an extremely intense person, intense coach...He expects the best out of everybody and teaches you to be accountable and to be responsible, and that's kind of what I fed off."
Well, that's nice Tom. But, after all, the NFL is like, way different from college. So perhaps Weis' recent undergraduate charges should have a turn at the microphone. Brady Quinn, what was it like to play for The Ogre?
It was something that I was so excited about, seeing what he had done with Tom Brady. He's a great coach. He's a very tough, brash, upfront, honest individual. He's going to tell you what he thinks in maybe some language that you're not used to. You've got to be prepared for that.
Duly noted. Tom Zbikowski?
"He's real intense...I love the way he coaches - just making sure you're doing things right, and perfecting everything. He's a perfectionist, and that's the way you gotta play football."
I'm beginning to sense a trend here. Let's go toward the younger set of kids, perhaps like Demetrius Jones, who surely will help reveal the true nature of Weis' character since he decided to quit playing for him after being used as a vicious pawn in the cunning rise of Jimmy Clasuen:
“He made an impact on my life, how to be a family man, lots of things,” Jones said. “Everybody may not like him but he takes care of his business and he takes care of it every day. He doesn’t change for anybody. He doesn’t even let something like being 0-3 rattle his character or personality.

“When we talked [this week], we had a healthy conversation. He was talking to me like a father, not just a coach. I admitted to him that if I’d come to him before the Michigan game, he would’ve talked me out of [leaving].People didn’t acknowledge that coach Weis and I had a great relationship. We’ve been through some rough times and some good times but we’re linked to each other.

“I represent him. No matter what happens down the line, my career started at Notre Dame and that was because of coach Weis. I was a soldier in ‘Charlie’s army’ and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Of course, you could argue (and some did) that Jones was simply doing a calculated PR-job since he'd botched up his transfer plans and was merely sprinting to make Weis look good in exchange for his release to another program. So let's pivot to a young player still with the team. Mike Ragone, you're up:
"I gave my word to coach Weis and that's all I got in life is my word," Ragone said when freshmen spoke with the media Oct. 23. "I love coach Weis and I want to win for him one day, you know? He's a good guy, a good coach."
Darn. Just read here in his bio that Mike's from New Jersey. Toss his opinion out, hey Bob?

To be fair, let's check in with a recruit or two, since Weis ought to be out there being an honest broker with high schoolers and their parents when he asks for a 4-year commitment out of them. Darius Fleming, four-star prospect and consensus National Top 100 player, what are the three words that describe Coach Weis?
As a person, definitely honest. As a coach, I’d say he’s real motivated and as a recruiter down to earth.
And Golden Tate, current freshmen wideout, you were recruited by Weis. How'd he win you over?
The thing I liked about him, it's seem like he cared and he wanted me, but if you don't come here, life goes on. That was neat in a way. I like him. He's straight forward. That was nice.
What about Dayne Crist? I mean, you'd have to feed him all kinds of bull in order to win him over, since he's probably the best QB recruit in California since Jimmy Clausen. Right?
Once a week, Crist speaks with Weis on the phone. The conversations usually last 15 to 30 minutes. They also communicate by e-mail. Crist has sensed Weis' emotional ups and downs this season as Notre Dame struggles with a 1-8 record, but he enjoys learning from his future coach.

"It's a real comfortable relationship," he said. "We talk about what's going on with their week and game plan and he's interested in knowing what we're doing. He's a very emotional person. It's tough to talk to him on the phone because you can't get facial reactions. I love his personality."
So basically we've got one guy, Kuechenberg (though he claims to speak for an apparently great and overwhelming silent majority) who says Weis is mean and curt and obnoxious, and to top that all off a liar who extorted his alma mater, and then we got all these other people who've actually talked to Weis and spent time with him in the same room and all that good stuff, and they kinda sorta like him. A bit. Somewhat.

It's enough to make you think that Jason Taylor has a point - Bob Kuechenberg just needs a hobby. Because nobody spends a lot of time sweating the small stuff like a coach's personality when it comes down to the bottom line. They care about one thing - Ws and Ls. Look at Gerry Faust - tremendous man, had (and still has) enough passion for Notre Dame to fill 20 pep rallies. Stunk as a coach; fired. Look at Bobby Knight - not the most loveable and understanding of souls, still isn't really, and enjoyed the occasional chair toss, public dress-down of a student-athlete, and declarations in front of women and children that his critics "can kiss my ass". But he had 3 national championships, and everybody associated with Indiana save Myles Brand and Kent Harvey still worships him like a God.

This, however, is my favorite all-time description of a coach:
I hated his guts. I didn't like anything about the way he coached the team.
Anybody care to guess speaker and subject? It was Bill Curry, former NFL center and Alabama and Kentucky head coach, speaking about...wait for it...Vince Lombardi! The greatest coach ever, actually daring to get in his player's face, to tell it like it is, to piss people off? Say it ain't so. It's still just like Lombardi says it is - "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." You can do anything in America, from be an ogre to pull Halloween pranks where your star running back appears to commit suicide, as long as you win. So I guess if Charlie Weis really wants to win over good ole Kooch, the plan should be simple: Win.

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