Friday, January 09, 2009

On a Carrousel

As he set aside the flurry of speculation over Charlie Weis' job security following the USC game, athletic director Jack Swarbrick made it clear that Weis was being retained with the explicit understanding that things were going to have to change both on and off the football field for 2009. Obviously not everything that's transpired in the two weeks since the Irish got off the bowl schneid has been at Swarbrick's request, but circumstances are indeed beginning to alter around the Irish as we hurdle into January, when the coaches carrousel really starts to gain momentum. As far as Notre Dame is concerned...
  • Mike Haywood accepted the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio), having previously been a candidate for vacancies at the University of Houston and University of Washington. The news broke shortly before the Irish beat the Hawai'i Warriors on Christmas Eve and Haywood was officially introduced the following Tuesday. The fact that Haywood landed a head coaching job is not surprising - given his previous stints at power programs LSU and Texas along with his recruiting ability, plus being named the nation's top assistant football coach in 2005, it was only a matter of time. What is interesting is how many Irish fans seemed to view the news with a healthy dose of, "Good riddance!", as if Haywood alone should foot the blame for what happened in the second half of the season. Through 7 games, the Irish offense was indeed flying high, racking up over 450 total yards in four straight games heading into November. We all know what happened next. But could it really have been just a case of not following the basic rule to "Keep it simple, stupid"? That seemed to be the suggestion raised in one particularly eye-opening quote from Mike's introductory press conference in Oxford:
We were having so much success, that we thought we could add a lot more material, and the only thing we did was complicate things for the quarterback. With the time off we had before the bowl game, we were able to regain the quarterback’s confidence, and the players regained their confidence, allowing them to be successful in the (bowl) game.
  • In addition to needing a new offensive coordinator, the Irish also will now be looking for a new defensive line coach as Jappy Oliver, who came over with Rick Minter to fill out Weis' original staff, has resigned/been fired after four seasons. (First reports indicated Oliver had been dismissed; Notre Dame released an official statement saying Oliver resigned to "pursue other opportunities" - which makes sense as his name has been mentioned for Haywood's staff at Miami). Semantics regarding his departure aside, Oliver's tenure with the Irish d-line has been defined by ups and downs - the development of players like Trevor Laws on the plus-side, the baffling lack of development out of players like John Ryan on the down. On the whole the best thing you can say is that Oliver produced something decent out of a bad situation, as defensive line was one short step above offensive line for the distinction of most sorely mismanaged position under the previous regime. Yet despite having quality players early (Victor Abiamiri and Laws come to mind) as well as promising youngsters like Ethan Johnson & Ian Williams, the front four has been a collectively lackluster unit throughout Oliver's tenure. I think the biggest culprit might be what's not there as opposed to what is - it's not a huge secret to say that the Irish wish they'd landed a player like Gerald McCoy or been able to convince Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter not to defect to Florida. And unlike other coaches, it hasn't been for a lack of effort that the Irish haven't gotten the top-level defensive line talent they seem to be getting at positions like wide receiver and defensive back.
As of Friday 1/9, no word on who might be stepping in to replace Haywood and Oliver, or if their departures mark the end of offseason staff changes. With the annual coaches' convention coming up (this time last year was when Weis was able to convince Jon Tenuta to come on board), I suspect that within the next week some new names and faces could be on the Irish coaching roster.
  • On a player personnel front, cornerback Darrin Walls will return to campus on Monday after having withdrawn for the fall semester. Similar to the situation with Pat Kuntz last spring, this is welcome news not only for Darrin as a person, but for the Irish football team to have another seasoned veteran with something to prove in his final campaign (Walls would have a fifth year option, but that's getting ahead of ourselves). With Walls re-joining Raeshon McNeil, Robert Blanton, sophomore Jamoris Slaughter (redshirted this season) and hopefully Gary Gray as well, the competition at cornerback should be intense throughout spring ball. It also (hopefully) paves the way for Notre Dame to have some of the more menacing nickel and dime packages in college football. You may recall back in the dog days of summer the rumors that Walls' withdrawal would eventually lead to a transfer, perhaps to hometown team Pittsburgh. Never a chance, according to the senior-to-be:
Walls Jr. was well aware of the rumblings as well, but he remains consistent in that the thought of leaving never arose.

“It never crossed my mind to go anywhere else,” he said. “My mom was a Pitt fan and wanted me there at the beginning, but there was never a thought of transferring.”

He then echoed the same sentiment that his father expressed during the summer interview.

“I want to get a degree from Notre Dame,” he added.
  • Meanwhile, tight end Will Yeatman has settled on a desitination - the University of Maryland. He will play lacrosse and football for the Terps but will be required to sit out the '09 football season. He still has three years of eligibility in lacrosse, which starts at the end of this month. The Terps are ranked #3 in the preseason polls (the Irish are #9) and now boast two 6'5" attackers with Yeatman on board. Again, best of luck to Will as he looks for a fresh start.

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