Bob Lutz: Jayhawks' choice of Weis is tough to assess
12/08/2011 12:00 AM
08/05/2014 5:18 PM
If my radar is working, the reaction to Charlie Weis' hire as Kansas' football coach is eliciting a mixture of amazement, incredulity and confusion.
Notice I didn't include excitement. Or validation.
The announcement, made by the KU athletic department on Twitter of all places, is a head-scratcher. Weis feels like yesterday's news and what the Jayhawks need most is a future.
Yet who am I to argue Weis' credentials? He was regarded as one of the most brilliant offensive coaches in NFL history while helping the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls. He took a seventh-round draft pick, quarterback Tom Brady, and made him an icon.
Notre Dame made what it thought was the hire of the century by bringing in Weis to coach in 2005. He followed in the shallow footsteps of Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham and there was a consensus of opinion that finally the Irish would shake off their doldrums thanks to the brilliance of Weis.
But after some early promise with Brady Quinn at quarterback, the Weis star faded. After Quinn's departure, Notre Dame went 16-21 under Weis. He lost his last four games with the Irish and was fired with six years remaining on his contract.
Notre Dame has been a coach killer for a while now, but in Weis the Irish slayed a giant.
He went to Kansas City as offensive coordinator for a season, breathing life in the Chiefs' attack. But he wasn't happy there and spent the 2011 season as the offensive mastermind at Florida so that he could be closer to one of his children.
Florida, under new coach Will Muschamp, slogged its way to a 6-6 record and Weis' reputation as a mastermind took a hit. Florida's offense ranked eighth in the SEC. I'm sure he thinks one season of trying to outwit the strong defenses in that conference was enough.
Kansas, though, is No. 10 on the Big 12's totem pole. And that's dead last because the Big 12 has only 10 teams, which defies logic.
I won't go so far as to say the Weis hire defies logic, but it does come out of left field. This is the first impact hire made by KU athletic director Sheahon Zinger, who will celebrate his one-year anniversary on the job next month.
Mike Leach was the apple of most KU fans eyes, but he jumped quickly to go to Washington State. He may or may not have been Zenger's first choice, but it's rare that a first choice for a program in dire straits like Kansas comes through.
It's the second, third or fourth choice that usually ends up with the job, which necessitates a deep pool of quality candidates.
With so many jobs open — and almost all of them more appealing than the Kansas job — Zenger might well have been forced to go with a coach not on his short list. He'll deny that, I'm sure, when Weis is introduced during an evening news conference today.
And it is with the pride of a thousand peacocks that Weis will be introduced to KU fans before or during halftime of the Jayhawks' nationally-televised basketball showdown with Ohio State on Saturday at Allen Field House.
I can't say hiring Weis is a bad move, not can I say it's a stroke of brilliance. I'm too confused and surprised to judge the hire, which goes against everything I expected from Zenger.
His earliest football experiences came on Bill Snyder's staff at Kansas State, where he started in 1989 as a 23-year-old, one of the youngest full-time staff members in the country. He was Snyder's director of football operations and assistant recruiting coordinator.
Zenger will tell you of the tremendous influence Snyder had on his career.
And Snyder came to Kansas State after working as an assistant to Hayden Fry at Iowa. It wasn't a splashy hire. It was a "who is that?" hire by a school that had never experienced much football success.
But instead of going for the "who is that?" hire, which has its own inherent risks, Zenger has gone for the splash.
Weis still has a big name. Everything about him is big.
But he's a 55-year-old guy who spent just one season in his past two jobs. He has a bum hip that probably will require surgery soon, and that could get in the way of early recruiting efforts at Kansas.
He's a surly guy who supposedly had no love for Kansas City during his brief time there.
Like all coaches, though, Weis undoubtedly feels like he has something to prove after his struggles at Notre Dame. When he took that job he no doubt believed he would be the one to turn around Irish fortunes. It was with a wounded pride that he went back into the NFL with the Chiefs.
Weiss had success as a recruiter at Notre Dame, but who doesn't?
Let's see the kinds of players he's able to bring to Kansas. Let's see if his name alone is enough to pique the interest of high school kids who aren't aware of his NFL successes in New England.
There's a lot of "let's see" when it comes to Weis. There is the possibility for an epic failure here. But there's also that chance Weis is the perfect coach at the right time.
Notre Dame, with arguably the highest football profile in America, thought so almost seven years ago. Weis didn't work there, but is there a chance he'll work at KU?
About Bob Lutz
Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.
Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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