The son wanted to be a football coach, and the father was skeptical. Football was in the family blood, but the life comes with sacrifices. Charlie Weis knew this. And he wanted to make sure his son, Charlie Jr., did, too.
For Charlie Jr.’s entire life, in places such as New York and Boston and South Bend, Ind., he had been the kid on the sidelines. He’d been in the stands for Super Bowls, watching his dad coach the offense for the New England Patriots. He’d been the son whom everybody knew at Notre Dame, the one who shared the same name as his father, the Irish’s head coach; the one who often heard his family name mocked as the team struggled.
“When I was younger, it was a lot harder,” Charlie Jr. says now.
But the son who was always around football kept telling his dad that he wanted to be a coach, that he wanted to be just like him. If nothing else, Weis says, he wanted to warn his son. Coaching a college football team in front of 80,000 fans can be a lonely existence. And did he really want his son to endure the long days, the hours away from family, the nomadic lifestyle? Did he really want to follow his old man?
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Maybe Charlie Weis couldn’t give his son the advice he needed. But he knew someone who could.
It’s a sunny afternoon in early August, and Charlie Weis is watching over KU football practice in Memorial Stadium. Across the field, Charlie Jr. is standing near the sideline and barking out cues for a running-backs drill. Weis, of course, is in his first full season as the Jayhawks’ coach, and Charlie Jr., a sophomore at KU, has taken a spot on his staff.
Officially, Charlie Weis Jr. is a student manager. But inside the program, coaches and players say he’s more than that. After spending last season as a student intern at Florida for Gators coach Will Muschamp, Charlie Jr. followed his dad to Lawrence. When they arrived, Weis says, Charlie Jr. helped running backs coach Reggie Mitchell master the new offensive scheme.
“He’s got tremendous knowledge of the game,” KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus says. “He knows our plays. He knows our playbook. He knows defenses. He knows coverages and fronts.”
Earlier this year, Charlie Jr. helped teach KU’s graduate assistant how to break down film, a skill he had learned from his dad, and Weis says his son has become the perfect go-between for players and a valued consultant for dealing with recruits.
“He’ll say, ‘Hey dad, don’t call these kids up every week,’ ” Weis says. “’They don’t want to talk to you every week. They don’t want to talk to those coaches every week. They think they’re all full of crap.’ ”
Weis says one NFL team even inquired about hiring Charlie Jr. as an entry-level quality control coach.
“My wife would divorce me if I encouraged that to happen,” Weis says, joking.
The roots of Charlie Jr.’s football education began while he was breaking down film for the high school team in South Bend. When his father became the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2010 and the family moved to Kansas City, Charlie Jr. finally played one season of high school football, at St. Pius X.
Of course, this doesn’t sound all that different from his father, whose football career ended after high school.
“I was a marginal athlete,” Weis says. “Never was really good.”
“I guess, athletically,” Charlie Jr. says, “I was never very gifted.”
It’s late June, more than a month before the start of fall camp at KU, and Charlie Weis is talking about his father, an accountant from Middlesex, N.J. Another Charlie.
That Charlie helped raise five kids, all three years apart, in a middle-class neighborhood. He coached Little League and worked hard, Weis says, and the calendar in the household revolved around sports.
In 1983, when Weis was still in his 20s, his father died of a heart attack. He was 56. Weis says he doesn’t remember much from those days. It was just too emotional. But he does remember one scene from the wake. There were 15,000 or so people in that town. But on that day, the people kept coming. To Weis, it felt like thousands.
“You’re part of that town,” Weis says. “You know what I mean? We had covered so many years in the town.”
Weis was the second-oldest child, and he says his father’s death was tougher on his younger siblings. But if you listen closely, you can hear what Weis learned from his own dad. When Weis mentions seeing his son at work every day, he mentions the little things. There are no grand conversations, no made-for-TV moments.
“Your kids are getting older now,” Weis says, “They get to be 19, 20, they start to go their separate ways. But every day, it’s the little fist bump.”
Nearly two years ago, in his senior year of high school, Charlie Jr. got an unexpected phone call. Bill Belichick wanted to talk coaching. One day earlier, his Patriots had bowed out of the AFC playoffs in excruciating fashion, but Belichick had an important message.
Years ago, he had been the kid on the sideline, watching his father, Steve, serve as an assistant coach at Navy. Belichick had watched Charlie Jr. growing up, and he knew he would be off to college in a couple months.
“He just wanted to see what my thoughts were and everything,” Charlie Jr. says. “And he gave me some advice, and told me that I should do what I want to do.”
For Charlie Jr., that meant coaching.
“I’ve always wanted to be just like my dad,” he says.
These days, Weis talks about staying at Kansas long enough to pass off the job to a member of his staff. Could be five years. Maybe longer. Heck, if he stays long enough, maybe it’ll be Charlie Jr. (He’s kidding about that last part — we think.)
Even after all those talks about doing something else, about ditching a career in coaching, the father has relented. It is, after all, pretty tough to tell a kid to forget about his dream.
“I think, deep down,” Charlie Jr. says, “he wants me to be a coach.”