LAWRENCE, Kan.—Charlie Weis’ first try at being a college head coach ended in disaster, the longtime NFL assistant unable to live up to the lofty expectations at Notre Dame.
He’ll get another chance at a program with much more modest aspirations.
Weis accepted an offer to coach Kansas on Thursday, and will set about rebuilding a program that won the Orange Bowl just a few years ago but floundered under Turner Gill.
Weis will be introduced during a news conference Friday.
The 55-year-old Weis helped the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls on the staff of Bill Belichick, and also spent time with the New York Jets and New York Giants.
He’s wrapping up his first season as offensive coordinator at Florida after spending one season directing the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. But his most extensive college experience came with the Fighting Irish, where he went 35-27 in five seasons.
“There aren’t many opportunities you get to be a head coach,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “I know Charlie, the last one didn’t end the way he wanted it to.”
Kansas Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger is hopeful that Weis’ high profile will energize a fan base that had grown apathetic under Gill, who was fired after going 5-19 in just two seasons.
School officials would not disclose the terms of Weis’ contract.
Gill signed a five-year deal that guaranteed him $10 million, which means the school is on the hook for roughly $6 million. Weis was making more than $800,000 per year with the Gators.
It was little secret that Weis wasn’t fond of Kansas City during his time with the Chiefs, and he moved on to the Gators in part so that he could be near his son, who is also on the football staff. He bought a horse farm in nearby Ocala, and has several health issues that could hamper recruiting.
Still, the opportunity to rebuild the Jayhawks appears to be enough of a challenge.
“In the recent days, he was contacted about the job and we talked about it and he told me it was an opportunity he wanted to take,” Muschamp said. “Any time, and our profession is no different than the business world, when you’re able to take a step up, I support it.
“I asked him, I said, `Is this something you’re really interested in doing?’ He said, `Yeah, I want to talk to `em. If I wasn’t interested, I would not talk,'” Muschamp said. “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.”
Weis was considered one of the bright stars of coaching when he took over at Notre Dame, his alma mater. The Bill Parcells disciple had a successful debut and was rewarded with a 10-year extension, but when the program didn’t progress, he was fired with six years remaining. He initially received a “termination payment” of about $6.6 million, but was to receive smaller annual payments through 2015.
Zenger rarely spoke publicly about the job search, preferring to keep his cards close to the vest. It was rumored that he was interested in longtime friend Mike Leach, who decided to return to coaching at Washington State, along with coaches like Kevin Sumlin at Houston and Larry Fedora at Southern Miss. Established assistants like Gus Malzahn also were rumored to be in the running.
In the end, Zenger’s first major hire since arriving at Kansas turns out to be someone whose stock has suffered since his difficult tenure in South Bend.
“We hired a guy that has an unbelievable resume and has experienced success at the highest levels,” Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said. “He’s been a coach for a long time and obviously has a great mind. I think this is one that will definitely ripple waters in our league.”
Of course, expectations will be modest at Kansas.
The Jayhawks beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in 2007, but for the most part the program has had a bleak history. Mark Mangino was considered extremely successful despite going just 49-48 during seven seasons in charge, and he left Kansas in shambles.
Gill struggled mightily, going 3-9 in his first season and 2-10 this past season.
Weis will have some talented players to build around, particularly on offense, where a young stable of running backs showed promise. But his offenses have also been built around the quarterback, and sophomore Jordan Webb struggled with consistency much of the season.
It’s unclear whether Weis will attempt to get Dayne Crist to come to Kansas. The quarterback was recruited to Notre Dame by Weis, but fell out of favor with his successor, Brian Kelly. Crist has already announced he’s leaving Notre Dame, and because he is graduating, he’ll be eligible to play right away. He has one year of eligibility left.
Weis was in charge of some of the top offenses in the NFL during his time with the Patriots, and he helped lead the Chiefs to a surprising AFC West title last season, his only one in Kansas City.
“I’m very happy for Charlie,” Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said, “and we wish him nothing but the best in his new endeavor as the head coach at Kansas.”
Weis was hired away from the Chiefs by Muschamp, whose forte is defense, with the hope that he could take some of the pressure off the first-year head coach. But the Gators finished eighth in the league in offense, averaging 334.2 yards per game, and were stifled by the SEC’s best defenses.
The Gators lost 38-10 to Alabama, 41-11 to LSU and 17-6 to Auburn in consecutive weeks on their way to a 6-6 finish. Florida will play Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, though Weis will not be involved.
“Charlie did a good job,” Muschamp said late Thursday. “It’s a great compliment to our staff. We’ve had numerous schools contact me about prospective coaches on our staff, and for him to have the opportunity to be a head coach again, I know he’s really excited about it.”