Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Frank Verducci is New Irish Offensive Line Coach; John Latina to Pursue Other Opportunities

We're really making things happen here at OC Domer! Yesterday I put John Latina on the clock, demanding that he be replaced as Notre Dame's offensive line coach. Today, it happened. John Latina has resigned to pursue other opportunities, and has been replaced on the Notre Dame staff by Frank Verducci, who was most recently O-line coach with the Cleveland Browns. No doubt he came highly recommended by Coach Weis' former colleague, Romeo Crennel.

The story is being reported here, and here, but the link to the official University announcement is here.

I am VERY EXCITED about this hire! Verducci has a terrific mix of experience and success on both the college and professional levels. His wife is a SMC Chick, and then there's this little nugget buried in the University announcement:

Verducci was ranked one of the top 10 recruiters in the country by Tom Lemming in 1990 and by Allen Wallace at SuperPrep from 1990-92 and in 1995.
Folks are always worried that a staff change at this time of year might impact recruiting, but I think this hire can only strengthen the incoming class. What O-lineman is going to de-commit because he just got a new O-line coach from the NFL who has spent much of his career coaching up Hall of Fame linemen for the Dallas Cowboys? Any O-line recruits sitting on the fence will have to take notice of this.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

John Latina is On the Clock

I haven't done much posting in the wake of the very satisfying Hawaii Bowl victory, mostly because there has been very little worth posting about. The biggest hard news in the past couple of weeks has been the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Haywood for a head coaching gig over in Ohio somewhere. I think it's a great move for Coach Haywood, and it also gives Charlie Weis a real opportunity to fine tune his offensive coaching staff based on his stated desire to eventually turn play-calling over to an OC so that he can spend more time being a head coach. I really, really hope that he does on the offensive side of the ball what he has done for the Notre Dame defense, which is to bring in additional experienced, successful coaches who can talk to Charlie about offense as more of an equal, rather than as mentor and apprentice, much like Coaches Brown and Tenuta can on defense. It will be interesting to see, now that the bowl season has wrapped and the NFL playoffs have been pared down to four teams, who Weis brings in to help run the offense.

The other hard news item is the departure of defensive line coach Jappy Oliver, to pursue other opportunities. The consensus seems to be that it wasn't Coach Oliver's idea that he should pursue other interests. This move was a bit of a surprise. Unlike other positions (*cough* offensive line *cough*), I never felt our defensive linemen were being under coached. To me, it has seemed like we have been chronically undermanned in the D-line, rather that under coached. Players with talent were coached up to extraordinary play, such as Trevor Laws and Pat Kuntz. But a talent deficit is caused by recruiting, and maybe Coach Oliver was supposed to play a big role in bringing in high caliber D-line recruits and fell short in that regard? Another possibility may be related to defensive schemes. When Coach Tenuta was added to the staff last year, we all expected to see a very aggressive, pressure defensive scheme, which for the most part has failed to materialize. It could be that Coach Oliver did not have the background and experience to teach the techniques that defensive linemen need to effectively execute the Brown/Tenuta scheme. In any case, good luck to Coach Oliver wherever he lands.

Of course, the proverbial "other shoe" that we are all waiting on is the announcement that offensive line coach John Latina is leaving to pursue "other opportunities." I will not catalogue here the number of posts I have dedicated since the inception of this blog to the inadequacy of Notre Dame's offensive line play, and particularly run blocking. It is true that the line made GREAT strides this season in pass protection, but we still don't execute the power running game worth a damn. Notre Dame's center is Dan Wenger (6' 4", 302 lbs), the right guard is Chris Stewart (6' 5", 337 lbs), and the right tackle is Sam Young (6' 8", 330 lbs). We should be able to announce over the stadium public address system that we intend to hand the ball to Robert Hughes (5' 11", 237 lbs) and run over the right guard, and then do just that for a gain of two yards. That Stewart and Young can't consistently push much smaller defensive players back off the ball a couple of yards is a failure, and it has hurt the team. I've said numerous times that if your best short yardage play is the QB sneak, you have a real problem.

Yes, we gain enough yards on frequent draw plays and the occasional sweep to create the illusion of a running game, but it's a lie. When we need three or four yards, and the opponent knows we are going to run the ball, we simply can't get those yards. We have only been able to run successfully when the passing game is clicking well enough to force a defense to commit more guys to coverage and fewer guys to the run. That isn't good enough. Being able to run the ball only when the defense concedes it is not sufficient. You have to be able to run the ball on your terms, not on your opponents' terms.

Maybe it's all scheme. It could all be on Coach Weis. It could be that Coach Latina is giving Charlie exactly what Charlie has asked for. But Coach Weis isn't going anywhere, for now. And he promised Jack Swarbrick that changes would be made. And I'm sure that Jappy Oliver's departure is not what Swarbrick had in mind. Thus I'll concede that it might not be his fault. But changes need to be made, and the most glaring change that needs to be made is in the area of offensive line play. So, fair or not, Coach Latina's head is the one that must roll.

Apparently ESPN 1000 in Chicago reported yesterday that Latina was gone, but the University quickly denied the report and there has been no confirmation. Speculation is swirling that maybe Latina will be retained in another capacity because of his supposed prowess as a recruiter. Whatever. This time of year there is always concern that the departure of a coach will impact the incoming recruiting class. But it's just as likely that a really good hire right now might help us land a key recruit that is sitting on the fence. For example, you lose Latina but bring in an experienced and respected NFL line coach - that can only help with recruits.

So, John Latina is on the clock.

Other items:

  • I want to wish Coach Weis a speedy recovery from his (first and) reportedly successful knee surgery. My guess is that trying to recover from knee replacement surgery while retooling his coaching staff is a challenging proposition. Get well soon Coach!
  • Irish Basketball rocks. If you haven't been following Irish hoops, you should. The Big East is dominating the rankings, and the Notre Dame men's team is hovering just outside the Top 10 right now. They already have several quality wins, and really for the first time in a long time there is no question of them making the NCAA tournament. Not to be outdone the women's team is ranked in the Top 10 with an overall record of 41-1 (3-0 Big East) heading into tonight's game against Marquette.
  • The Irish did lose a football recruit to UCLA recently (Marlon Pollard), but I'm not sure we ever really had him. He was previously verbally committed to UCLA before switching allegiance to ND. The fact that he has followed his heart back to Westwood is no real shocker. Fortunately, the Irish are fairly deep at cornerback right now. (Wow, I can't believe I just typed that!).
  • Boston College fired their football coach because he looked at another girl. That'll teach 'em!
  • After watching the BCS Championship Game the other night I came away with one abiding wish: That Tim Tebow would turn pro. I cannot stand the thought of another season of listening to the media gush about what an amazing human being Saint Tebow is. Did you know that if you are fortunate enough to spend just five minutes with him you'd be a better person for it? It's true. Not that Tebow isn't one of the greatest college football players of all time (I mean that), but I wish he would go into the draft and become a tight end and thus effectively disappear from public life because I am tired of hearing about him.