Sunday, September 2, 2007

When coaches think too much

Had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Notre Dame for the weekend, tour the campus and watch the Fighting Irish's season opener against Georgia Tech. I say once in a lifetime because the Irish got whooped so bad, I doubt an invitation from my father-in-law (Class of 1956) will ever come again.

I wasn't on campus five minutes when I ran into Jeff Jackson, the former Islanders assistant coach who replaced Dave Poulin two seasons ago as head coach at ND. Jeff, a legendary collegiate coach from his days at Lake Superior State, was NCAA coach of the year in '06-07. I asked Jeff if he was taking in the big football game as a fan and he pointed out to me he was "working." Makes sense that if you're recruiting athletes, might as well bring them to campus when the place is at its best. ND is getting a new hockey facility so I wouldn't be surprised if JJ turns them into a national powerhouse.

People in New York either love or hate Notre Dame. There's no debating it's a remarkable place. About 30 minutes after the game, there are church services all over campus. We went to the Basillica. Picture thousands of people that have been tailgating since 9:30 in the morning and then watched their team get smoked going directly to 7:30 pm mass. Then, I'm serious, the first thing out of the priest's mouth is, "It's quite ironic today's gospel is about humility, because I think it's fair to say everyone at Notre Dame was served a piece of humble pie today." Yeah, that went over well.

Going into the game, Irish head coach Charlie Weis did something that goes against what I, uh, preach to Islanders coaches. He took something that wasn't a big deal to anybody - the naming of his starting quarterback - and turned it into a big deal. Weis got burned and he'll be hearing about it all year, maybe longer. Allow me to backtrack.

Brady Quinn graduated, leaving Notre Dame with a choice of three quarterbacks: a junior, a sophomore and a talented but troubled freshman. It would have been fine for Weis to wait until, say, Tuesday, to announce his starter. But the coach - maybe feeling he was doing the right thing, more likely trying to make the story about him - played games all week. On Friday, trying to explain himself, Weis told "Mike & Mike" on ESPN Radio he was doing it to protect the three QBs from having to answer questions from the media. I think if the three young men couldn't handle a few questions, they wouldn't have signed letters of intent with a program that receives millions from NBC to show all of their home games.

So Charlie played his game and got burned. Badly. By the end of Saturday's sad performance, all three quarterbacks saw action. Worse then the players was the work of the coaching staff. I've never seen a football team more poorly prepared, more disorganized before each play. The trivia question on the scoreboard when the game was 16-0 was about how Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all led the Irish to the national championship in their third seasons as coach. That piece of trivia figures to go unchanged for a while.

Coach Weis wanted to be the story and he got his wish.

My advice to Ted Nolan and his predecessors has always been to simplify their dealings with the media. If the Leafs play-by-play man wants to know your line combinations and you've been using the same ones for two weeks, throw him a bone and give him the lines. If Logan wants to tell his readers in the next day's paper that Rick's starting against the Rangers, confirm it for him. Don't make something out of nothing.

Only exception I can understand and have defended in the past are serious injuries and injuries during the playoffs, and now the NHL is cracking down on the upper and lower body thing. Ted does a good job of communicating with Islanders fans through the media. In his first year he never got caught up in silly stuff, picking fights with the press, making stories where there wasn't one. I don't see that changing in year two.

Count on Coach Weis naming his starter for Penn State early this week.

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