It is now official. Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, 48, was named the head football coach at Notre Dame in a Monday morning press conference after signing a six-year contract believed to be worth $12 million. He is the first Notre Dame alumnus to coach the football team since Hugh Devore in 1963
Weis, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1978, coached in the Patriots win over Cincinnati on Sunday and then flew out of Providence, R.I., Sunday night to South Bend where he was announced as the man that will try to resurrect Notre Dame's once-storied football program.
"Charlie was clearly the most impressive candidate we interviewed and I could not be happier that he will be the next head coach at Notre Dame," said Rev. John Jenkins, the school's incoming president.
The school had formal interviews with five candidates and held financial talks with two before settling on the Patriots offensive coordinator.
"This is obviously a high profile, big-time job," Weis said. "But I always thought, 'wouldn't it be something if I could be the head coach at the University of Notre Dame?' I come here with a plan and I probably won't let you know what that plan is. I'm not here to use this as a stepping-stone. I'm here to retire at Notre Dame."
Weis will be double dipping over the next several weeks. He will remain with New England through the end of the NFL season, fulfilling the final year of his contract, before leaving for Notre Dame full time. In the meantime, he will try to assemble a coaching staff and a top recruiter since this is a major recruiting period for colleges with a signing date scheduled for early February.
"I'm involved in two organizations and I owe the people in New England my best," Weis said.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has addressed the issue with Weis and has spoken to his other assistants about the arrangement. He will likely provide more assistance on the offensive side of the ball with Weis trying to balance both jobs.
"I spoke with Charlie this morning and we've had a lot of communication," Belichick said. "I want to publicly congratulate him. He's been here for five years and he's been a big part of our success. I want to wish him well, but we still have a lot of work to do here.
"We have a plan mapped out and I've talked with the coaches and we'll work our way through it. Everybody has a job to do and we have to do a little more. Our focus is on our job and the team, and Charlie is a big part of that. I can't worry about Notre Dame. Charlie is the offensive coordinator and we're getting ready for Miami."
Belichick relayed last week that he went through a similar situation when Nick Saban was named the head coach at Michigan State while serving as Belichick's defensive coordinator for the playoff-bound Cleveland Browns in 1994.
"Nick did a good job," Belichick said. "He handled it well. We talked about it all the way through. He did what he needed to for us and at the end of the season, he went to Michigan State."
Asked how much of Saban's time was spent recruiting and doing the things necessary to take over the college program, Belichick pleaded ignorance. "I didn't follow him around. He could have been doing some recruiting. He could have been rearranging his office for all I know. But he continued to handle his responsibilities for us."
While Belichick does not have to fill the coaching vacancy immediately, he could promote from within when the time comes. There has been speculation that tight ends coach Jeff Davidson would get the nod because he filled in for Weis when Weis had health problems back in 2002 following a gastric bypass surgery. Davidson called the offensive plays during those preseason games, but that is the only evidence to suggest Davidson would have a leg up for the job, although as tight ends coach, he works significantly in both the running and passing games.
In terms of the other offensive assistants on the staff, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is the most experienced with 23 NFL seasons of experience including 21 with the Patriots. Belichick has raved about Scarnecchia's coaching ability in the past, but despite his service time, Scarnecchia has never risen to a coordinator position, which leads to the question, why would he now?
Beyond Scarnecchia, running backs coach Ivan Fears is the most experienced with 14 NFL seasons under his belt, including eight with New England. He has coached wide receivers and running backs and has worked with the Bears in addition to the Patriots. On the surface, Fears would have to warrant consideration, although he was on the staff when Davidson handled play calling in Weis' absence, which is an indication that he would be behind Davidson in the pecking order.
The remaining offensive assistants are young up-and-comers Brian Daboll (wide receivers) and Josh McDaniels (quarterbacks) and while Belichick likes both, they are too green to become a coordinator. Daboll is in his fifth NFL seasons and his third as a position coach after starting as a coaching assistant, while McDaniels is in his first season as a position coach after three years on the staff as a coaching assistant.
Of course, Belichick could look elsewhere to fill the post. He tabbed Dean Pees out of college at Kent State to coach linebackers when the position opened up last season. Pees had a connection with Belichick friend and confidant Nick Saban, having worked on Saban's Michigan State staff. So it will be interesting to see if a coach with Saban ties enters the picture.
He also could look at the other branches of his own coaching tree and perhaps take some recommendations from the likes of Kirk Ferentz, a former Belichick assistant who is now the head coach at Iowa, or Pat Hill, a former assistant now coaching Fresno State.
Also, two former assistants from his Cleveland days who might be ready to make the jump to an NFL coordinator's job are Mike Sheppard, who coached tight ends in Cleveland and now leads the Saints quarterbacks, and John Settle, who coaches running backs under Hill at Fresno State after starting as an offensive quality control assistant under Belichick in Cleveland.
Of course, there also is a possibility that Belichick decides to handle the offensive coordinator duties while delegating some of his own responsibilities to Scarnecchia.
Weis is the fifth assistant to have worked under Belichick to land a Division I college head coaching position, joining Saban, Ferentz, Hill and Al Groh, who is the head coach at Virginia.
The Patriots clinched their eighth division title in team history Sunday, their third in the last four years and fifth in the 11 years since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. Their 12 wins are already the second most in team history behind the 14 they won last season. With three games remaining - at Miami, at the Jets and home against the 49ers - the Patriots will continue to battle for home-field advantage in the playoffs, but even at 12-1, they still remain behind the Steelers in that race after losing to Pittsburgh back on Oct. 31.
New England had home-field advantage last year and it helped them earn a trip to Houston where it won Super Bowl XXXVIII, but it did win the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh in 2001 before beating the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Perhaps another potential trip to Pittsburgh dampened the Patriots' excitement after their 35-28 playoff-clinching win over the Bengals or maybe the players realized that they took a step back defensively Sunday, which is something they have to fix if they hope to make a run at a Super Bowl repeat.
The Patriots defense did not play at a championship level against the Bengals, surrendering 478 yards and 28 points, and that left the players a little distraught after the game.
"We just need to play better. We can't have teams take it up and down the field on us and have their way with us. We're disappointed about our play. Our goal is to get turnovers on defense. We did that, but we have to get better."
"It's good to win the AFC East," Belichick said to open his Monday press conference. "That's one of our goals, but we have a lot of work to do. We didn't play very well (Sunday). We were out of position. Our tackling was spotty. We didn't play the run very well. We were bailed out by the turnovers."
The Patriots won the turnover battle, 3-0, but all things being equal Sunday, Belichick would likely be picking up the pieces after a loss rather than escaping with a win despite poor defensive play.
- While the defense struggled to slow Cincinnati's explosive offense Sunday,
it did score a touchdown for the third straight week and fourth time this
season when Asante Samuel returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown.
Last week, cornerback Randall Gay returned a fumble 41 yards for a touchdown
and two weeks ago Jarvis Green recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
Last year, New England led the NFL with six defensive scores and now has 10
in their last 27 games.
- QB Tom Brady posted his highest passer rating (127.1) of the season in a
terrific performance Sunday. His 18-of-26, 260-yard, two-touchdown effort
came after a week in which his play of late was called in question. Belichick
aired his feelings on that subject after the game. "He looked pretty
good to me. I know a lot of people don't think he is very good lately, but
I thought he looked all right. It was pretty good," he said with more
than a hint of sarcasm.
- CB Asante Samuel returned to action with a bang. In addition to his 34-yard
interception return for a touchdown, he also had a couple other big pass break-ups,
including one on which he was badly beaten but raced back into position in
time for the ball to hit him in the back of the helmet. "It was good
to have him back out there," Belichick said. "Not every play will
be an interception for a touchdown, but he made some other big plays and hopefully
it'll improve as his timing gets better."
His timing could not have been better on his interception. "The receiver and the quarterback kind of gave it away," Samuel said. "It was three-step drop so I was reading the quarterback. I had my eyes on Carson, I saw the drop and put my eyes back to the receiver and broke on it."
- CB Tyrone Poole made it through a brief playing stint unscathed, which is
encouraging for a defense desperate to get its starting cornerbacks, both
Poole and Ty Law, back on the field full time. "He's making progress,"
Belichick said Monday. "It's a step in the right direction and we'll
take it week to week and see how it progresses."
- WR/CB Troy Brown may have a team-high three interceptions, including one
in the end zone Sunday against the Bengals, but he had a rough afternoon overall
in that game. The Bengals targeted him throughout the afternoon and were able
to exploit his inexperience at the position. "I thought Troy had a better
day on offense than he did on defense," Belichick said. "But he
has been a warrior for us and he does a lot of things. He is a key player
for us and I'm glad he's on our team." Brown had only two receptions
for 27 yards in the game, and given Belichick's comment, the coach could not
have been pleased with Brown's defensive work.
- WR Bethel Johnson remains a non-factor in the offense, but for the second
week in a row, he made a big play in the kicking game. He didn't return one
for a touchdown as he did in Cleveland, but his 38-yard return to the Patriots'
47-yard line with 2:38 left in the half set the Patriots up with excellent
field position, which led to six-play, 53-yard touchdown drive in 2:09 to
give the Patriots a 28-14 halftime lead.
- LB Justin Kurpeikis became the latest two-way player for New England, seeing time at tight end in short-yardage situations. Brady did not throw a pass in his direction.
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