Weis gives his best to Patriots and Notre Dame

by Tom Pedulla

FOXBORO, Mass.“You’ve got three minutes left.” Charlie Weis has patiently answered every question, but the demands on him are unending. As New England’s offensive coordinator, he needs time to design game plans that he hopes will lead to the Patriots’ third Super Bowl triumph in four years. As Notre Dame’s new head coach, he needs time to convince blue-chip recruits that together they can resurrect a tradition-rich program.Weis has engaged in double duty since Notre Dame hired him in mid-December, because the stakes are high for both of his employers. He appreciates how precious time ishe nearly died of complications stemming from gastric bypass surgery in 2002.p(inside-copy). “It was important to me personally and professionally to try to do due diligence to both jobs. I think I’ve been able to do that so far,” says Weis, who is operating on three to four hours of sleep a night. “Hopefully, by February, it reaps the benefits on both ends.”

Weis, 48, never played football beyond high school and graduated from Notre Dame in 1978. He relishes the chance to revive a program that hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1993 season, losing seven in a row. Yet he is equally concerned that the Patriots get his best as they try to repeat as champions after back-to-back 14-2 regular seasons.

“It’s important enough that I told Notre Dame I didn’t want the job if I couldn’t finish the one I had. That’s how important it was to me,” Weis says of a bid to reach Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. “I felt I owed it to the organization and the team. I felt I owed it to New England in general.”

In a testament to his track record and work ethic, New England and Notre Dame decided they could live for a time with a coach who has his head and his heart in two places. It is a calculated risk for both, especially the Patriots. If their offense should falter in Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the visiting Indianapolis Colts, Weis’ divided attention will almost surely be blamed.

“Everything is a question of alternatives, and it’s a complicated situation,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft says. “We were able to work out an arrangement that was best for everybody. Life in the NFL is learning how to be flexible. The teams who do it in a number of different areas are the ones who succeed.”

The right fit wherever he goes

The Fighting Irish also were flexible after firing Ty Willingham, who had adhered to the university’s high academic standards but was 21-15 after three seasons.

Notre Dame had seen top choice Urban Meyer jump from Utah to Florida. Other potential candidates, such as the Detroit Lions’ Steve Mariucci and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Jon Gruden, had said they were not interested.

Beyond that, those involved in hiring the new coach were sold on Weis even though he has been a head coach for only one previous seasonat New Jersey’s Franklin Township High School in 1989, winning the state championship.

The man, and his 15-year NFL résumé, left that much of an impression.

Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, one of a handful of players who interviewed Weis by phone, describes him as a “perfect fit.”

ESPN analyst Joe Theismann, a Heisman Trophy runner-up as a star passer at Notre Dame in 1970, agrees with the decision to give Weis a six-year contract worth, according to South Bend’s WNDU-TV and other outlets, $12 million.

“He understands the university and he understands the passion for football there,” Theismann says. “He also hasn’t had that superstar that teams often build around. He’s had to find a way to win with just good, solid football players, and I think there is enough of that at Notre Dame to win.”

The closest player New England has to a superstar is quarterback Tom Brady , a two-time Super Bowl MVP. The former sixth-round draft choice gives Weis much of the credit for his development. Brady’s ability to dissect defenses, combined with his unpredictability, has much to do with New England’s ability to score first in 20 of its last 21 games.

“Where do I start?” Brady says. "He’s always been the guy that I go back to. He’s always the guy that I have so much trust in because he always seems to be right.

“He has a great feel for, without ever playing quarterback, the type of things that I’m seeing and the type of things that I want to see.”

Tom Brady Sr. believes Weis had a profound impact on his son’s career.

“He was the 199th draft pick. He couldn’t have had too many assets or he would have gone higher than 199th,” the father says. “Charlie had to take this guy and mold him.”

Brady is not Weis’ only success story, just the most prominent.

  • When Weis coached New England’s tight ends in 1994, Ben Coates established an NFL record for that position with 96 receptions and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
  • When Weis was in charge of Patriots running backs in 1995, Curtis Martin blossomed into the Rookie of the Year and set what were then franchise rushing records for yards (1,487) and touchdowns (14).
  • When Weis oversaw receivers in 1996 in New England, Terry Glenn , an enigma to most coaches, set a league rookie record with 90 catches despite missing time with a hamstring injury.

A weighty matter resolved

Weis owns three Super Bowl rings, the first coming with the New York Giants when he worked beside Bill Parcells in 1990 and the other two under Bill Belichick in New England. He has been part of coaching staffs that produced four conference titles and six division crowns.

Now the Trenton, N.J., native has what he believes is the chance of a lifetime. He is not at all daunted by the decline at Notre Dame since the Fighting Irish won the last of their 11 national championships in 1988.

“The fact that you could have gone from somebody sitting in the stands to being a head coach is an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction,” Weis says.

His near-death experience in June 2002 only adds to his sense of how far he has come. His father, Charlie, died of a heart attack at 57. Weis resorted to gastric bypass surgery because, with his weight above 300 pounds, he feared a similar end.

Stories have suggested that Weis was concerned his appearance might jeopardize his chance to become a head coach, a notion his wife, Maura, talked over with him.

“I’ve always said, ‘Charlie, there are a lot of big guys out there who are head coaches and are excellent. I don’t think it should matter,’ " she says.

Weis suffered massive bleeding after the operation to reduce the size of his stomach and was in a coma for two weeks. A priest administered last rites on two occasions.

Even when he came out of the coma, he was gripped by fear. “Every night, I did not want to go to sleep,” he says, “because I was afraid I would not wake up.”

Despite his condition, he recovered to miss only three days of Patriots training camp that summer. Known for a direct, brusque manner, he barked instructions to players from a motorized cart he used to move from drill to drill.

“He’s one of the most strong-willed persons I’ve ever met,” his wife says.

Can he will Notre Dame back to glory?

His wife has no doubt.

“He will do it, definitely,” she says. “Charlie is a winner. He’s always proven that.”

Weis is equally convincing.

“I’m ready,” he says. “I’ve been trained under two of the best head coaches in NFL history, Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. You don’t get much better breeding than that.”

The key will be convincing gifted teenagers and their families that Notre Dame is the right school and he is the right coach. Michael Turkovich, a 6-7, 285-pound offensive lineman from Bedford, Pa., on Saturday became the first high school senior to commit to Notre Dame since Weis was named coach last month.

And so Weis devises game plans for New England by day, knowing how much a fourth Super Bowl ring would mean, and phones recruits every night.

“I’ve got 75 calls to make,” he says.

The three minutes are up.

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