Weis using Patriots as a role model

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- The suggestion of transforming the Patriots system of player procurement to Notre Dame recruiting stirred Charlie Weis in his seat on national signing day, those sleepless eyes flickering wide now, his words coming faster to punctuate a point.

In his fleshy fist, inside the tent on the grounds of the Renaissance Resort, Weis gripped his list of 2005 Fighting Irish football recruits, a modest haul that suffered the short-term consequences of balancing his New England offensive coordinator and Notre Dame recruiting duties. What hurt this class stands to make a difference with next season's and beyond.

Yes, the system will work for Notre Dame, Weis was saying. And yes, it comes with him to South Bend for good after Super Bowl XXXIX too. He was talking about the Patriots system of procuring players, a philosophy that takes those low on everyone else's draft boards, and turns them into cogs for championship machinery.

The Patriots are the perfect model for a Notre Dame recruiting philosophy, because they will always have a smaller pool of candidates than the Floridas and Ohio States and Southern Californias. They will always have to be a little smarter, a little sharper, a little more precise in the classes recruited to shake down that thunder again.

The Patriots never did care much about Mel Kiper preferred picks in the NFL draft, and Weis leaves you intrigued to discover whether that starless system of finding tough, team guys, balanced with blue-chippers, can transcend from Sundays to Saturdays, from the pros to college.

"Everyone says, 'Here's the top 20 players in the country,'" Weis said, "but what guys are going to fit into what you do? What guys are your type of guys? I brought in a guy from Indiana that they weren't recruiting, that is a lot like our (2003 4th round pick) Dan Klecko. ...

"So many times people get enamored with what the class is rated. Of course you want the best athletes. But you also want the guys that fit your system, and fit your personality. I'm not the most pleasant person in the whole world. You have to be able to deal with the personality of the head coach, because that's going to be the reflection of the team.

"All scouts want height, weight, speed guys. (Patriots personnel director) Scott (Pioli) goes the extra mile and worries about fits. I think the same is true in recruiting. You want to get the best athletes you possibly can, but can they read and write? Are they high character kids?

"Do they fit your system?"

Every program talks this way, but the Patriots have lived it to spectacular successes. It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out for the Fighting Irish, fascinating to see whether Weis' track record of player development in the pros, melded with an assistant coaching staff including several ex-head coaches, makes Notre Dame that player personnel machine that the Patriots turned into under Bill Belichick and Pioli.

Weis wants tough, nasty football players, throwback kids out of Chicago and the Midwest, out of Western Pennsylvania and his New Jersey home. Weis signed 15 players on Wednesday, passing on several more modest talents who would've brought little but page bios in the media guide. He swears that he isn't one of those pro coaches with a distaste for recruiting, one of those content to leave the job to his assistants while he plays the part of campus CEO.

The blue-blazer haughtiness of Notre Dame's head coaches are gone, replaced with an attacking, aggressive Weis promising to end that failed Notre Dame recruiting strategy of telling kids they ought to come to Notre Dame, because it is Notre Dame. He's got the right idea about reselling the university and program to a new generation.

"Recruiting is selling, and I've got a very good product to sell," Weis said. "I've been around different (college) coaches who just can't stand it ... but I enjoy the competition."

Touchdown Jesus doesn't do it anymore for kids, but that daring, Patriots offense arriving with Weis -- plus a new $20 million football facility -- will be the early difference makers. People have always underestimated Weis because of his unorthodox appearance, but make no mistake: He is selling himself as the face of Notre Dame football now, promising to travel the nation to meet and greet the high school coaches and recruits. Willingham is a different man: stately, soft-spoken and subtle.

Weis is someone else. Weis is a kick in the ass, and they sure seem glad to be seeing that across the Notre Dame nation now.

Mostly, it will start at home for America's college team. As an alum, Weis remembers all those classmates out of Chicago-land, and now sees a program roster with too few Midwestern blue chippers. He sent his assistant staff into greater Chicago en masse a week ago, instructing them to spend a day studying underclass prospects. "We better start winning the Midwest back, especially Chicago," Weis said. "If we can't do that, we're not going to be very successful. Both myself and the rest of my staff are going to understand the importance of winning Chicago."

Across the Midwest and America, everyone needs a reason to believe in the Fighting Irish again. They need a reason to believe Notre Dame football can be Notre Dame football again. Once Monday arrives, and he's on that plane to South Bend for good, Weis will waste little time flashing those glistening Super Bowl rings and finding out where that credibility gets him starting out on this job. He's determined to bring the principles of today's NFL dynasty to yesterday's college dynasty, and use it to try to bring the Fighting Irish back again.

"There might be a smaller margin (for error in Notre Dame recruiting), but there are plenty of kids who fit the mold," Weis said. "We're going to have to do a better job, starting with the head coach, of finding where they are and going out and getting them.

"Next year at this time, I intend to have accomplished that mission."

Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book, The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty, can be pre-ordered before its February 2005 release. He can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.