Name recognition: Jayhawks get big name — Charlie Weis
In announcing the hire of Charlie Weis as Kansas University’s newest head football coach Thursday afternoon, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger steered the program into new territory.
The men hired to lead the Jayhawks during the past couple of decades were virtual unknowns.
When Glen Mason was hired before the 1988 season, he was a mid-major coach on the rise. When it was time to replace him before the 1997 season, the Jayhawks turned to Div. I-AA star Terry Allen.
After Allen was fired in 2001, KU turned to an assistant coach at Oklahoma named Mark Mangino.
And, two years ago, after Mangino resigned under pressure after eight seasons, KU replaced him with Turner Gill, a man known more for his playing days than his coaching résumé.
After all that, KU finally appears to have handed the keys over to a man known simply for being a coach.
“At the end of the day, it was time for the University of Kansas to go out and give its football program its best shot,” Zenger told the Journal-World less than an hour after landing at the Lawrence airport with Weis and a handful of others on board the university plane.
Zenger, in his first year as athletic director at Kansas, said Weis was on his wish list from Day 1. Eleven days, numerous flights and countless hours of conversations later, Zenger struck a deal Thursday to make Weis KU’s 37th head football coach. The 55-year-old Weis officially will be introduced at a news conference at 5 p.m. today, but, in many ways, he’s a man who needs no introduction.
Weis brings to KU 16 years of experience as an NFL assistant coach and five years of experience on the college sidelines. During his time in the NFL, he was an offensive coordinator for nine seasons with three teams and helped lead the New York Giants (1991) and New England Patriots (2002, 2004 and 2005) to world titles.
“I’m surprisingly shocked,” said Jake Sharp, a former KU running back and native of Salina. “I feel like that’s a huge splash. Mr. Zenger got out there and obviously went to work for the university. And with him being a Western Kansas guy, I totally back him on everything he does. I think coach Weis’ credentials are tremendous, and I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do here at the University of Kansas.”
Although his days in the NFL — which included one season as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2010 — are what Weis is best known for, his five-year stint as a college head coach was not without its own accolades. While leading Notre Dame to a 35-27 record in five seasons from 2005-09, Weis twice led the Irish to BCS bowl appearances and earned the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award in 2005 after a 9-3 season.
After being fired by Notre Dame following a disappointing 6-6 season in 2009, Weis joined Todd Haley’s staff in Kansas City and helped lead the Chiefs to the AFC West Division title and a playoff appearance.
He left Kansas City to become the offensive coordinator at the University of Florida, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. His son, Charlie Jr., enrolled at UF and began a job with the football program to learn the ins and outs of the profession. One thing he learned from his dad’s latest move is that the draw of the head coach’s clipboard can be powerful.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp, who guided the Gators to a 6-6 record during his first season after serving as a Mack Brown assistant for three years at Texas, told the Associated Press on Thursday he often sensed Weis wanted another opportunity to lead his own program.
“There aren’t many opportunities you get to be a head coach,” Muschamp said. “I know Charlie. The last one didn’t end the way he wanted it to.”
Muschamp said he and Weis discussed the Kansas opportunity during the past few days
“I asked him, ‘Is this something you’re really interested in doing?'” Muschamp told the AP. “He said, ‘Yeah, I want to talk to ’em. If I wasn’t interested, I would not talk.’ So I said, ‘I support you 100 percent if that’s what you want to do. I think that’s great.’ Now, when guys make parallel moves, I don’t necessarily agree with that. When guys can further their career, I think it’s great.”
Though rumors of Weis as a candidate for the Kansas job popped up Wednesday, many people still viewed it as a long shot. Since 1990, KU has recorded just seven winning seasons, and Mangino’s 50-48 record from 2002-09 made him the first KU coach to finish his career above .500 since Jack Mitchell went 44-42-5 from 1958-66.
Asked how he was able to attract a coach with Weis’ credentials to a program like Kansas, Zenger referred to the concept that kicked the search off in the first place: Weis and Kansas simply seemed to be the right fit for each other.
“It was mutual,” Zenger said. “For him and for us, the stars aligned.”
Details of Weis’ contract with KU were not available Thursday night. After being fired by Notre Dame, six years before his extended contract was set to expire, Weis received a termination payment of $6.6 million. He is expected to continue receiving compensation from the school through the 2015 season.
Weis and his wife, Maura, have two children, Charlie Jr., and Hannah. Hannah, who turned 16 earlier this year, is afflicted with a rare seizure disorder that has affected her development. She’ll have special needs for life. Weis and his wife started a non-profit organization called Hannah and Friends, designed to help children and adults with special needs.
Weis is not without his own physical ailments. During the past few years, he tore ligaments in his left knee and broke his right knee when he was taken out on the sideline during a Notre Dame game in 2008. He had his right knee replaced after the 2008 season.
Weis’ arrival at KU has fans and alumni buzzing over the potential of this long-dormant football program that constantly operates in the shadows of the ultra-successful men’s basketball program on campus.
Two former Jayhawks now playing in the NFL said Thursday night that they were impressed by KU’s hiring of Weis.
“It’s a new coach, it’s a new opportunity, and there’s always hope,” San Diego Chargers safety Darrell Stuckey said. “I’m forever a Jayhawk, so I’m always going to believe in the Jayhawks. I think it’s obviously going to excite the fans. He’s definitely a guy that’s known, and I think he’s a guy that has something to prove.”
Added Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris: “If I was a player there, I’d be very excited. He’s definitely going to bring in some players. Seeing KU do well is important to all the former players because we still follow the team and we want them to do well. I definitely feel like Charlie Weis can be the guy to get the job done. He’s had experience at the top programs and I think he can definitely come in and get us back on track.”