Weis, Kansas find benefit in each other

It almost felt a little surreal, watching Charlie Weis amble through the doorway of the media room at the Anderson Family Football Complex on Friday evening. Once his introductory press conference got underway, however, it quickly became apparent why both Weis and Sheahon Zenger saw this partnership as the right fit.

Charlie Weis was officially introduced as the head football coach at the University of Kansas on Friday evening.

It still felt slightly surreal as he ambled through the doorway of the media room at the Anderson Family Football Complex, a Jayhawk pinned to his lapel and his name emblazoned across the front of the podium.

"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," Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger stated, during his introduction. "I set out to find the best, and I found Charlie Weis."

And to hear Weis tell it, it was something of a whirlwind courtship.

At 7 a.m. Thursday morning, he got a call from Florida head coach Will Muschamp. Zenger had officially requested permission to speak with his offensive coordinator about the head coaching position.

The two were scheduled to meet at 11:45 a.m., which gave he and his family - his wife Maura and son Charlie Jr. - time weigh the pros and cons of the opportunity.

For those who are unaware, the Weis family is extremely close. Family decisions aren't made individually, but as a collective, with the ramifications to each family member carefully weighed and measured – particularly where Hannah is concerned.

Hannah is the fourth member of the Weis clan, their 16-year-old daughter. As "globally mentally delayed" child she has special needs, and during this past year they saw her become truly happy for perhaps the first time in her life.

The Hillcrest School - a public school in Ocala, Fla. catering specifically to special needs children - had her excited about getting up in the morning. She was talking, singing.

Heck, she wanted to go to school, Weis said. That was a first for them, and a pretty big deal.

"Hannah was going to have to stay in Florida," he explained. "Therefore, Maura was going to have to stay in Florida. So how was this going to work? How was this going to work as a family?"

Nobody was ready to give up on finding a solution, however, and when her father offered to provide unlimited access to a private jet for flights from Ocala to Lawrence, Kan., the discussion was back on.

The family decided it was something he had to at least consider, and so he met with Zenger for what would be the start of a "grueling day," and an in-person interview that lasted somewhere in the ballpark of five hours.

"It was a very compelling presentation," Weis said. "And it was a growing Q&A that went back and forth, and really at the end of the day we saw things eye-to-eye. Their vision and my vision kind of coincided."

To Weis, the responsibilities of a head coach far exceed mere wins and losses on the football field. Yes, those are undeniably important, but he feels he owes more to the players under his care than their growth as athletes.

One of the proudest accomplishments he took with him when he left the University of Notre Dame in 2009, after five years as the head coach of his alma mater, was the culture of discipline he instilled. Not only was his graduation record spotless, but Weis claimed to be able to count the number of off-the-field incidents his program endured on one hand.

That had to sit well with Gray-Little, who made it clear her lofty expectations for the University included athletics as well.

"We aspire to excellence in all aspects of KU's mission, and that aspiration extends to our athletic programs," she said. "KU expects excellence on the field of competition, and in the preparation of our student athletes to graduate and lead successful lives after college."

"That's something we haven't talked about a lot," Zenger added. "But if you talk to people who know his teams, he's a disciplinarian and they love him. And to me there's a magic in that."

As it became apparent their philosophies meshed, another aspect of the Kansas job began to call to the competitor in Weis.

In two years under former head coach Turner Gill, the Jayhawks won just five games. They recently completed the 2010 season with a 10-game losing streak and a final record of 2-10. By contrast, Kansas State University is revitalized, maintaining a 10-2 record and earning a spot in the Cotton Bowl.

Weis saw that disparity, and couldn't help but wonder why it existed. It tugged at him. After a disappointing end to his first stint as a head coach in the collegiate ranks, here was the chance to get in on the ground floor of a rebuilding effort, and be a part of something special.

In the picture Zenger painted for him, he saw that Kansas wasn't content to be known as a basketball school; that they craved excellence in all sports, including football.

Ultimately, with Hannah's blessing, all those factors coalesced into an opportunity the family decided he couldn't let pass him by.

"The team is 2-10, and you're going to be the one directly involved with all the decisions to take that team from 2-10 and move it to the other side of the spectrum," Weis said. "That's really the main reason."

Zenger requested permission to speak with Weis at 7 a.m., Thursday morning, and by that evening the deal was done.

So...now what? With a rebuilding job of this magnitude, where does he start?

Oh, in Weis' mind, that one is easy. Once he assembles a staff - of which he expected to have the majority in place within the next few days - the first real step is the off-season conditioning program.

And not just any conditioning program, but a regimen so intense it makes players come to hate the alarm clock that wakes them every morning for another round of workouts with the fire of a thousand suns.

"The first thing you're going to have to do is put these players through a grueling off-season, to change the mentality of the players," Weis said, with a knowing grin plastered to his face. "It's not going to be pleasant around here in the spring time. There aren't many things I can promise, but I can promise you that."

The past three years have turned Weis into a journeyman. From head coach of Notre Dame to offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, and eventually to his most recent position as offensive coordinator at the University of Florida, he's been constantly on the move.

But it hasn't been a wasted experience. He's learned from his mistakes, and filed away the correct decisions he made at each stop for future use. He grew in his knowledge as a coach, and in his understanding of what it takes to really run a major conference, Division One college football program.

Perhaps most importantly, he came to understand the value of chemistry when assembling a coaching staff.

"(At Notre Dame)I hired a bunch of good coaches, but I never really got it right," Weis explained. "I never really got it right. Whether it was chemistry on offense or going through multiple coordinators on defense."

"Too many head coaches point the blame at all the other guys rather than taking the blame themselves," he continued. "But really, at the end of the day I never got it right."

Zenger is betting heavily that this time around he will. Unofficially, the terms of his contract are in the ballpark of $2.5 million annually for five years. It's more than either Gill or former head coach Mark Mangino - who guided the program to an Orange Bowl victory in 2007 - made during their tenures on Mount Oread.

"As I look back over the last 25 years in this business, the few things I know about football are that it begins with hard work," Zenger explained. "Tireless hard work, attention to detail. That's what I found first and foremost in Coach Weis. That relentless pursuit of excellence, a passion for the game and for the kids."

Both he and Gray-Little believed the program needed not just a jump start, but a "power surge." They believe Weis can provide that level of instant credibility and excitement, in addition to his technical abilities as a coach.

If the early response from the national media is any indication, they're absolutely correct. It may not all be positive feedback, but in the past 24 hours people have been talking about Kansas football again.

Right now, without a single second of practice yet conducted, this is a symbiotic relationship. Charlie Weis has helped put Kansas football back on the radar, and turn down the road back to respectability.

And Kansas has helped Charlie Weis, too. It offers him a new and exciting challenge, and a place where his own core principles and values find an echo. It gives him a chance at redemption.

Now, it's time to get to work.

"I've learned to be more humble in my approach, but I've never lost my passion or drive to win," Weis said. "I want to win. I'm a bad loser. I'm sometimes a bad winner according to my family, but I'm certainly a bad loser."

"And I would expect everyone else to be the same way.'


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