When new Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis made his way across the state last May from west to east, a lot of curious alumni were waiting to see the man who won four Super Bowls as an assistant with the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
He’s been known earlier in his career to make some brash statements, even about flashing his Super Bowl rings in his only other head coaching gig, at Notre Dame, which ended with a thud. But after KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger made the surprise offseason hire to lead the struggling Jayhawk football program, Weis has also talked about learning lessons of humility and stressing discipline with the team.
“Overwhelmingly people were excited to hear about what his values were, his brand of football, and excited he made the commitment to get into the state to those nine areas this year,” said Heath Peterson, the Kansas University Alumni Association’s associate vice president for alumni and student programs.
As Weis and Zenger traveled with the alumni association, they made stops in Dodge City, Garden City, Hays, Salina, Hutchinson, Wichita, Pittsburg, Topeka and Kansas City.
“The thing that made it really exciting for me is the fact that he was going border to border. He started out west and was moving back east,” said Jim Trower, president of the Salina chapter of the alumni association. “He indicated he was wanting to meet the grassroots people of Kansas. That to me was really exciting.”
Peterson said Weis also appeared to back up his message about academics to alumni chapters later when the team’s grade-point average jumped from 2.46 during the fall semester to a 3.0 in the spring.
KU alumni hot spots in the U.S.
Here are the most prominent cities for alumni outside of Kansas and the Kansas City area.
• Chicago: 8,500
• Denver: 7,000
• St. Louis: 6,000
• Los Angeles/Southern California: 5,900
• Washington, D.C.: 5,200
• San Francisco: 4,500
• Dallas: 4,100
• New York: 4,000
• Phoenix: 3,300
• Houston: 3,200
• Seattle: 3,000
• Minneapolis: 2,800
• Austin, Texas: 2,000
Source: Kansas University Alumni Association
“He was very black and white in how he approached things,” Peterson said. “I think people generally appreciate that. Just tell me how it’s going to be, and I think what he said resonated with people. I think he came away with a lot of believers in what he was trying to get done here.”
The tour with Weis also kicked off a busy summer for the alumni association.
The association plays host to roughly 150 events across the country — known as Hawk Days of Summer — in 90 days, half inside the state and half in other major cities with KU alumni across the country. There’s also the Salina Steak Out Aug. 18 at a ranch outside Salina. KU basketball coach Bill Self is scheduled to attend this year.
Peterson said in the last eight years the association has focused on having every county in Kansas covered by an alumni chapter, and expanded KU’s outreach and visibility, including by having alumni association billboards across the state.
“We see those folks every year, and they’re regulars,” he said. “They’re becoming our friends, and they look forward to us coming back. I think it’s a commitment on both of our parts.”
Trower in Salina credited Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little for outreach to alumni across the state.
“Overall the push is to certainly enhance the quality of the university and the faculty, and that in and of itself should lead to increased enrollment, greater graduation rates, better students, the whole nine yards,” he said.
Alumni association officials said they hope to continue to schedule more tours in the future with high-profile coaches and other university leaders, especially after Weis’ experience last May.
“We hope to do it again next year,” Peterson said. “He wanted to do more, but nine was what we could fit in the schedule.”