When Charlie Weis first rolled in to South Bend to take over the program and tradition of Notre Dame football, he was supposed to save it. Waving Super Bowl rings in the air, his pro level of success matched the Fighting Irish tradition of the same — the two seemed destined for each other. The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator had the NFL clout to speak to recruit well knowing he could blaze their trail to the pro level while his offensive schemes would help steer the collegiate program back to greatness and glory.
The story, of course, is easy to tell from here and we all know how it
worked didn’t work out. Suffice to say, Weis moved on from there to the pros (OC for the Kansas City Chiefs) and back again (University of Florida) and now he’s been announced as the new head coach of the University of Kansas. Not exactly the trail he thought he’d blaze just a few years ago when he first left the New England Patriots.
The same could be said for the Jayhawks football program. Mark Mangino brought national recognition to the program with the school’s first 12-win season and a trip to the Orange Bowl back in ’07, but the Turner Gill hire could not have went any worse. While he fielded the most polite team in the Big 12, they also only won three games in two seasons, including a single win in Big 12 conference play in that time. Suddenly KU became the worst team by a country mile this year in Big 12 play.
That didn’t bode well for them this off-season. While the Jayhawks could hope to be in on head coaching candidates like Mike Leach or Larry Fedora, both took positions elsewhere. It seemed that everyone was clamoring over the same group and Kansas was hardly ever mentioned by the national media as a possible destination for some of the bigger names. It seemed KU was going to go the coordinator route in order to find someone from a legitimate school. Then came Weis.
Suddenly Kansas football matters again. The Jayhawks are all about basketball in a conference (and greater college athletic scene) that’s all about football. KU football has to matter in order for the school overall to really matter. (And if you don’t believe that to be true, ask yourself how many times you saw KU basketball mentioned in any Big 12 realignment issues.) And now, with the hiring of Weis, it has bought an immediate ticket to mainstream attention.
David Ubben speaks of this lack of respect when he writes, "Maybe you want to laugh about Weis, a bizarre hire who didn’t work out at Notre Dame. After two BCS bowl appearances in his first two years, he finished above .500 just once in his final three seasons in South Bend. Maybe you want to ask, “Why the heck are they doing that?” But you’re paying attention.
“For all of Turner Gill’s character and good intentions, he didn’t offer much in the arena of intrigue. Weis does. And he gets a fresh start at Kansas free of the intense scrutiny from fans, boosters and media. The sky-high expectations at Notre Dame are a bit more measured in Lawrence.”
Of course, it doesn’t automatically work out and there’s all kinds of reasons to doubt Weis’ ability to succeed here. Will he last or even stick around? What has he done in the last five years to inspire anyone that he can coach successfully in the Big 12? Those are legitimate questions, but it’s possible to poke holes in any new coach. At the very least, in this present moment, we’re talking about Kansas football once again in a way that’s both hopeful and meaningful. Weis still has that to his advantage and KU provides a perfect place for him to iron out his own wrinkles from the past few years.