National Notebook: Three Coaching Challenges
UCLA's Rick Neuheisel (Getty Images)
UCLA's Rick Neuheisel (Getty Images)
National Recruiting Editor
Posted Jan 20, 2009


Notre Dame comes up with a new offensive line coach who hopes to re-energize the Irish offense from the ground up … Bill Snyder’s done it in the past and he’s back in Manhattan, Kan., on a mission to bring his Wildcats back to prominence … Rick Neuheisel needs a big influx of superior offensive linemen at UCLA. Should he hold out for elite guys or bring in mid-range recruits who might develop?

Verducci’s the Man

Think of Notre Dame’s history and a strong running game comes to mind. When the Irish have been good, you could always count on them to come through in the clutch, on the ground. Fairly recent visions of Jerome Bettis, Reggie Brooks and Julius Jones dance through one’s head. Powerful and cohesive offensive lines made success possible for those runners, and Irish fans have come to expect effective, often powerful, even dazzling ground games in South Bend.

But somewhere along the way, Notre Dame lost its way as a power on the ground and the Golden Dome’s luster has since diminished in the world of college football.

Last week Charlie Weis looks to have taken an important step in restoring Notre Dame’s offensive line, replacing John Latina with 51-year old Frank Verducci from the Cleveland Browns. Verducci is a well-regarded and highly successful coach with significant experience in the college game and over the last 10 years, the NFL. “I learned so much in the last 10 years in the NFL,” Verducci said. “I probably learned twice as much from a pure football vantage point as I could have learned in college during that time. In the NFL, your matchups are all pretty much even. You can’t count on one guy just dominating another usually, so it’s all about detail and performance.”

Frank Verducci.(Getty Images)

While at Iowa from ‘89-98, Verducci coached and recruited offensive linemen Ross Verba, Mike Goff and Casey Weigmann. So far, he has coached 13 offensive linemen who have found their way into the NFL.

Verba, a great athlete with a mean streak on the field, came to the Hawkeyes from in-state as a 260-pound tight end and left as a 300-pound tackle. He was a ’97 Green Bay Packer first-round draft choice and was the first rookie to ever start a Super Bowl at left tackle.

Goff, always gifted with exceptional upper body strength, is now an 11-year veteran, having been a starting guard with the Chargers since 2004. A true iron man, Goff has started over 100 straight games. “Once Goff got his hands inside on a defensive lineman, it was all over,” Verducci explained.

Weigmann, an offensive center, started 27 times for Iowa under Verducci. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in ’96 with the Indianapolis Colts and as a current member of the Denver Broncos, he was chosen to play in the ‘09 Pro Bowl as an alternate. “Weigmann was a very bright guy and ran a legit 4.8-40 in high school. He was a part of his school’s 4x100 state championship team in Iowa,” Verducci said. “Weigmann could pull and get into the linebackers so well. He could always handle all the protection schemes well.”

Talk with most football people and you’ll find they can’t say enough positive things about Verducci. Speaking personally, I’m part of the herd, having known Frank since his days at Iowa. He’s a great, thorough teacher and a fantastic guy. He knows how to suit his methods to the type of personality involved and very much enjoys recruiting.

Verducci’s a real family man who is now living his dream to coach at Notre Dame. He was offered a position when Bob Davie was the Irish head coach, but the timing wasn’t right. “At this point in my career, with my college and NFL experience. I really feel good about what I can offer these young men at Notre Dame,” he said. “You can change people’s lives in college.” People like running backs Tavian Banks and Sedric Shaw, both of whom played for Verducci as Hawkeyes.

“I can’t wait to get back into the college game where you can get to know the families and support network that a young man has,” Verducci said. “That’s what I missed the most when I was in the NFL. And then to be able to fulfill your commitments to the kid is so fulfilling. If he makes the same commitment to us that we make to him, he’ll have his life changed so dramatically. It’s more important than winning, this ability to change people’s lives. Husbands and fathers now call me and say, if it weren’t for you, I don’t know what I’d be doing today.”

Verducci is a father of two: son Jack (16) and daughter Cammy (11). While Jack already lettered in varsity football as a freshman quarterback and started as a sophomore, dad says Cammy is the better athlete. “My whole life, all I’ve done is evaluate athletic talent, and she’s a better athlete than her brother,” he said. “My kids love sports and I’m looking forward to exposing my children to the environment at Notre Dame and the type of people they will meet here.

“I’ve always admired the balance between athletics and academics at Notre Dame and admired the type of players they recruited,” Verducci said. “They look for highly self-motivated kids who know how to get things done: self-starters, the type that don’t have to have a cattle prod to get things going. When I as at Iowa, I lost some kids like that to Notre Dame like Bryant Young and Pete Bercich. I loved those two guys. They were incredible athletes and people and now I’ll be recruiting those types to Notre Dame.

The Verducci’s have always loved sports. Younger brother Tom joined Sports Illustrated in 1993 and is a senior baseball writer. Frank’s father, Tony, is a member of the New Jersey State Coaches Association Hall of Fame for both football and baseball. Frank helped his father coach football while he was studying at Seton Hall University, which didn’t field a football team.

Verducci’s college coaching career got started 21 years ago as a grad assistant at Colorado State, immediately after which he coached three years part-time at Maryland. Now, he figures to be spending considerable time at home again in New Jersey, recruiting for the Irish and attempting to resurrect those echoes of past dominance in South Bend.

Snyder’s Way

Last Nov. 28, Bill Snyder was rehired by Kansas State to awake the Wildcats from their slumbering profile since Snyder retired in 2005. Snyder had built Kansas State into a formidable college power, winning 11 games during six of his seasons between ’97 and ’03. Before Snyder took over in ’89, the Wildcats had managed to win only 299 games in 93 years of play. "He's not the coach of the year, he's not the coach of the decade, he's the coach of the century," remarked Barry Switzer, when addressing Snyder’s influence in Manhattan, Kan.

Snyder managed to build his empire with recruiting efforts that were never regarded as stellar. In fact, on not one occasion during Snyder’s first tenure did his signing efforts rank among the nation’s top 20 recruiting classes according to SuperPrep magazine. His classes were known for their heavy reliance on junior college transfers and preps who managed to slide under the radar of the major powers.

Snyder never figured to win the recruiting battles for the four and five-star recruits so he smartly concentrated on the victories within his grasp. Often his efforts were fruitful in Florida, Texas and California, where they grow football prospects on trees.

It looks like he’s up to his old tried-and-true methods. Since Jan. 18, Snyder’s received commitments from four preps, none of whom is ranked above a two-star prospect by Scout.com. In fact, not one of the 11 current prep Wildcat commitments has over two-stars. His highest ranked commit is junior college transfer David Batts.

Snyder’s latest commitment is from Florida safety Carlton Callendar. Callendar is right up Snyder’s alley. He doesn’t have any offers from the major in-state programs and looks like he’ll cancel possible official visits to Troy and Pittsburgh. Back in June, Callendar’s coach Evan Cooper told Scout.com’s Mike Hughes, “He’s an all-purpose player. He’ll run a 4.3 and he’s probably got a 38-to-40 inch vertical. He’s got great size and he’s a very heads up football player.” Just what the doctor ordered for Snyder.

Other examples of some prominent coaches who double-dipped with programs are Bill Walsh (Stanford, ‘72-78, ‘92-94), Mike Riley (Oregon State, ‘97-98, ‘03-present), Johnny Majors (‘73-76, ‘93-’96), John Robinson (USC, ‘76-82, ‘93-97) and Dennis Erickson (Idaho, ‘82-85, ’06).

Stan Hasiak (Scout.com)
Stan Hasiak decommitted from UCLA to California.(Scout.com)

In the Trenches

UCLA finds itself scrambling for offensive line recruits as Letter of Intent Day draws near. The offensive line is an area of large concern for Rick Neuheisel who was forced to patchwork his injured, undersized group together last season. Bruin quarterback Kevin Craft found himself besieged by the rush and was often sacked or throwing under pressure. UCLA’s ground game also was never able to get untracked for offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

Bruin fans should be relatively happy with UCLA's class as is, coming off a disappointing 4-8 season. But hopes spring eternal in recruiting, and UCLA faithful know that much of their troubles could be traced to that woeful offensive line. They have been hopeful that Neuheisel’s staff would bring in some badly needed elite offensive trenchmen but so far, the big fish have gotten away. So far in January, the Bruins have lost three four-star offensive line prospects, all of whom officially visited Westwood: John Martinez (USC), Michael Philipp (Oregon State) and Stan Hasiak (Cal). Hasiak actually decomitted from the Bruins on Jan. 13, so his defection was especially disheartening.

Nonetheless, Bruin coaches still have commitments from five other O-liners, three from junior college. Unfortunately, it's not a good year for California trenchmen. The pickings have been a little slim out West, putting pressure on Neuheisel to look elsewhere, especially if some of the JUCO commits can't get admitted.

The Bruins will continue to recruit Hasiak, hoping for a wind shift back in their direction. The will also hold out hope that Scout.com’s No. 3 offensive guard, undecided Utah tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo, might come into the fold. As reported by Scout.com’s Brandon Huffman, the Bruins might also take late looks at Evan Finkenberg and Josh Cabral to add to their stable of offensive line signees. Nothing’s final until signing day – Feb. 4.



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