Tag: Charlie Weis

Irish offense preparing for former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta


Past and present Notre Dame football will unite on Saturday, with the Irish traveling to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. And while the juicy storylines aren’t exactly jumping off the page in one of Notre Dame’s six ACC matchups this season, the chance for the Irish offense to go against former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is one that has Notre Dame fans more than a little interested.

Brought to Notre Dame by Charlie Weis, Tenuta served as the Irish defensive coordinator for two seasons. The move was interesting for many reasons. And if we’re being honest, it was a disaster for just as many.

Tenuta was Notre Dame’s first big-money, free agent coaching acquisition. After giving Weis all he could handle as Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator, the former Irish head coach decided to bring Tenuta to South Bend, with hopes that the veteran coordinator would infuse some of his aggressiveness into his football program.

Tenuta did that, blitzing on more than half of the defense’s snaps. But too often those blitzes never got home, and the Irish finished 2009 giving up an insane amount of big plays, finishing 103rd in the country by giving up 6.2 yards per play. Throw in Tenuta’s gruff disposition and some well-documented chemistry issues on the coaching staff, and Weis’ third shot at finding the right defensive coordinator ended up being one of many reasons he was fired.

All this background is given to you because one rather obvious statement makes Notre Dame fans feel a little bit less than comfortable: Tenuta and current Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have a lot in common. And Brian Kelly acknowledged that on Tuesday.

“I think they both probably drink from the same well,” Kelly said. “I think Brian and Jon would definitely both tell you they’d much rather be exotic and bring pressures if they could. Sometimes you’re limited by certain situations, but I would say they’re very similar from that respect.”

When it’s going well, an attacking defensive coordinator helps a team dictate terms. They demand perfection, unwilling to give up a five-yard out route, let alone a 50-yard bomb. Weis saw that from Tenuta, and understandably wanted that in his program. And Kelly knew that’s how VanGorder coached defense, and after Bob Diaco left to take over the UConn program, Kelly decided he wanted to crank up the pressure schemes.

The big difference between Weis and Kelly’s decisions? Kelly had recruited the personnel that made that scheme possible? Weis? Not so much, yo-yo’ing between Rick Minter, Corwin Brown and Tenuta, all while struggling to recruit on the defensive side of the ball.

Kelly talked about how important personnel is when determining defensive schemes.

“It’s so much about personnel that allows you to do the things you want to do defensively,” Kelly explained. “Sometimes you’re limited by certain situations.”

We saw those limitations firsthand last year. After looking like world-beaters throughout September and parts of October, Notre Dame’s personnel just didn’t have the ability to deploy VanGorder’s aggressive schemes, with a disastrous stretch yielding nearly 40 points a game to opponents to close the season.

Get one look at the game tape from last weekend in the Rose Bowl, it appeared that Tenuta’s defense struggled getting to UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen as well, a talented defense feeling the effects of multiple losses to the NFL. And even sending blitzers early and often, the Cavaliers were unable to disrupt the Bruins’ quick-throwing scheme. That’s something that Irish fans saw all too often when Tenuta was calling the Notre Dame defense, and likely adds some fire to a matchup that already looks awfully uneven on paper.

Of course, Malik Zaire is starting just his third game at Notre Dame. And while the Irish offensive line did a nice job protecting him against Texas, the Longhorns managed nine tackles-for-loss. So you can forgive Kelly and his offensive staff if they aren’t out to right the wrongs of the Weis era.

As is always the case, deposed coaches are whipping boys and scapegoats, and Tenuta’s scowling face is too often associated with the defensive ineptitude of the Weis era. But Virginia’s defensive coordinator has been around college football for the better part of 35 years, coaching at his alma mater after a career that’s seen him do lofty things at stops like Marshal Ohio State and Georgia Tech.

So while Irish fans are hoping Notre Dame scores points by the bushel and makes big plays against the risk-taking schemes of their former defensive coordinator, Kelly and the Irish staff know they’ve got a big week of preparation, with Virginia’s defense more than capable of getting after the quarterback and turning over the football.

“They’ve got an answer for everything that you’re doing offensively. They like to mix things up, play some man, some zone, single pressures,” Kelly said. [They’re] a defense that can cause you some problems with some very, very good coaching, very sound fundamentally and can really get after you with a lot of different schemes and a lot of different looks.”



Tax returns show Charlie Weis still earning big cash from Notre Dame

Charlie Weis

Former athletic director Kevin White‘s 10-year contract extension is the gift that keeps on giving to former Irish head coach Charlie Weis. New federal tax documents show that Weis is still cashing seven-figure checks, with Notre Dame shelling out $2,054,774 over the last fiscal year.

The university is expected to pay Weis three more installments from his apparently guaranteed contract, bringing the grand total of this payout to roughly  $19 million, proof positive that while Dr. White may be one of the most admired administrators in college athletics, the current Duke AD certainly isn’t among the most shrewd.

Also raising eyebrows is the money Brian Kelly received during the same period, in a season where the Irish went to the BCS title game. Kelly’s earnings through Notre Dame came to $1,457,284. That number is likely just a portion of his total income, as head coaches are routinely paid through other entities, like apparel partners, media outlets and other external sources.

Of note, Kelly’s “bonus and incentive compensation” totaled $607,200. That makes sense considering he brought the Irish to the national championship and also managed to have the team ranked as the No. 1 school from certain academic measurements.

Other newsworthy numbers listed in the documents include athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s roughly $1.1 million paycheck. Mens basketball coach Mike Brey earned just over $1.5 million while Muffet McGraw earned just over $1.3 million as the head of the women’s basketball program.

As a private university, Notre Dame isn’t required to file the same paperwork as other public entities, keeping complete compensation structures rather difficult to uncover. But as a non-profit organization, the school files a tax return that includes information about the school’s highest paid employees, and former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was on that list, earning $672,824 before taking the head coaching job at UConn.

Ragone and McDonald set to join Weis in Kansas

Mike Ragone

The westbound caravan heading from South Bend to Lawrence, Kansas has added two more passengers, with linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone ready to play out their eligibility for former head coach Charlie Weis. McDonald’s addition to the Jayhawk roster was finalized late last week, while Ragone’s — long anticipated after he was cleared for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA — was announced by Kansas this afternoon. They’ll join former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist in Lawrence, with all three likely expecting to immediately contribute to a Kansas program that fell off a cliff after Turner Gil took over for Mark Mangino.

We’ve discussed Crist’s departure from the program multiple times, but closing the book on Ragone and McDonald’s careers in South Bend deserves a little consideration. McDonald in many ways typified the career path of the 2008 recruiting class. Highly ranked out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks (where he was teammates with Crist), McDonald’s star-ranking was much better than his recruiting cohort, with neither UCLA or USC offering the Los Angeles prospect. Choosing the Irish over Boston College and Oregon, McDonald redshirted his freshman season then contributed mostly on special teams during three injury plagued seasons. Stuck behind and passed by guys like Manti Te’o, Dan Fox, and Carlo Calabrese, both McDonald and fellow inside linebacker commitment David Posluszny failed to make any impact on the field, with the ’08 class essentially whiffing on inside linebackers.

Ragone’s career, also discussed many times here, is one more difficult to profile. Between terrible luck with injuries, Ragone also battled an up-and-down attitude and some off-the-field issues before turning his career around. Expected to be one of the best tight ends in the country with multiple national offers, an ACL injury suffered in high school kept Ragone off the field for his senior season and All-American game exhibitions. Still, he saw the field through most of the dreadful 2007 season. Ready to contribute during 2008, Ragone suffered a torn ACL, the second in just over two years, during fall camp. By the time he rebounded for the 2009 season, Ragone was delegated to second tight-end duty, with Kyle Rudolph the featured pass catcher. Ragone’s senior season was put in jeopardy when he was pulled over on the Indiana Toll Road driving home after classes ended in May. While it was less publicized than Michael Floyd’s lenient sentence, Student Affairs, and head coach Brian Kelly, allowed Ragone to play his senior season without sitting out a game.

That Ragone went from the doghouse to a fifth-year player for the Irish was as good of proof as any that he had turned the corner and matured as a player and leader. Suffering another season-ending knee injury early in the season — after he was counted on to fill a void at the tight end position — was especially disheartening, but Ragone continued with the team, delaying surgery for a brief spell to keep young tight ends Ben Koyack and Alex Welch up to speed. With the Irish needing to identify an in-line blocking tight end for 2012, the Irish coaching staff had to consider bringing Ragone back for a sixth season, but ultimately decided against it.

McDonald and Ragone will join Crist in Lawrence this summer for unofficial workouts before both being immediately eligible next season.


Ragone granted sixth year, headed to Kansas

Mike Ragone

Lost in the shuffle of a pretty eventful offseason Thursday, tight end Mike Ragone won his sixth year appeal with the NCAA and will play one more season of college football. While it won’t be for the Fighting Irish, Ragone will be reunited with the head coach that brought him to South Bend, joining Charlie Weis — and Dayne Crist — in Lawrence, Kansas.

Catching up with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, Ragone was ecstatic about the opportunity.

“I’m pretty excited right now,” Ragone told Hansen. “I want to do big things, now that I have this chance.”

That chance didn’t seem possible at Notre Dame, especially with the return of Tyler Eifert and a depth chart featuring promising youngsters like Ben Koyack and Alex Welch, who were forced into duty after Ragone’s knee injury.

Ragone was one of the most highly touted tight end recruits in the country when he came to Notre Dame, recruited by Weis out of New Jersey after a promising high school career as both a football player and wrestler. But a knee injury ended his senior season of high school before it ever started, and then did the same in 2008. Last season’s knee surgery was the third for Ragone in his last seven seasons of football.

The injuries were hardly the only speed bumps in his career at Notre Dame. He suffered severe heat illness during preseason camp and also was arrested for possessing marijuana in his car. He returned to the team without missing a game and earned back the trust of the coaching staff who hailed Ragone’s maturity and leadership after his knee injury last year.

Reunited with Crist, Hansen also hinted that the Notre Dame to Kansas migration isn’t complete, with linebacker Anthony McDonald — not invited back for a fifth year at Notre Dame after an injury filled career as a reserve linebacker — potentially joining them in Lawrence.

Holiday Weekend notes: Christmas edition

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel

With Irish players at home enjoying some family time before reporting to Orlando tomorrow to begin bowl preparations, let’s clean out the note pad before Christmas weekend, with a lot of recruiting news coming soon.


It sounds like the race for five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel isn’t just between Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Various reports have LSU pushing their way into the game, with Les Miles and the Tigers making a serious play for Kiel, who was just named Indiana Mr. Football this week.

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com has been as plugged in as anyone on Kiel’s recruitment and his latest report has Kiel legitimately torn between the three schools, with the timeline to early enroll coming very quickly.

Irish fan’s passion for Kiel — a player many regard as the No. 1 quarterback in the country — has been surprisingly level-headed. Maybe it’s the log jam that currently needs to play itself out with the current depth chart and the still-to-be-determined ability of guys like Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson, but Kiel’s recruitment hasn’t turned into the message board soap opera other top prep quarterbacking targets have been in the past.

Still, with Dayne Crist gone and Luke Massa now working at wide receiver, there’s room on the depth chart for a quarterback, a position Kelly wants to add to every year in recruiting, and Kiel’s an awfully attractive option.


Speaking of quarterbacking options, the Irish have already set a contingency plan if Kiel doesn’t commit to Notre Dame, and he’s a really intriguing option. New Jersey quarterback Devin Fuller has come out of nowhere to be an option for the Irish at quarterback, and he’s an electric dual-threat QB that shows the type of versatility Brian Kelly is willing to play with in his offense.

One look at his junior season highlight tape (with impressive production value I might add) let’s you understand the type of athlete Fuller is, and the Irish have pulled back into consideration for a guy a few recruiting services view as a five-star recruit as well.

“I grew up a fan of Notre Dame,” Fuller told Steve Wiltfong. “My coach grew up a fan. That’s our school colors. Everything fits. The school is unbelievable. The opportunities after college would be endless.”

Fuller is being recruited right now by Bob Diaco, and will likely set an official visit to Notre Dame if Kiel doesn’t commit to Notre Dame. He’s been told by the coaching staff that he’s a quarterback in their minds, but he has the type of athleticism that could get him onto the field on both sides of the ball and at a variety of positions.

Obviously, Kiel and Fuller aren’t the same kind of quarterback. But it’s refreshing to see this coaching staff be so aggressive this late in the game, and still find dynamic players that are interesting in Notre Dame. Fuller has taken official visits to TCU and Nebraska and will visit Rutgers as well. He’ll play in the Army All-American game as well.


It hasn’t been the kind of senior year Ethan Johnson envisioned having, with a high ankle sprain limiting the veteran defensive end for the bulk of the season after getting off to a good start. Finally healthy, it’ll be interesting to see how NFL teams view Johnson, a really athletic 300 pound lineman that’s shown great versatility.

But don’t expect that to cross Johnson’s radar right now. He’s focused on beating Florida State.

“It’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “It’s all we’re focused on right now. For this game we’ve had a long time to focus on it, and we’re going to continue to work and prepare and get ready to play our best football. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that, there’s no reason why we’re not going to do that… We’re going to do that.”

For Irish fans lukewarm on a late December bowl game after having hopes for the BCS, hearing Johnson talk so pointedly about the importance of this game has to make you feel good about the progress of this football team, even if the four regular season losses were a big let down. But it all goes to the process of building a program, something Johnson and the departing senior class feel is part of their job.

“I’m a guy who believes you leave something better than you found it,” Johnson said. “I definitely want to do that. I want to leave this place better than when I found it.”


For those following the Irish’s quest to add another running back to their depleted depth chart, the Irish will find out if the recruiting class with add a complement to Will Mahone on December 29th, just a few hours before taking on the Seminoles.

That’s because Seattle running back KeiVarae Russell will be holding a press conference at his high school to announce his college choice, with the Irish and the hometown Washington Huskies finalists.

Russell spoke about the decision making process to the Seattle Times:

“It’s not tough at all,” said Russell, when asked where he’s at in the process. “I know exactly where I’m going. I’m just not going to tell anyone until next week.”

Right now, he’s not tipping his cap on whether it will be Washington or Notre Dame. He plans to make his decision public during a ceremony at Mariner at noon Dec. 29 — there is a chance it will happen on the 28th.

“I saw myself going to that school a few weeks ago, probably before my Cal visit,” he said. “I kind of knew where I was going to go but I wanted to make sure.”

Again, a quick look at his junior year highlights shows you a pretty dynamic athlete and a guy that looks to win the battle with speed and quickness as opposed to power. With Mahone looking like the kind of back that could take Jonas Gray’s place, adding Russell to the fold would help solidify the running back position, and add some certainty to a recruiting class that’s still actively pursuing a lot of big fish.


Say what you want about Charlie Weis, but the man can recruit quarterbacks. Not only did Weis sign Dayne Crist to take over the starting job next season, he also took in former Irish target and one-time five-star recruit Jake Heaps, who’ll sit out next season after transferring from BYU and have two seasons to play for the Jayhawks.

The Jayhawks only have eight verbal commitments, but Weis has already accepted the commitment of Tre Parmalee, son of his former Irish assistant Bernie Parmalee, and is likely to score the commitment of South Bend’s Gehrig Dieter, who has put up some incredibly prolific numbers this season.

Of course, Weis still needs to put together a defensive staff, something he struggled to do at Notre Dame, and that process is ongoing.

More from the Lawrence Journal World:

There has been grumbling about the slow pace with which Weis has gone about hiring a defensive coordinator and filling out the rest of his coaching staff. But according to KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger, the delay has been by design. Monday night, during his time on “Hawk Talk with Bill Self,” Zenger talked about the ongoing quest for assistant coaches and shed light on Weis’ timetable.

“I’m watching him go through this process, and it’s really an old scientific term that we used to use in data collection of sifting and sorting through the folks and trying to get just the right combination,” Zenger said. “Sometimes I find myself shifting into fan mode when he shares names with me: I kind of go, ‘Well, hire him, hire him and hire him,’ but that’s not what he needs to do. He needs to make sure he gets the right puzzle pieces together to make this thing really work.”

Zenger, who has been a part of football coaching staffs at Kansas State, South Florida and Wyoming, says there is more that goes into putting together a coaching staff that many might think.

“That’s what he’s going through now,” Zenger said. “We’re going through background checks, and you gotta make sure the spouses would be happy in Lawrence. People don’t think about that, but when you bring together a staff of nine full-time assistants, you’re also bringing together nine families. And that’s critical to the chemistry of the staff.”

It’s good to see Charlie taking coaching chemistry to heart, but he’ll likely need to have his mind made up by January 3rd, when the recruiting dead period ends.


Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Irish, but we had a great year on the blog, with so many new readers coming aboard and continuing to stop by. Thanks for making this a stop in your search for Irish news. I truly appreciate it.