LAWRENCE — Charlie Weis stood in the middle of Allen Fieldhouse, waiting on the delirious cheers of "CHAR-LIE! CHAR-LIE!" from the thousands around him to stop.
Leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a microphone with the other, Weis eventually decided he'd better start talking.
"Thank you," he said, "thank you very much."
In that moment, Weis could have been Elvis. And, for Kansas football, he certainly is now The King.
Within a minute of beginning his speech at halftime of Saturday's basketball game against Ohio State, Weis cited his training under legendary football coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. KU is not used to football royalty, and Weis didn't have to wear his four Super Bowl rings on Saturday to let his new subjects know he was part of the club.
Weis was not intimidated by the stage. He spoke coolly and conversationally, showing the confidence he gained from working for the best. In Weis' mind, it's a matter of when, not if, Kansas rises again on the gridiron.
"I'm not going to make a promise of how fast," Weis finished. "But I'll make a promise that it's going to happen."
For more than a century, Lawrence has been a land strewn with empty promises from football coaches — but none with a resume as glossy as Weis'. Still, how could Weis truly know what he's getting into?
On Saturday, he got his first taste. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self walked out of the tunnel to his usual thunderous applause (he did stop by to shake Weis' hand, though). At the first media timeout, there was a celebration for KU booster David Booth, who bought James Naismith's original rules of basketball last year and brought them back to the fieldhouse. The Jayhawks beat the second-ranked Buckeyes 78-67, once again proving that hope always lives in the hardwood.
Weis understands KU basketball is the top dog. He's here because KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger convinced Weis he's not satisfied with the gross inequality in results between the programs.
Weis and Kansas was an unlikely marriage, and it will be a while before they figure each other out. For now, what does Weis, whose only other college head coaching job was at Notre Dame, know about winning at KU? And what do the Jayhawks know about dealing with a hot-shot football coach? Both are about to take the plunge and find out.
Charlie Weis and Sheahon Zenger first met in Florida on Thursday in the late morning, and Weis impressed Zenger enough that the two agreed it was time to meet with the boss.
KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was in New York, so Weis and Zenger hopped a private plane to the Big Apple. On that long flight, Zenger and Weis verbally sparred. One of Zenger's priorities was making sure that Weis understood the unique challenges of winning at Kansas.
"Probably more than he wanted," Zenger said. "We need to change the culture, and let me stop there. I shared with him and everybody else: This school won the Orange Bowl in 2008. So we're not talking about a place that doesn't have history. This is the home of John Hadl and Gale Sayers and John Riggins and Bobby Douglass and Nolan Cromwell. In the coaching world, people know you can win here."
Zenger's message rings true to an extent, but the facts are hard to ignore: Kansas has only played in back-to-back bowl games one time, after the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Asked what he knew about KU football at Friday's introductory news conference, Weis didn't reveal much.
"I knew that they were 2-10 and Kansas State was 10-2," Weis said. "I have been here before. I worked out guys before the pro draft. I sat in the rafters for the KU-K-State game last year, thank you very much."
Critics of Weis' hire at KU point to his 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame. If he couldn't develop the players he recruited to South Bend, Ind., into winners, how can he do it at Kansas?
The only other college Weis has coached at is Florida, where he was the offensive coordinator this season. Notre Dame, where the Fighting Irish play in front of 80,795 fans and the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, and Florida, which spent $26.2 million on football in 2010-11 and brought in $72.8 million in revenue, are in a different universe than Kansas.
The Jayhawks play in 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium, which is only filled during the good times. In 2010-11, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics website, Kansas spent $13 million on football and brought in just $9.5 million. For a reference, KU spent $9.5 million on basketball and brought in $11.5 million.
Resources and reputation matter in college football, and they affect a school's ability to sign top recruits. Earle Mosley is one of the few coaches to have coached as an assistant at Notre Dame, in 1997-98, and at Kansas, in 2006.
"At Notre Dame, you could get any top player in the country to visit," Mosley said. "Even if they weren't coming there. In their mind, it's all about perception, and you weren't highly-recruited unless you were asked to visit Notre Dame.
"At Kansas, if you could get them on campus, we had a pretty good shot for the most part. It's a Catch-22. You need good players to win, but for them to come visit, you have to have a winning program. You have to be willing to go through that process. There's no avoiding it."
Weis sounds like a guy who isn't afraid to put in the hours it takes to win. Zenger says he's heard Weis gets to the office at 4:30 a.m., and Zenger hopes to soon join him for coffee around that time at the Anderson Family Football Complex.
Weis also sounds like he will not miss the crucible that is Notre Dame football, where everything is scrutinized as though he's the President.
"No matter what you say on any day, it's national news," Weis said. "The next thing you know, you're vilified, you're looked at like an arrogant and obnoxious person who's mean to everyone."
Weis says he and his family were viewed in the community as "bad people." But the word Zenger got in doing research on Weis was that his players love him.
"Playing for Coach Weis, it is an experience," said Corey Mays, who played for Weis at Notre Dame in 2005. "I will say one thing about Coach Weis: He is a teacher, and he's going to yell and scream, but at the end of the day, you're going to get taught, and you're going to have a swagger about yourself because you know he's putting you in the best position to win that week."
Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Dan Santucci, who played for Weis in 2005-06, was happy for Weis when he heard that he'd landed as the head coach at Kansas.
"Someone like that can light a spark," Santucci said. "He brings a confidence, and when you go on the field, you expect to win. A lot of football is mental. Talent obviously plays a big role, but the mind-set is crucial to success in college football."
Will Weis' personality transfer to the Jayhawks? A contract that will pay him at least $12.5 million over five years says it better.
"I just wanted to find the right coach for these guys," Zenger said, "and this man just has 'it.'"