Back in August of 2005, I sat, along with twenty other fellow student managers, trainers, athletic staff, and the football team, in the press conference area of the newly opened Guglielmo Athletic Complex still recovering from a hangover. Fall camp hadn’t truly started yet, so our work during the day was quickly followed by some form of partying that evening. Work in the morning was typically hell, but an all-staff meeting called by then new head coach, Charlie Weis, snapped everyone out of their post-boozing funk with a sense of excitement and anticipation.
Yes, it’s hilarious looking back on that feeling now, but more on 20/20 hindsight (much) later. Indulge me in reminiscing about 2005 and Chuck Weis for a bit as this:
— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) August 5, 2017
Brought back a few memories from that season.
Anyways, back to that meeting in August of ’05. I don’t remember much save for one thing. No, it wasn’t the booze that made the meeting a blur, most of it was unremarkable. What stuck with me to this day was Weis letting everyone know that leaks from within the program wouldn’t be tolerated. As evidence that things were out of control, he boldly claimed that he could easily keep up with everything going on at Notre Dame from Foxborough.
That would end on Weis’ watch. Not only was the desire to keep typical things like injuries and the gameplan private, but no dirty laundry was to ever be aired to the media, including on-field performance. It didn’t matter how obvious it may be to the human eye, Weis wanted to be the one to step in front of any bullets fired by the media. Once the doors closed again, he’d be happy to spread them back out again if needed. In short, everything was to be kept within the family.
The reason that portion of the meeting stuck with me was that not more than a week later, the equipment managers (the staff, not the seniors over us), sat us down in the locker room. One of the gentlemen proceeded to read a post that they said they found on NDNation earlier in the day which cited a student manager claiming that practices has been run-heavy.
Yes, that post was as hilarious then as it is now. Even back then, every manager laughed because, at that point, we all knew Weis was still installing the offense and figuring out what he had to work with. If we had to define a ratio, it would’ve been closer to 50/50 than anything.
But the point of the sit-down wasn’t to try to sweat the twenty-one of us out to find the mole. Everyone in the room knew that particular post wasn’t credible. It was to demonstrate to us that they were paying attention to the forums. Weis’ original message resonated.
And, quite frankly, this Belichickian attempt at secrecy didn’t seem weird at the least to me or probably anyone else that’s been around football for some time. I’m not just talking about these fall camp examples either. We would witness injured players wait to don their green and red jerseys until after the media departed from their approved viewing portion of practice. Rashon Powers-Neal was a TD machine for the first four games of the season and promptly dropped off the face of the earth, even to us, with no real public mention beyond “no comment” until that November.
But again, none of this seemed odd in the least. Some of that had to do with the fact that the Irish kept winning, but as I mentioned on our last podcast, more of it had to do with being on the inside and seeing it from that perspective. Practically every day, I would face some sort of interrogation from my friends anxious for any kind of “inside information” that I would be willing to share and every day I would either lie or pull a “no comment” of my own. Multiply that by twenty-one managers and then add in student trainers and then add in video staff and then add in the players themselves…
Imagine being a head coach of a team, knowing that you easily have 100+ potential people under you that could leak to the wrong person at any time. Coaches know that everyone is looking for an edge and the paranoia can grow from there. The fear isn’t unfounded, but sometimes, especially in relation to how the media is treated, it can get out of hand.
Once I took a step outside the program, Weis’ code of secrecy made less and less sense, especially once the losses started piling up. Jimmy Clausen didn’t get mauled by every defensive line he faced in 2007 because someone detailed John Latina’s blocking schemes to them, it happened because that line was awful. The same holds true for Demetrius Jones and the failed attempt at a read option offense. And when the house of cards came down and Weis had to answer for his “6-5 isn’t good enough” and take every last bullet on his way out the door.
So, on the heels of a four-win season, when the news of ND’s new rules came to light, I had a little unwelcome blast from the past (Times as a manager: great! Football under Weis as a whole: terrible). Granted, in comparison to Weis, Brain Kelly might as well be an open book. Perhaps, it’s for that reason that I found a little bit more disappointment with some of the rules detailed than I probably would be if this was a new regime.
Notre Dame still has multiple open practices and very media-friendly rules in comparison to many other programs and in comparison to the previous era under Weis. In my opinion, there’s no way Notre Dame has an entire digital media department under Weis or, if they do, it would be nothing like what we have today. Weis tells Showtime to shove it and there’s no “A Season With”. And I would bet every dollar I have that Weis would’ve tightened up social media rules in a much quicker and stricter fashion than what ND just did.
Still, a live tweet from an early August practice about who just took a snap at rover during a 7-on-7 won’t matter when Southern Cal lines up against the Irish in October. As fans on the outside looking in, desperately trying to find ways to drum up excitement for the 2017 season, seeing these rules, many of which were unwritten and understood, in black and white further takes some wind out of our sails.
From the inside, and probably even from the ND beat, any outrage is much ado about nothing. In fact, if anyone missed seeing these rules earlier in the day and hopped on Twitter to see post-practice reports, they would be none the wiser that anything really changed.
While I can’t drum up more outrage than a slight facepalm, I would be lying if these media rules aren’t bringing back a ghost of ND coaching past that I would rather lay to rest.