Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Charlie Weis up for the challenge
By Mitch Sherman ESPN RecruitingNation
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- As the Kansas football team and new coach Charlie Weis trudged through the opening days of fall camp, Bill Self and his KU men's basketball players jetted overseas for a 10-day tour of Switzerland and France that included four exhibition games, a mini-cruise, fine dining and a stop at the Louvre.
Oh, life as a Jayhawk. Hoops rule, and that's not about to change.
But here's what you should know about Weis, the former Notre Dame coach and high-profile New England Patriots coordinator: He's fine with it all. The 56-year-old New Jersey native, pegged by some as an odd fit at Kansas when he was hired last December, has settled nicely into the sizeable shadow of Allen Fieldhouse.
In formulating his plan to attract talent to Lawrence after the Jayhawks won one Big 12 football game over the past two years, Weis wants nothing to do with the suggestion that he must reinvent the KU image or his own.
So just what does he want football prospects to think of Kansas?
"I want them to say KU is a basketball school that's got a nice, solid football team," Weis said after a morning practice Monday outside the gates of the 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium. "Because right now, we're a basketball school that's got a crummy football team."
Charlie Weis doesn't fear living in the shadow of Kansas basketball. In fact, he uses it to his advantage when it comes to recruiting.
Weis spent last season at Florida as the offensive coordinator and the year prior in the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He finished 35-27 from 2005 to 2009 at Notre Dame. His three Super Bowl victories in four years with New England before the South Bend arrival created lofty expectations, and Weis delivered on the recruiting trail, signing the likes of Jimmy Clausen, Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd.
But he twice failed to make a bowl game.
While the setting has changed, Weis said he still feels like a powerful figure in the game.
"Kids know me," Weis said. "When I walk into a school, they know who I am. When I call on the phone, they know who I am. I don't have to be Bill Belichick. A lot of them don't know where I am, but they know who I am."
Weis added a handful of transfers, including quarterbacks Dayne Crist from Notre Dame -- the projected Kansas starter this year -- and Brigham Young's Jake Heaps, who must sit out this fall. Kansas strengthened its offensive and defensive lines with help from a 22-member recruiting class signed in short order.
Tempered excitement is building at Kansas. Ticket sales are up over 5,000 from a year ago.
Weis said he wants to quickly steer KU away from its position as that program labeled by other Big 12 coaches, in a politically correct vein, as "much improved."
Weis talks of winning now, not in three years.
Of course, he must recruit to sustain success. And that's where Weis' past can perhaps help most, though not in the way you might imagine for a former Notre Dame hotshot.
Crist, the California QB, and fellow Irish transfer Mike Ragone, a tight end from New Jersey, raved about Weis' honesty in recruiting them -- first to South Bend, then Lawrence.
"What's so appealing about Coach Weis is that he's never changed as a person," Ragone said. "I respect that."
Crist turned down USC, Florida State, Michigan, Nebraska and Stanford to sign with Notre Dame.
"You go through recruiting in high school and you're pretty much wowed everywhere you go," Crist said. "Every day is your birthday. That's how it works. As a 17-year-old kid, you don't understand that all the time."
But Weis challenged Crist four years ago.
"Coach Weis said, 'Hey, I understand if you're scared to come here and compete,'" Crist said. "That got under my skin. He's the most honest man I've met in my life -- football and non-football. That's what won me over with him from day one."
Without the power of Notre Dame at his back, Weis still possesses that strength to connect with kids, according Kansas offensive line coach Tim Grunhard.
Grunhard starred at Notre Dame, played 11 years at center for the Chiefs and coached at Shawnee (Kan.) Bishop Miege before Weis tapped him for the KU job.
"I think he's a winner," Grunhard said. "I think he's a tough guy."
Like Grunhard, Weis likes to prove people wrong. Their next target? Anyone who doesn't believe Kansas football can maintain a high level of play. Two years after KU went 12-1 under Mark Mangino in 2007, it slipped to 5-7.
"I want Kansas to be a destination place for Kansas kids," Grunhard said. "To us, that's really important. We want high school kids, when they strap their helmet on as a freshman or sophomore, to want to work hard enough so they can get a scholarship to the University of Kansas.
"That's what happens at Texas. That's what happens in Oklahoma. They want to play for their university. This is their university. We need to get to the place, quite frankly, where our basketball program is at."
The 22-year-old Crist visited Kansas, in fact, the December weekend of the Ohio State-KU basketball game.
He transferred to Kansas because of Weis and the football program, but the basketball team earned an assist. It's no different with traditional recruits.
"A bunch of high school football players were sitting in front of televisions on a Monday night in April, watching the University of Kansas play for the national title," said KU receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello, the former Akron head coach who first worked for Weis at Notre Dame.
"There's no better advertisement for your athletic department than that."
Weis, as he watched Kansas lose to Kentucky in the NCAA title game, said he considered the many ways basketball can help his football program. It's a cliché for the football coach at a basketball school -- be it Kentucky, Indiana or Duke -- to profess the positives of such a situation.
For Weis, though, the appreciation runs deeper.
"Did you watch our basketball team?" Weis said. "They weren't a team that should go to the finals of the NCAA tournament, talent-wise.
So what happened? They were well-coached, disciplined; they all bought in, played their roles and they overachieved.
"Every single thing I just said, that's what I want our team to be."
It's a message, Weis said, that players and recruits embrace -- at Notre Dame, Florida and, yes, Kansas.