LAWRENCE — The man who helped develop Tom Brady into a three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback and coached Notre Dame for five seasons is coming to save the Kansas football program from growing irrelevance.
Charlie Weis became KU's 37th football coach on Thursday afternoon — a development that sent shockwaves throughout college football.
KU, where three NCAA championship banners hang in Allen Fieldhouse, is not a proven destination for a football coach with Weis' ambition and pedigree. The Jayhawks have gone 572-569-58 in their 122 seasons on the gridiron, and they have played in bowl games in back-to-back seasons once.
Weis to Kansas? It simply can't be. And yet, it absolutely is. KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger will introduce Weis at a 5 p.m. news conference today.
"At the end of the day," Zenger said Thursday night, "I would tell you, what Charlie Weis brings to Kansas is someone who is regarded as one of the brightest Xs and Os minds in the country and a national profile that we've not had at this institution in football before."
It was nine days ago that Zenger, who has been in charge of KU's athletic department for 10 months, hit the road searching for the right guy to succeed Turner Gill, who was 5-19 in two seasons.
"I don't think anybody in the world would have thought Charlie Weis would come to Lawrence, Kan.," said former Kansas running back Jake Sharp, a member of KU's 2007 Orange Bowl-winning team. "It's definitely a big splash, but it's out of left field."
The decision to hire Weis, who was serving as the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive coordinator less than a year ago, will also trigger questions.
While he had a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame from 2005-09, Weis did not meet fans' expectations because he and his staff did not coach the players they had recruited into a winning team. This season, Weis served as offensive coordinator at Florida, where the Gators went 6-6 with the 102nd-ranked offense in the country.
In the years since Weis' star began to fall with a 3-9 record at Notre Dame in 2007, he has become an easy target for detractors nationally who remember his statement when hired in South Bend that he would give the Fighting Irish a "decided schematic advantage."
When KU announced Weis, 55, was coming to Kansas, the buzz could be felt throughout the country. Even legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, in comments to a Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reporter, was surprised to see Weis leaving a program like Florida for KU.
Weis and Zenger will explain their motives for joining forces today. Weis has his fourth job in a little more than two years and is clearly in search of something he hasn't found at South Bend, Kansas City and Gainesville, Fla.
When Weis was fired after five seasons with the Fighting Irish, his decision to join the Chiefs as offensive coordinator felt natural. He'd made his name as an NFL coach, starting as a low-level assistant with Bill Parcells' New York Giants in 1990 and working his way up to offensive coordinator under Parcells with the New York Jets in 1998.
After Weis picked up his third Super Bowl ring as the Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2005, he returned to his alma mater with the hope of resurrecting Notre Dame football. Behind quarterback Brady Quinn, Weis coached the Irish to two Bowl Championship Series appearances in his first two seasons. After seven games at Notre Dame, the school signed Weis to a 10-year extension that would reportedly pay him between $3 million and $4 million a year.
But Weis could not follow through on the promise of his early tenure, going 15-21 his last three seasons despite a roster full of talented prospects.
Weis was fired and returned to his comfort zone with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who was with Weis in New England. Weis was brought in to "fix" Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, and he helped Cassel to the Pro Bowl and the Chiefs to a AFC West championship.
But before the regular season had even ended, Weis surprised everyone by agreeing to become Florida's offensive coordinator under new coach Will Muschamp. Weis and the Chiefs cited Weis' family as the reason — his daughter, Hannah, has special needs, and his son, Charlie Jr., was going to be a freshman at Florida and helping the Gators as a student assistant.
The season did not go as planned, and Weis had to answer questions about his deteriorating health. Weis, who sustained a knee injury while at Notre Dame, uses a cane to walk. As recently as Nov. 23, Weis told the Associated Press that he had no thoughts of quitting coaching and that he planned to stay in Gainesville for a long time.
"Remember," Weis said, "I have a kid who is a freshman in college here. Remember the reasons why I came here. So I'll be here for a while unless you're trying to get rid of me."
But KU's interest in Weis changed his tune.
"He told me it was an opportunity he wanted to take," Muschamp told reporters Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla., at a Gator Bowl news conference, "and I support him 1,000 percent."
Weis has had a nomadic couple of years, but he is returning to the heartland and will be asked to build something lasting at Kansas.
"I'm very happy for Charlie," Pioli said in a statement, "and we wish him nothing but the best in his new endeavor as the head coach at Kansas."
KU did not release Weis' contract details. But, no matter how many millions Weis will make at Kansas, the school has already made a substantial investment in football. Zenger fired Gill on Nov. 27 and agreed to pay the $6 million remaining on Gill's contract.
Zenger received significant backing from Kansas donors who wanted a change.
"He certainly has the background," said Dana Anderson, KU's top football booster and the namesake of the Jayhawks $31 million football complex. "He's developed some incredible quarterbacks. I'm very comfortable. I'm comfortable because of Sheahon Zenger."