February 25, 2009

Coaching from press box not a popular option

By thinking outside the box, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis may go inside the box.

Weis recently announced that he might coach from the press box this season; he did so in the Irish's 49-21 Hawaii Bowl victory over Hawaii on Christmas Eve.

Weis is under pressure to win big, and he is taking on offensive coordinator duties and play-calling responsibilities. The view of the action from the sideline is limited. But from the press box, Weis would have the same vantage point he has from game tape. He would get a better picture of what the defense is doing and have a better sense of what play might work. And after two disappointing seasons, he might not be able to retain his job if there is a third one. So, he may be better-served to get a first-hand look at what's going on.

Still, Weis is unlikely to move upstairs. He even estimated the odds of the move "at the lower end of 50-50."

No surprise there, really.

Head coaches are fixtures on the sidelines. Most would be placed in a pine box before a press box. Just considering a move upstairs is quite unorthodox. In fact, the idea is so unorthodox that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, the king of unorthodox, won't consider it.

Leach won't think twice about going for it on fourth-and-10. He chided Ohio State coach Jim Tressel for refusing to vote in the 2007 coaches' poll. He has interrupted teleconferences to place an order at a drive-through fast-food restaurant. He has placed ads in the Texas Tech school newspaper to find a punter. He found a kicker at a halftime promotion. He's fascinated by pirates. But Leach wouldn't coach from the press box even when he was an offensive coordinator.

"You can see better in the press box and it's quieter to collect your thoughts, but I always felt I was not in touch with the game or the emotion of the players," Leach said by phone early this week. "With me on the sideline, I can try to compensate for that disadvantage with a guy up top that I can trust. I might need to know where the safety was on that play.

"But I need to know if some kid is pouting or getting too excited. If I need to talk to the quarterback, I want to grab him and talk to him there eye-to-eye rather than on headphones. I want to be right there with him getting him focused. I'm not saying that's the right or wrong way, but it's better-suited for me."

Most coaches are better-suited for the sideline. Penn State's Joe Paterno coached from the press box the majority of last season because of a deteriorating hip that required surgery. Paterno was is the press box for the final seven games of the regular season and the Lions went 6-1, including a victory over Ohio State that paved the way for the Big Ten championship. He also coached from the press box in a Rose Bowl loss to USC.

Weis was forced to coach from the box because of knee injuries stemming from a collision with Notre Dame defensive end John Ryan on Sept. 13 during the Irish's win over Michigan.

In the Hawaii Bowl, quarterback Jimmy Clausen set Notre Dame bowl records with 401 passing yards and five touchdowns, while receiver Golden Tate had with six catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns.

"It's 10 times easier. It's night and day easier [coaching from the press box]," Weis said after the Hawaii Bowl. "I haven't been up in the box since [former New England Patriots quarterback] Drew Bledsoe got hurt [in 2001].

"You don't want to do that long term, but calling a game from up there is pretty sweet. As a head coach, you want to be on the sideline."

Actually, some coaches preferred the bird's-eye view.

College Football Hall of Famer Darrell Mudra posted a 200-81-4 career record while coaching from the press box as the head coach at Adams State (Colo.), North Dakota State, Arizona, Western Illinois, Florida State, Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa.

Like Mudra, Billy Joe, now the coach at Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., is in the College Football Hall of Fame. He began coaching from the press box in 1990, near the end of his tenure at Division II Central State (Ohio), and he continued to do so at Florida A&M and Miles.

Leach even gave it a shot. When he was offensive coordinator at Valdosta State in the early '90s, he left the sideline for the press box. Well, for three games, at least.

"I felt out of touch with the game and out of touch with the players," Leach said. "You could say maybe I didn't give it a fair shake."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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