Senior Writer

Family man Weis is picture of contentment at Florida


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Charlie Weis' welcome-to-the-SEC moment came during a recent romantic dinner with his wife. This being Florida -- even if he weren't a former NFL and Notre Dame coach of some renown -- once you're a Gator, that comes with certain obligations. Or else.

"Two really sleazy girls come over and say, 'Coach, will you take a picture with us?' Florida's new offensive coordinator said. "I would have said no anyway, that's beside the point. I politely say, 'Hey, I'm sorry, I'm having a dinner with my wife.' I read about it the next day, how much of an a--hole I was, how I wouldn't take a picture with somebody."

'Why does there have to be some different agenda when everything falls just right ... ?'  Weis says. (US Presswire)  
'Why does there have to be some different agenda when everything falls just right ... ?' Weis says. (US Presswire)  
Before losing his first game at Florida, Weis was in his first no-win situation in Gainesville. Pick your viral poison: Take the picture and Weis, with a girl on each arm, would have been a trending topic from here to Tuscaloosa. Refuse the picture and Florida's own trash you from here to Knoxville. Lord knows the man has had worse things said about him, but when family is involved, it gets personal. No matter what you've heard or read, that's why Weis is here, at age 54, making what looks like a lateral move, at best, after leaving the Kansas City Chiefs.

Get it out of your head that coming here was about money, prestige or a power struggle. The man who once ran the football program at the most well-known university in the world essentially came to this high-powered, high-profile world to scale back -- be a dad and a husband without being the man. Here, he is part of the staff, not the lightning rod with multiple Super Bowl rings or that "decided schematic advantage" at Notre Dame.

"Everyone wants to look for some different agenda," Weis said from the Florida football office on Monday. "Why does there have to be some different agenda when everything falls just right for your family later on in your career?"

Weis knows that back in Kansas City, there is still speculation that he and head coach Todd Haley -- two admittedly brash, bombastic personalities -- couldn't get along. He laughs at the stories that hint at him coming to Florida for the bounce-back job that will make him a head coach again, perhaps even here. In truth, Charlie Weis is out of the NFL, into the SEC -- and deliberately out of the limelight -- because everything fell right.

You can blame the bus company in Parkville, Mo. The small, pastoral town near the Missouri River was the Weises' home during their year with the Chiefs. Hannah, their 15-year-old daughter with special needs, has always been at the center of their lives. Last summer, Maura and Charlie Weis were convinced to let Hannah ride the bus home from camp. There was a bit of concern, but the parents were assured their daughter would be dropped off at 12:27 p.m.

By 3 o'clock that day, she hadn't shown up.

"We're out riding around town looking for her," Weis said. "We're about ready to call the cops. So I'm pissed. I go in[to the school] the next day."

There were apologies and assurances all around. Then it happened again later in the summer as the Chiefs were breaking camp moving from St. Joseph, Mo., back to Kansas City. School for Hannah had started. She was supposed to be home at 2:45 p.m. At 5 p.m., there was still no Hannah.

"So we did call the cops," Weis said. "There was no explanation. I called the school and said, 'I want everyone there tomorrow morning, 9 o'clock. This is two instances.' My wife wanted to move back right then. It was already over for her. Forget about anything that happened after that."

Both times, the bus driver had failed to alert Hannah of her stop, Weis said. Both times, she basically rode to the end of the route while her parents were freaking out back home. At that point, Kansas City was dead to Maura. Charlie felt the same way, even as his contributions helped the Chiefs win the AFC West and helped quarterback Matt Cassel go to the Pro Bowl.

It was decided that the family wasn't going to be apart like this, with son Charlie Jr. headed off to college and Hannah headed back to the family's other home near Notre Dame. The Weises have land there that is the center of "Hannah and Friends," a nonprofit organization they founded to help special-needs children.

No matter how much his dad argued against it, Charlie Jr. wanted to be a coach. He had met Texas coach Mack Brown and saw a future, eager to work his way up the staff ladder. Only when Muschamp left the Longhorns for Florida did it all fall together. As Weis was talking to Muschamp about becoming the Gators' offensive coordinator, he inquired about an opportunity for his son.

It was a package deal that made total sense. This was a way for the family to stay together. One career transitioning, the other just starting. It was decided that Maura and Hannah would spend part of the year here in the horse country of nearby Ocala. Maura loves horses. In his mid-50s, Weis gave up the coaching climb for an opportunity to be with his son. Charlie Jr. will start as a Florida manager, his dad says. For at least the next four years, it seems they will all be together.

"A lot of times as you're going up the ladder and you're making more and more, you realize, at a point, is the money really worth it?" Weis said. "As you're watching your wife and your son take every body blow that you take, you taking them is one thing. Them taking them is another."

Charlie long ago had a chunk taken out of his ego. Florida and the SEC is a different place, but he comes well armed. Weis has always been able to call plays, recruit players and develop quarterbacks. When asked about last year's assertion in Kansas City that he was hired to "fix the quarterback," he downplays it. Essentially, he succeeded wildly. Cassel, in a make-or-break year for his career, became incredibly efficient under Weis, registering 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Weis soaks up the credit only up to a point, saying Cassel and "Tommy" (Brady) made their own careers. John Brantley is the next fix. For three years, Brantley sat behind Tim Tebow, expected to slide into the position seamlessly. When Brantley got the chance in 2010, the world found out this drop-back passer couldn't function in Urban Meyer's spread option. At least this drop-back passer.

"Without saying anything incriminating about the last staff, he really didn't fit what they were doing," Weis said.

Muschamp's decision to run a pro-style offense and Weis' arrival to run it might have kept Brantley from transferring. It doesn't matter to Weis. He didn't hesitate when it came to meeting with the quarterback and his parents.

"Where are you going to go?" he said to the rising fifth-year senior.

Nowhere, for now, together. For the second successive year -- and perhaps for the rest of his career -- Weis is not running the show. That's OK, as long as everyone understands what he does. The coach who is reportedly Florida's highest paid assistant ever ($2.5 million over three years) took a monstrous pay cut from the NFL. That should be one indicator.

"I didn't come here with the agenda of, 'Let's be Gus Mahlzan. Let's go get hot,' Weis said of Auburn's offensive coordinator. "If I just wanted to get into the mix [for a new job], I'd probably stay in Kansas City. I had the opportunity to take care of my family in a different way than most people."

Maura is at least as tough as her husband. She can put up with the fat jokes. Guess what? You might have heard that Charlie is overweight. A gastric bypass surgery went wrong in 2002. The guy can't catch a medical break. Weis had to have emergency surgery during the Chiefs season to remove an infected gall bladder. Soon after Memorial Day, he will have a left knee replacement, making it a matched pair that were slammed into 2½ years ago on the sideline against Michigan.

She understands why Charlie won't drink in public. He went to a Yankees spring training game the other day. It was hot. The beer guy kept coming by. Weis wanted one. Bad. Who could have blamed him? The guy next to him, into about his eighth cold one, finally asked why Charlie didn't have a beer. It's the cell phones. Charlie knows enough that he might be a trending topic, but he won't be one with a drink in his hand.

What Maura can't put up with is the idea that the guy who gave up the NFL to keep his family happy is some jerk. Sleazy girls be warned. There will be no flash photography around her man in this Gators-crazed town.

"That's one thing she has a serious problem with," Weis said. "Don't be like, 'Well, somebody told me he's an a--hole ... ' "

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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