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Weis wins his dream job

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame, say hello to the real Rudy.

His name is Charlie Weis. Somehow, he is your new football coach. The surprise isn't so much that Weis got the job -- although it took a whiff with Urban Meyer and a fruitless interview with Bobby Petrino to open the door -- but that he's in the profession at all.

Heck, it's surprising that he's even alive.

You want an improbable, beyond-your-wildest-dreams Notre Dame success story? The Hollywood movie about walk-on Rudy Ruettiger has been one-upped by the story of Charlie Hustle.

Weis is a Notre Dame grad from the salad days of the mid-70s. He experienced the tail end of the Ara Era and the beginning of Dan Devine's run. But he had about as much to do with the school's 1977 national title as the guy in the leprechaun suit.

Charlie Weis never played a down for the Fighting Irish, never so much as put a gold helmet on his head. He was just Joe College, a regular student who lived in Flanner Hall and studied speech and drama. The closest he ever came to being a part of Notre Dame football was doing his own play-by-play -- often to the annoyance of those sitting around him -- while watching from the stands.

Until today.

Now he's the coach of the Fighting Irish.

"So here is a guy who just was this guy that went to college here, and he's the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame," Weis said. "So think about it here for a second. That means the sky is the limit, right?"

You better believe it. And the Weis story is even more remarkable when you consider that Touchdown Jesus nearly called him up from the operating table two years ago.

Weis nearly died of complications from gastric bypass surgery. He even had last rites administered.

"We thought we lost him," said his wife, Maura.

Weis recovered, with what he says is a new perspective, and continued his hugely successful work as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. And today, he has been called upon to scrape off the tarnish and wake up the echoes under the Golden Dome -- while simultaneously trying to game plan the Patriots to a second straight Super Bowl title.

A kid from New Jersey who spent his freshman year at Notre Dame in the cheap seats rooting for star senior quarterback Tom Clements winds up beating out Clements for the head-coaching job at their alma mater? Stop it.

"To me," said Notre Dame classmate Mike Towle, now a book publisher and author in Nashville, "this is like the ultimate Walter Mitty story."

Towle remembers Walter Mitty as a walking encyclopedia of sports. Their senior year, Towle was one of three staff members at the campus radio station assigned to select a handful of sports announcers from a candidate pool of 40 or 50. Weis was one of them.

"He made it," Towle said. "He just blew us away with his sports knowledge. I was surprised he waited until his senior year to try out. I was like, 'Where have you been the last three years?' "

Weis thought about a career in sports broadcasting but couldn't shake the football bug. After college graduation, he went home to New Jersey and became a high school assistant coach.

Six years later, he got a college job at South Carolina. When coach Joe Morrison died of a heart attack in February 1989, Weis went back to high school and his only head-coaching gig until Monday. In one season at Franklin Township in New Jersey, he won a state title.

Then one day, someone told him that Bill Parcells was on the phone and wished to speak with him.

Weis' reaction: "It's one of my friends calling up just like I used to get the Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine calls when I was in college."

Except it was really Parcells, offering a real job in the NFL. His first year with the New York Giants, they won the Super Bowl.

From that day until Monday morning, he never left the Parcells Coaching Tree. For the past five years he's been the New England offensive coordinator for Bill Belichick, and the spoils of victory gleamed on his right hand Monday: a huge and gaudy Super Bowl ring, one of two the Patriots have won the past three years with Weis calling the plays.

During that climb from sideline fan to acclaimed NFL offensive coordinator, Weis had but one answer to those who doubted him because he never played the game: Overwhelm their concerns with competence.

"Every time you get an opportunity to work, it's what you do," he said. "Show them you can do the job. Once you can thrive at one position, it gives you a chance at the next position."

Now it has given Weis an opportunity for his ultimate position.

"This is an end-all for our family," he said, undoubtedly warming the hearts of Irish fans who have seen their football job snubbed by several coaches the past two times it was open. "We come to Notre Dame with the intent of retiring here."

Weis might not have head-coaching experience to call upon, but he came across Monday like a man who had been awaiting this opportunity for half his life. He was commanding and on the offensive -- setting the rules of engagement from the outset with the media. And his confidence was hard to miss.

"All of you people who don't know much about Charlie Weis are going to say, 'What took him so long?'" he said.

Weis acknowledged the truth about big-time college sports that makes administrators skittish: It's about winning. He promised a team that is intelligent, prepared -- and, no apologies offered, "nasty." From his words to his inflection to his accent, he seemed at times to be channeling Parcells.

"We're both from New Jersey," Weis said with a laugh when asked about the Parcells similarities. "What can I say?"

But the one thing Weis has that even Parcells lacks is that twinkle in the eye when it comes to Notre Dame. That's a mandatory ingredient to coach here, given the academic requirements, the schedule strength and the constant pressure. You have to believe this is the greatest job on Earth, even if the evidence suggests that's no longer true.

It's not a surprise that Weis has that twinkle in the eye. His improbable road from the student seats at Notre Dame Stadium to the sideline reveals the dreamer within.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.