|Charlie Weis has softened his tone since leaving Notre Dame, but the message is loud and clear. (US Presswire)|
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- For a few minutes there on Friday Charlie Weis was back in South Bend. His promise and power once again, limitless.
He threatened and warned and rumbled.
"Go home," he told his players prior to offseason conditioning, "enjoy your Christmas holidays -- because when you get back in the middle of January it's not going to be very pleasant."
It could have been 2005 again, when Notre Dame was transitioning to a Super Bowl assistant with Bill Belichick roots and New Jersey swagger. What's left of that power and promise looked around a press conference, telling a new set of players for a last-place football team at a basketball school that they better be prepared.
For Charlie Lite.
He didn't use those words but he didn't have to. With half the bluster of his former self, Weis arrived here describing how he's going to revive a program that -- a day after taking the job -- still doesn't seem to fit him. It's not that Weis can't coach. Twenty-four hours after the announcement it's still unbelievable that he is coaching here.
"You got to be kidding me," Bobby Bowden said Thursday when informed of the hire. "He's going to be the head coach?"
The decision makes spur of the moment seem like procrastination. His wife Maura will continue to live in Ocala, Fla., and South Bend with the family's special needs daughter Hannah. Charlie Jr. just completed his transfer papers to go from Florida to Kansas following his dad's coaching footsteps.
Weis admitted to being here a couple of times to evaluate players while with the Patriots. What he seemed to know of Kansas you could have read in newspaper agate: The Jayhawks were 2-10 last season, rival Kansas State was 10-2.
"The only question I have is, why?" he said. "I don't have that answer."
For the last 43 years there haven't been many answers. That's the amount of time it has taken the Jayhawks to play in their last two major bowl games. The standard here is worlds different. The Irish expected championships, BCS bowls. Jayhawkers would settle for bowl eligibility.
A 35-27 record over five years got him fired at his old head coaching job. Do that here and he'll be something close to a hero.
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The deal got done in a day, on Thursday. Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger called Florida coach Will Muschamp at 2 that morning seeking an interview with his offensive coordinator. By noon the parties were together in Gainesville. Five hours later, a deal had been struck.
That was amazing speed even for a guy who got a new 10-year deal seven games into his first season at Notre Dame.
"The best part for the Weis family now is we can see the end of the rainbow," the coach said. "Then I'm going to retire with my wife and my son."
This is the end, really? Post-Notre Dame Weis has seemed more like a recent graduate backpacking through Europe rather than a coach cementing his future. Since leaving South Bend, he has spent one highly successful season with the Kansas City Chiefs, then another not-so-successful season coordinating the Gators. Florida finished 102nd in total offense.
The Charlie that left South Bend two years ago is different in several ways than the one who limped up to the podium Friday aided by a cane. Both knees have been replaced. A hip is next. His star that glowed so bright in 2005 has dimmed. Like that backpacker, maybe Weis, 55, hasn't found himself yet.
"I'm just an old ball coach. I've learned how to show humility," he said. "I've learned how to be humble in my approach." Weis says he wasn't looking when Zenger called. But somewhere deep down this has to be about proving something to himself and proving something to Notre Dame.
"If it made him hungrier," Zenger said of the Notre Dame experience, "I like that."
That old Weis passion bubbled up when he spoke about what he left behind in South Bend.
"The one issue about Notre Dame is no matter what you say on any day it's national news. Even when you say things that are right, [then] they didn't understand what the conversation was. Next thing you know you're vilified. You're looked at as an arrogant obnoxious person.
"I look at my wife and say, 'They're talking about me?'"
It's easier to be vilified when you're losing. It was not a good career trend. Weis went to consecutive BCS bowls to start at Notre Dame. The program lost momentum badly at the end.
"Five years obviously wasn't quick enough for them," he said.
Weis then reminded everyone that all his players graduated. There were barely any off-field problems.
"It's important not to be a sellout, not to give in," he said.
Wait, was Weis saying he deserved a sixth year at Notre Dame?
"It's really a moot point," he said. "This is not to talk about that. That's the way my career went. Then you moved on. I don't look back. I always look forward."
Forward to new players to push in the weight room and a head coaching career to reinvent.
"It's not going to be pleasant around here in the spring time," Charlie Lite said, just a little less forcefully.