One could argue that Charlie Weis risked his life to get the Notre Dame job.
The New England Patriots' 48-year-old offensive coordinator, who Monday was introduced as the Fighting Irish's new coach, so wanted an opportunity to run his own team that he had dangerous gastric bypass surgery in 2002 to reduce a weight problem he thought was working against his quest for a head coaching job.
The surgery led to internal bleeding and other complications so severe Weis received last rites at one point, a Roman Catholic's final blessing before death. But Weis recovered to return to the Patriots' sideline and was the brains behind an offense that grabbed its second Super Bowl victory in three years.
And one would think that pattern of success that had considerably more to do with Notre Dame's decision than his efforts to slim his waistline.
Weis was a candidate for the Giants' and Bills' coaching jobs last year, was turned down and unhappily returned as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. When Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Weis' long-time friend and ally, refused to offer him a contract commensurate to the league's top offensive coordinators, Weis decided that was enough.
Weis' agent, Bob Lamonte, said last offseason his client would not be back with the Patriots after this year regardless of other coaching opportunities. Weis would honor the final year of his $500,000 deal, then leave.
Weis publicly claimed that statement was only his agent's opinion following a private dressing down from Belichick. But the rift between him and his boss, for whom Weis testified against their former mentor Bill Parcells when Belichick was trying to break his contract with the Jets to move to New England five years ago, was well known among Patriots insiders.
On the few occasions when Belichick allowed Weis to speak publicly this year, the long-time assistant insisted he was happy coaching one of the NFL's most successful teams. Yet, as Shakespeare wrote, "he doth protest too much.''
So it was no surprise Weis grabbed the first head coaching job he was offered, which happened to be a chance to return to his alma mater — though the 1978 graduate never played football for the Irish.
Weis is the first Notre Dame grad to coach its storied football program since Hugh Devore's interim job in 1963. Weis has to hope his six-year tenure, at $2 million per year, goes more smoothly than either Devore's or recently fired Tyrone Willingham.
This sudden departure from tradition is one sign of the kind of hornets nest Weis will be entering.
But a win-at-all-costs environment should suit Weis, who is about winning and little else.
A former New Jersey high school coach, Weis went on to work as an assistant at South Carolina for four years, his only collegiate experience, before Parcells hired him to work in the Giants' personnel department in 1989. The next year he became assistant special teams and tight ends coach and worked for Parcells with both the Jets and the Giants, as well as in New England.
He briefly served as Parcells' Jets offensive coordinator, but was bitter when he was relieved of his duties. He ultimately left with Belichick for New England five years ago.
Since their arrival, Weis has designed an innovative and highly successful passing game that has been both risk averse and extremely successful. Along with their two Super Bowl wins, the Patriots are 12-1 this season after Sunday's 35-28 victory over Cincinnati.
Weis' success came despite having a below-average running game until this season, when Corey Dillon was acquired from the Bengals. Now that he has one of the league's best backs, Weis has made significant changes in his approach, allowing two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady to throw deep more often and to run the ball more frequently.
Now the question is if Weis can design a productive offense for big-time college football and if he can recruit.
Notre Dame is perhaps the most legendary college football program, but life has changed significantly since the days of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian. The golden helmets don't impress recruits like before, the academic standards are tougher than other football powerhouses and the lure of beaches with young women wearing bikinis year round is impossible to match with the bitter midwest winters.
Weis' recruiting efforts should be bolstered by his connections to New Jersey high school football and will soon hire a national recruiting coordinator while he remains behind in New England until the NFL season ends. His two Super Bowl rings and his diverse offense also should help.
When Tom Coughlin took over the program at Boston College before leaving to become head coach in Jacksonville, he remained a Giants' assistant on the 1990 Super Bowl champs. Weis watched Coughlin make recruiting calls from the victorious Giants' locker room after that Super Bowl victory and he would love to have the same opportunity if Belichick allows it.
Belichick expects Weis to finish the season in New England, though contractually he does not have to. Either way, for a coach obsessed with minimizing distractions it will be an uneasy truce between them in the remaining weeks because Weis understands he cannot allow this recruiting year to pass without him making a significant impact on the Irish.
Whether Weis can serve two masters is debatable, but one thing is certain — he will make time for Notre Dame because that's his future.
The fact that Weis has no head coaching experience above high school and little recruiting experience was cited by some as a significant impediment to his future success at Notre Dame. Willingham had both and it didn't help him in South Bend.
The issue for Charlie Weis will be the same as its always been for coaches in such high-pressure places. It won't be about the size of his waist line or the length of his resume.
It will be about winning. And that's something Charlie Weis knows more than a little about.
Lingering questions were answered emphatically by the 2012 team, but 2013 is an all-new season that brings all-new question marks. Brian Kelly feels fairly confident his offense is in a great position to take a step forward, but to do that, they’ll need the services of some under-the-radar players.
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