Some might ask why Charlie Weis, a coach with a national profile, accepted an offer to coach football at Kansas University. That’s an easy one to answer. He failed at Notre Dame and has too much pride to let that be his lasting legacy as a head coach.
The tougher questions will be sent Sheahon Zenger’s way today at a 5 p.m. news conference in the football complex, starting with “Why Charlie Weis?”
Zenger has to do better than the first quote he gave.
“This puts Kansas on the national map,” Zenger told ESPN.com’s Joe Schad, choosing to speak first to the national media.
Excuse me, but didn’t Mark Mangino and his staff already do that by coaching up a group of largely two-star recruits so well that the Jayhawks were ranked No. 2 in the nation with an 11-0 record before losing to Missouri and then going on to win the Orange Bowl? That team finished 12-1, ranked No. 7 and very much on the national map.
The other troubling thing about that quote — and the first quote generally is the most honest one because it hasn’t been rehearsed — is that it smacks of an athletic director more concerned with winning the news conference than building a winner on the field.
Weis certainly was the biggest name Kansas could have landed. Zenger made a splash heard ’round the football world by hiring a man who has had success developing quarterbacks as talented as Tom Brady, at New England, and Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame, and as unspectacular as Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The responsibilities of a college head coach differ so greatly from those of an NFL offensive coordinator. A college head coach must assemble a staff of assistants who blend the right qualities necessary to evaluate talent, develop recruiting contacts and instruct the recruits who commit.
At Notre Dame, Weis got off to such a great start on the field and in the recruiting rankings that the school felt compelled to sign him to a 10-year contract extension in the middle of his second year. Weis went 19-6 in his first two seasons, and the Fighting Irish faithful were convinced even better times were on the horizon because Weis landed Clausen, the nation’s top-ranked recruit who had gone 42-0 and thrown a California-record 146 touchdown passes.
In the next three seasons, Weis went 16-23 with Clausen as his quarterback in most of the games. Clausen improved significantly each season, throwing seven interceptions and six touchdowns as a freshman, 25 touchdowns and 17 picks as a sophomore and 28 touchdowns and four interceptions as a junior in 2009. That didn’t save Weis’ job, and he was fired after a 6-6 season.
Notre Dame, which doesn’t tolerate coaches who don’t smile for the cameras unless they are big-time winners, so badly wanted to end the Weis era that it paid the coach more to go away than the $6 million Kansas is paying Turner Gill. The Chicago Tribune reported that Weis’ initial termination payment was for $6,638,403 “under a separation agreement that includes much smaller payments through December, 2015,” according to information in a Form 990 Notre Dame filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
It didn’t take Weis long to land a job in the NFL. He tutored Cassel to a 27-touchdown, seven-interception season with the Chiefs in 2010. In Cassel’s other two seasons with Kansas City, Cassel has combined for 26 touchdowns and 25 picks, irrefutable evidence that Weis knows how to bring out the best in quarterbacks.
That stat should help Dayne Crist, a quarterback recruited to Notre Dame by Weis, realize that transferring to Kansas means he’ll play for a guy who will make him better. Crist started as a sophomore at ND, but was beat out as a junior and announced he will transfer. He will graduate this month and because of that won’t have to sit out a year at his new school. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, however, reported he is considering transferring to Wisconsin.
Weis comes to Kansas from Florida, where he was former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp’s offensive coordinator.
In Weis’ one season as offensive coordinator, the Gators ranked 72nd among 120 FBS schools with 25.6 points per game and 102nd with 334.2 yards per game.
If Zenger didn’t make this hire to attract national media attention, maybe he has another major move coming. Could it be Zenger will entice his former boss, ex-South Florida coach Jim Leavitt, to leave the San Francisco 49ers after their season ends to come to KU as defensive coordinator? Such a move would allow Leavitt to rehab an image that was tainted when he allegedly struck a player and then was involved in an apparent cover-up. Leavitt shows he’s not that guy by behaving at Kansas and then takes over when Weis retires?