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Weis controls, molds his team

Pat Leonard | Monday, November 14, 2005

This past Wednesday, a few coaches and defensive players entered the Guglielmino Center’s auditorium for weekly interviews. It was all part of the routine, as it had been set up to be, but with one small change.

The players found seats almost as quickly as they had entered the room. A few, including tackles Derek Landri and Brian Beidatsch, appeared visibly more drained than after a normal practice. Both players admitted fatigue.

And the point was hammered home after Saturday’s game – coach Charlie Weis worked his team into the ground, all week, for a game against Navy. The Irish were favored heavily going into the contest. Weis didn’t care.

Most likely the last thing Landri or Beidatsch wanted to do after a grueling Wednesday practice was put on a green polo shirt and sit in an auditorium for 25 minutes. Weis doesn’t care.

But Weis does care about honoring his opponent’s alma mater. He does care about doing the right thing and respecting an Academy, about loving his family – about all of the things he should care about.

And more so than ever on Saturday, the Notre Dame football team showed it has become a mirror image of its first-year coach with only one exception: Weis never admits to being tired.

Notre Dame dominated Navy on the field and stood together with them afterwards. Forty-two points is not running up the score, but it leaves no room for doubt, either. And that has become the pattern Weis demands of his team – be courteous, be respectful, now go out there and …

From all accounts, including Weis’ own, the next comments aren’t for everyone’s ears.

“I might have had a couple of choice words somewhere in the pre-game when we got in the locker room to encourage them to come out fairly hyped,” he said with a smirk on Saturday.

He used the word “encourage” almost sarcastically, as if to imply how harsh he can actually be. Then he explained his game week preparation tactics further, calling to memory his preseason promise of a “nasty” football team.

“You never let [your players] think that you’re happy, because if they think that you’re happy then they start to loosen up a little bit,” Weis said. “You just stay on them, you just keep your foot on their throat the whole time. It was not a good week for them.”

Is this the same Weis who voluntarily stood straight for the Navy alma mater and made his team do the same?

“He was making his paycheck this week, let’s say that,” linebacker Corey Mays said.

As of Saturday at 4:19 p.m., Weis was continuing to earn a paycheck and validate a contract extension by remembering the two most important goals of a Notre Dame football team – to win, and to be respectful while doing it.

And from past experience, Weis has learned not only what those goals should be but how he should foster and implement them.

Like New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Weis has assumed complete control of the program and adopted an all-through-me policy, in which any request or question of the football program is approved or rejected by Weis himself.

Like Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells, Weis is not afraid to tell you how good he is. (Last week, he said quarterback recruits should “get in line” to play for him.)

The brashness of a family man contradicts itself. To most, a throat-stepping football bully clashes directly with a smiling, friendly father.

But push aside the language Weis uses to motivate his team from week to week, and all that remains is a frustrated opposing coach.

“Anytime we didn’t score, it was big,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said following the game.

Notre Dame’s opponents are beginning to realize what is happening with the Irish offense, with the Irish program. And they know they have to play their best to compete, because the Irish will, too.

And with all of the intimidation tactics, whether it be “encouraging” players with unique methods or storming through a tunnel to open a game, Notre Dame under Charlie Weis has begun to create an identity.

Following Saturday’s game, Weis began conducting a nationally televised interview when he all of sudden cut an answer abruptly short and trotted with his team to the South end zone. The Navy alma mater played, the Midshipmen singing and mouthing the words softly, and the entire Stadium became still.

“I would have done that whether we won or lost,” Weis said afterward. “We were going over there.”

That’s because Charlie Weis does things the way he knows how and the way he wants. And whatever repercussions that attitude brings in the future – positive or negative – for right now, it’s working.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Pat Leonard at pleonard@nd.edu