Those who think Charlie Weis is entering into new territory by attempting to lead the rebuilding project at Kansas University have not paid enough attention to Weis’ past.
Three times prior to coming to Kansas, Weis was part of a coaching staff that took over a downtrodden program and, almost immediately, turned it into a winner.
The first time came in 1993, when Weis joined Bill Parcells in New England on the heels of a 2-14 season. That first year, despite a 1-11 start, the Patriots finished 5-11 and installed the groundwork for the Super Bowl seasons to come. A year later, the Patriots were 10-6 and playing in the playoffs.
Same thing took place in 1997 with the New York Jets. After a 1-15 season in 1996 without them, Weis and Parcells led the Jets to a 9-7 record in 1997 and a berth in the AFC championship game in 1998.
“In the second year of both those teams, we went to the playoffs,” Weis said. “Now, I was not the head coach, but I was there and I was part of those turnarounds. We went into really bad teams and we got ’em competitive the first year and got ’em really good the second year.”
Weis’ most recent turnaround came in 2010 with the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 4-12 the year before he arrived and 10-6 and AFC West champs after.
Although Weis is sitting in a different seat in the meeting room now, he said he learned things at each stop that could help the Jayhawks get back on the winning track.
“That would be nice if history kind of repeated itself,” Weis said. “I would like to be part of the reason that people that root for the Jayhawks were happy. ... No one wants to wait five years to start winning. But you gotta get competitive first. I think that’s a good place to start.”
Toughness was a trademark of all three teams Weis helped turn around.
“We played really, really hard,” he said. “(With New England, in 1994) we won one game out of our first 12 and it was against the Phoenix Cardinals on a deflected pass that they should’ve intercepted. That was the only game we won the first 12 weeks, but every game we played hard.”
That begged the question, has Weis seen enough from the Jayhawks to determine whether they understand what playing hard is all about?
“Oh, I think that message has been sent, loud and clear,” Weis said. “There’s not much of a gray area from me and my staff.”
Smooth as silk
Six days into his first fall camp at KU, Weis said he had been impressed by the way his team jumped out of the gate.
“There have been no negative surprises,” Weis said during a news conference Tuesday. “You don’t mind when the surprises are positive. The problem is when the surprises are negative, and there’ve been none of those at this point. That means the arrow just keeps gradually pointing up.”
Crist and Wisconsin
Last winter, when Weis still was the offensive coordinator at Florida, he took a phone call from a former player of his named Dayne Crist, who was looking to leave Notre Dame for one more season of football.
With Florida off his list of options, Crist asked his former coach about a few other schools and Weis gave Crist an honest answer.
“I was the one that told him to go to Wisconsin,” Weis said. “I said, ‘Look, they’re best situated for success.’ And then I got the job (at KU) and I said, ‘Hold on a second, I might have an alternative for you.’”
While Weis’ focus quickly shifted to trying to bring Crist to Kansas, he said he remained honest throughout the process.
“That was not an easy one, because I had to tell him, out of loyalty to him and his family, that there were things that I couldn’t offer him that Wisconsin could,” Weis recalled. “I just told him what I could offer him, and, at the end of the day, he wanted what I wanted.”
Hall of Fame pride
Last weekend, former Charlie Weis pupil, Curtis Martin, was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. When asked about the induction of Martin, who ranks fourth all-time on the NFL’s rushing list, Weis offered up two memories.
“He’s just a wonderful, wonderful young man,” said Weis, noting that he was Martin’s position coach during his stellar rookie season in 1995, when he racked up 1,487 yards and 14 TDs.
The other memory also came from the ’95 season.
“He won Parcells over as a rookie,” Weis said. “Which was almost an impossibility.”
Doherty doing it all
While battles rage on at several positions, the Jayhawks appear closer than ever to knowing the name of their starting punter and kicker.
“The only guy that was an incumbent and I don’t see an easy answer to beating him out is (junior Ron) Doherty because he’s still our best kicker and he’s still our best punter,” Weis said.
With Doherty expected to handle both key kicking rolls, Weis said he was looking for areas to pull back.
“What I’m trying to do is get a guy that can at least kick off to take off that strain,” he said. “And that guy might not be here yet. Like I always do, I’m working every angle I can to try to find that answer. We’re talking to the rugby club, we’re talking the soccer club. Out of 30,000 people in this school, there’s gotta be somebody that can kick the ball off out of the end zone.”
After missing the end of the 2011 season and all of spring practice while recovering from an injury, sophomore running back Brandon Bourbon has come back with fire.
“I’ve seen no evidence in camp of any injury,” Weis said. “I’ve seen him rusty, but he’s gotten significantly better over the last few days.”
Bourbon, who red-shirted his freshman season (2010) and played in eight games a season ago, said he felt as good as he had since coming to KU.
“I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I feel great, man. These first few practices, I’m just trying to get out and show ’em what I can do.”