Sheahon Zenger has an adviser and a nationwide committee helping him this time, but the choice of the next Kansas University football coach officially still will be made by the athletic director who for his first hire swung for the fences and missed so badly he drilled himself into a bunker.
A look back at history generally helps in not dooming oneself to repeat it. A close look back at the Charlie Weis introductory news conference revealed some red flags.
“Ten days ago, I stood in this room and told the football team I was going to hit the road and find the best football coach for the University of Kansas,” Zenger said before Weis spoke. “I set out to find the best. I found Charlie Weis.”
I wanted to play on the PGA Tour. I have a 22 handicap. Forgive the digression. I have no idea what made me think of that.
“We’ve had several coaching changes in recent years,” Zenger said. “The chancellor and I didn’t feel like we needed a jump start. We believed that we needed a power surge. That power surge is coach Weis.”
Athletic directors should not make football hires in unison with chancellors or university presidents whose expertise is at the academic end of a university.
Mike Leach was hired by the Washington State athletic director and was told he would be working for the AD. He did not have to undergo a joint interview.
Looking back at the news conference, Weis said something that opened a window as to why he went 6-22.
“I’m not the greatest coach in the world,” Weis said. “I’m just an old ball coach. That’s what I am. I was groomed under Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, OK, and the way I figure it, they’re both going to the Hall of Fame so why should I try to reinvent the wheel? Why not copycat what they do?”
Because college football is all about identifying the right athletes to recruit, projecting what they’ll look like, learn like and play like once taught on the practice field and in the weight room. Developing players by putting the best against the best in practice is how it’s done. In the NFL, it’s all about scheming and changing those schemes every week in order to gain tactical advantages. Not as much individual teaching of technique takes place because the players arrive closer to finished products.
Looking into a crystal ball with the hope of how his Kansas career would turn out, Weis spoke honestly: “You want Utopia? I’ve said this to both chancellor (Bernadette Gray-Little) and to Dr. Zenger, Utopia is me walking away from here a bunch of years from now, you get rid of one Charlie Weis and you hire another a lot cheaper.”
The room chuckled inappropriately. Weis was not joking. He wanted to use his time at Kansas to launch his son Charlie Jr.’s coaching career in a big way. It’s a huge part of what made the job seem attractive to him. That and the $12.5 million he was guaranteed.
Weis was asked how the experience at Notre Dame prepared him for his second stretch as a head coach.
“When you’re a first-time head coach you really know what you want to do, you really know what you want to say, but sometimes when you say it, you sit there and say, ‘Why did I say that or why did I say it that way?’ You really look back and reflect and say you know that was a really stupid thing to do,” Weis said with a hint of professorial wisdom, New Jersey style. “As you get older and more experienced and think about that, even though your message was right, your presentation was way off. And I think being older and more polished about what you’re doing, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to say the same thing, but say it a little bit differently.”
Nice answer. And Weis did have a chance to display the refinement that comes with age when he was asked in 2013 about his recruiting approach coming off a 1-11 season. A younger, more impulsive Weis from his Notre Dame days might have said something regrettable, such as, “Everyone wants to play. There’s no one that wants to not play. So I said, ‘Have you looked at that pile of crap out there? Have you taken a look at that?’ So if you don’t think you can play here, where do you think you can play? It’s a pretty simple approach. That’s not a sales pitch. That’s practical. You’ve seen it, right? Unfortunately, so have I.”
Instead, with the aging process and the wisdom that comes with that, what he said as Kansas coach was, “Everyone wants to play. There’s no one that wants to not play. So I said, ‘Have you looked at that pile of crap out there? Have you taken a look at that?’ So if you don’t think you can play here, where do you think you can play? It’s a pretty simple approach. That’s not a sales pitch. That’s practical. You’ve seen it, right? Unfortunately, so have I.”