Charlie Weis is about to discover that the hard job isn’t replacing Pete Carroll, it’s chasing Pete Carroll.
Weis is part of Bill Belichick’s New England coaching staff that is making its third trip to the Super Bowl in five years since taking over the Patriots from Carroll. They didn’t exactly weep in Massachusetts over Carroll’s departure after his three-year tenure produced a 1-2 record in the playoffs.
But once Weis, New England’s offensive coordinator for the last five seasons, accepted Notre Dame’s top job on Dec. 12, he stepped into the land where Carroll is king. Carroll’s USC Trojans have become the template for college football success. They’ve won consecutive national championships and continue to harvest the cream of the recruiting crop.
“USC’s just recruiting on a whole other plane right now,” said Jeremy Crab, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com
No coach will survive in South Bend, Ind., if he can’t beat rival USC. And it just so happens that the critical final hours before Wednesday’s signing period for high school players coincide with Weis’ preparation for Super Bowl XXXIX next Sunday.
So Weis is competing against the Trojans, the Gators and the Buckeyes, in addition to the Eagles, right now. It has meant minimal sleep while trying to maximize the time he can spend with recruits in his tight schedule.
It has meant that not only did Weis return to his alma mater (class of ’78), he went back to school; he had to pass an NCAA rules test before he could recruit. It has meant the Irish lost out on at least one high school star because he never met Weis face to face.
It has brought to light the irony that Weis’ high-profile position is also a low-quote position, because Belichick generally doesn’t allow interviews with his assistants. A Patriot media-relations staffer even shook off reporters who gathered around Weis in the locker room after the AFC championship game.
It has called for compromise, in the midst of a fan base that ranks among the nation’s most demanding.
“You’re trading off the visibility that comes with [coaching in the Super Bowl] with the understanding that he’s not going to be as readily available to be as personally involved in recruiting as he might have been if their team hadn’t made the playoffs at all,” said John Heisler, Notre Dame associate athletic director.
“That was a conscious decision that we all made going into this from the time he was hired. That’s how strongly people felt about who he was and his credentials and what he’s accomplished. Regardless of what those next six weeks were going to turn into, we were all willing to live with that. He was very strong about wanting to finish what he’d started with the Patriots. There was never a suggestion that he was going to walk away from that.”
Not when it’s a key selling point, not only to the recruits but to the holdovers for a program in transition
“It’s been fun watching” the playoffs, Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said. “It gets me excited about watching him, seeing his success, knowing that he’s going to bring that here, all the stuff he’s got with New England. It’s a good situation for us.”
Even if it isn’t ideal for the coaches. They’ve had to scramble since the staff was announced Jan. 4, less than a month before the signing period.
“It’s unique,” said Rob Ianello, the recruiting coordinator. “Back in 1990, we took over at Wisconsin when I went with Coach [Barry] Alvarez, we had three weeks to do a recruiting class. But Barry was there. This is unique in that perspective.”
Weis assigned the position coaches to recruit players at their positions, and they all coordinated their schedules around his offensive coordinating duties. For example, Wednesdays are game-plan days in the NFL, so Ianello knows not to call him until later at night.
Notre Dame rearranged official visits to campus to coincide with the times Weis could be around. He met with a dozen recruits on the second weekend in January. Weis also had his public introduction to the Notre Dame community when he addressed the crowd at a basketball game. One fan, eager to have Weis full-time, yelled “Go Steelers!”
Belichick assigned a Patriot intern to help Weis manage the transition. Weis worked extra hard on preparation so he could give the material to his assistant coaches, then tried to clear three hours a night for phone calls.
“I’ve had to put myself on extreme time management so that I could get everything done the same way,” Weis said in a recent conference call with reporters.
Of course, sometimes weather can disrupt even the best-planned schedule. School was closed for a snow day when an assistant went to see Kyle McCarthy in Youngstown, Ohio, so Notre Dame had to burn one of its “home visits” to see him.
McCarthy, a 6-foot defensive back, wound up orally committing to the Irish, even though his coach hadn’t met Weis.
“Was I hesitant in sending him? No not at all,” said P.J. Fecko, football coach at Cardinal Mooney high school. “I think that Coach Weis is an individual that has proven himself. The institution itself says a lot. That’s a place that is very enticing.”
Jeremy Crabtree, the recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said this staff was selling the Notre Dame tradition and allure, rather than letting the place sell itself. He also said recruits were responding to Weis’ NFL background, and that it helped that Ianello was “one of the great recruiters in the country.”
As for Quinn, the incumbent quarterback?
“I’ll be glad when he’s all settled in,” he said of Weis. “I’ll be happy. At the same time, I’m glad he’s having success. Hopefully he will take care of business next weekend [at the Super Bowl].”
And after that, he can get back to taking care of business.
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On the Rise
In Charlie Weis’ fifth year as New England’s offensive coordinator, the Patriots ranked fourth in scoring (27.3) and seventh in total yards (357.6). A look at New England’s offense under Weis and where it ranked in the NFL during the regular season:
*--* 2000 (5-11, missed playoffs) Rushing Yards 86.9 (26) Passing Yards 198.8 (19) Total Yards 285.7 (22) Points 17.3 (25) 2001 (11-5, won Super Bowl) Rushing Yards 112.1 (12) Passing Yards 193.1 (22) Total Yards 305.1 (19) Points 23.1 (6) 2002 (9-7, missed playoffs) Rushing Yards 94.2 (28) Passing Yards 223.6 (12) Total Yards 317.8 (21) Points 23.8 (10) 2003 (14-2, won Super Bowl) Rushing Yards 100.4 (27) Passing Yards 214.5 (9) Total Yards 314.9 (17) Points 21.8 (12) 2004 (14-2, reached Super Bowl) Rushing Yards 133.4 (7) Passing Yards 224.2 (11) Total Yards 357.6 (7) Points 27.3 (4)