There was a certain amount of confusion on the Notre Dame offensive staff last year, at least to outsiders. On a week-to-week basis it was not clear who was actually running the offense, making personnel decisions during games or calling plays.
Not that the situation was chaotic, but one of the things Charlie Weis did when he reassembled the Notre Dame staff for the 2009 season was reestablish order. Weis is now in charge of the offense and will be calling all of the plays.
With Weis handling the dual role of head coach and offensive coordinator, he added Assistant Head Coach on Offense to Rob Ianello’s title and the wide receivers coach will be in charge when the head coach is handling other aspects of the team.
New offensive line coach Frank Verducci will serve as the team’s run game coordinator. Weis did some research on the Notre Dame rushing attack and realized that it is far from where it needs to be.
“I've done a lot of study on our football team and where our football team is at this point in comparison to BCS championship caliber teams, and we're a distant trailer, in the run game in particular,” said Weis. “So I felt that just me being the coordinator, I felt that I needed somebody that had to put an emphasis on the run game.
“You look at our rushing average. I think it was 3.3. Most teams on a championship level are over 4.6. That's 1.3 yards a carry. We're not talking half a yard now. That's obviously an area of concern on my part, and an area that I drastically think has to improve if we're going to play championship caliber football.”
Weis felt that Verducci would be the best person to fill the position because he has no prior conceptions of the Irish ground game.
“When you bring somebody in with his experience, which is extensive, that's an outsider, not an insider, I think they can be objective then to the pros and cons of the things you do well and the things you don't do well,” he said. “I think sometimes when you're looking at your own stuff you say, ‘If the running back would have cut there we would have cut a couple more yards. If that guy would have blocked that guy we would have got a couple more yards.’ But they didn't. The bottom line is whether they do or they don't.”
Verducci understands how his role will benefit the team as a whole.
“It allows the head coach obviously to focus on some of his more administrative duties and coordinator duties,” said Verducci. “It allows him to delegate to me the opportunity to tailor the run game specifically to the individual opponents and our personnel for that week.”
Verducci’s job on a week-to-week basis will be to scout opponents' run defense and put together a plan of attack for Notre Dame’s running game.
“He'll have the primary responsibility of researching to make suggestions, so that when we get together as a staff you're either rubber stamping it or saying, ‘No, we need to do this, need to do that,’” Weis said. “That doesn't mean everything he says we end up doing, but usually the majority of what he ends up recommending gives you the best chance of being successful in that game.”
As far as the offensive line goes, Verducci believes that a new coach will provide the entire group of linemen the chance at a fresh start.
“It becomes a new opportunity for all of them and I’ve explained that to them. The slate’s clean with me, they can really be whoever they chose to be, they can make that initial impression again,” he said. “If things hadn’t gone particularly well in one area or another, they have the opportunity to recreate that at this point.”
Verducci has already met with each offensive lineman on the team to find out what they want.
“They’ve all expressed to me what their goals are and what their short-term and long-term goals are,” he said. “I told them once they made those known to me that’s a powerful thing because now I have part of the responsibility of getting them to that point.
“We’re going to get there together, but on certain things it’s going to be on my terms because I am the person in charge and they need to understand that certain things are not open to compromise.”
Verducci did not say whether he would employ a man-blocking or zone-blocking attack, but said that schemes are more complex than just one or the other.
“I’m comfortable in both schemes, I’ve taught both schemes,” he said. “I think when people use the term ‘zone-blocking’ it’s almost like using the term ‘West Coast Offense’, there’s a lot of wiggle room in there and in zone-blocking specifically. The thing that we’re going to try to be is be the most fundamentally sound.”
The only real question remaining as far as the offensive coaching staff goes is the positioning of the coaches. Weis has not ruled out coaching from the booth like he did in the Hawai’i Bowl, although he did say that it was less than 50-50 at this point.
Whatever decision Weis makes, it will most likely be the one he sticks with for the entire season.
“You don't want to say, ‘Well, let's go up for Nevada, let's come down for Michigan,’” he said. “You can't do that. So whatever that decision is, you have to intend to do it on a fairly permanent basis.”
Wherever the plays are coming from, at least everyone will know who they are coming from.