The Weirdness of Weis

I don’t know if anybody cares what I think about the Kansas football program at this point, but I don’t care if nobody cares, because this is my blog, and I’ll do what I want. I did not gain the half-dozen or so readers I have (the number fluctuates daily) by caring about them or pandering to their tastes. 

I am considering a life strategy of being openly antagonistic toward people I like. If I decide to go through with it, I’ll let you know so you don’t take it personally. 

Kansas’ hiring of Charlie Weis is weird. I cannot get over it. Every time I think about the reality Weis is KU’s football coach, I think, “Surely that didn’t really happen, did it?” But it did happen.

When I say this, I don’t mean to say I think it is a bad hire, but I also don’t mean to say I think it is a good hire. This is not me saying, “Holy crap, Kansas got Urban Meyer? How’d it pull that off?” But it also isn’t me saying, “KU went for Dana Dimel? Yikes.”

It is more like me saying, “Wait, Mom made pizza for Christmas dinner?”

The most surprising thing about this whole episode is that Weis wanted the KU job. I don’t mean that as an insult to KU. The Kansas job is a good enough gig that it isn’t surprising if good coaches want it. For example, I would not have been surprised if Mike Leach had accepted the job, and Leach has been more successful as a collegiate head coach than Weis has been. It’s just that Weis has his special-needs daughter, who lives in Florida. He had a good job in Florida. He could have coached in the NFL again any time he wanted to, probably with any of the three NFL teams located in Florida, even, and Kansas is so random for him.

It is possible Charlie Weis is an insufferable human being, and there may be some NFL people who would loathe to work with him, and I am not discounting the effect this may have on his prospects. But I would note that sufferability does not seem to be an important trait for football coaches at any level.

The point is, Weis could have maintained a pretty comfortable lifestyle in Florida while also keeping his family in close proximity.

Of course, no assistant coaching gig, even in the NFL, is going to pay him $2.5 million per year. It’s probably between three and five times as much as he could possibly make as an assistant. Charlie has made plenty of money in his career, but let’s not be so naive as to think the money was not alluring. Maybe he just wanted to make more money. Who doesn’t?

But according to him, he had plenty of other opportunities to coach at the collegiate level since he was  wheel-barrowed out into the front lawn at Notre Dame. We don’t know where those were, but surely they could not have been any more random than Lawrence, Kansas. Yes, he worked for the Chiefs that one year and that’s nearby. But taking a job in Lawrence just because you used to work in Kansas City is sort of like buying a Fiat because you like Italian food. They are not, you know, the same.

And then there are the things Charlie says, which are unusual. He seems to have an obsession with this idea that KU went 2-10 and K-State went 10-2. He seems to like the symmetry of it. I doubt he’d be making such a thing out of it if the numbers were off, like if KU went 3-9.

But he is really making a big thing of it, and I can’t really tell what his point is.

This is what he said to the Chicago Tribune:

“But the biggest issue is, you’re 2-10. Kansas State is 10-2. Obviously you can win in this state. So I’m saying to myself, you’re coming to a school that’s 2-10. The other school is 10-2. Just think about it. If you, in one year, you get to .500, you went from 2-10 to 6-6 —v I don’t know how many games we’ll win next year. I’m not projecting. I’m not giving you a timetable. But just with hard work and strength and conditioning and better coaching and the guys buying in — you get to .500, all of a sudden, you’ve made the program relevant again. Because what you want to do is you want to be the school that’s 10-2 in the state of Kansas. Around here, they won’t even mention them. Why wouldn’t you mention them? They’re 10-2 and you’re 2-10, that’s who you have to beat! You gotta beat them in recruiting and you gotta beat them on the field.

Why is that? Do you have any idea why one school would be 2-10 and 10-2? Do you have any idea why that would happen? Neither do I. I have to sit there and say, if I’m 2-10, and they’re 10-2, I should be able to get to that point. I don’t know how long it will take to get to that point, but that’s where we should be able to get. They’re already doing it. And they win on a fairly regular basis there. So there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to win on a fairly regular basis here.”

You tell me what he’s trying to say, there. It seems like he has simply observed that Kansas went 2-10 and Kansas State went 10-2 and is pointing out that this is problematic for KU. Further, he acts like there is some mystery as to how this happened. He asks us (all) if we have any idea why that would be, and he asks this question rhetorically. He thinks he is making a point by asking it. But I’m guessing you all, like I, have some pretty good ideas as to how this happened, and given that Weis is the guy who is charged with changing it, it is a little disturbing that he thinks it’s a mystery (and assumes we all think so too).

He then told Bob Fescoe he would be leaving when his contract expired in five years, and he told the Tribune he wanted to stay in college coaching because you don’t have to work as many hours and, well, it just seems an awful lot like Charlie took the KU job without really thinking about it much. It seems like he would have been just as likely to take the job if it were at Kentucky, and at this point I’m not even sure he knows the difference. He just wanted to coach someplace where the football team sucked.

So that’s why it seems weird to me Charlie wanted the job.

But it also seems weird that KU wanted Charlie. Now, I think anyone who has paid attention to coaching hires in sports knows that you always go opposite of the guy before. If the guy before was nice, you hire a mean guy. If the guy before was a discliplinarian, you hire a “players coach.” That’s how it is everywhere, but it has been especially true at Kansas. The last 30 years of KU football hires have followed this pattern with almost comical reliability.

But this one ventures a little into the surreal, doesn’t it? They went from huge, mean offensive genius to strapping former Heisman candiate and all-around nice guy right back to … a huge, mean offensive genius? Does Charlie Weis have a dog named Yogi?

I don’t want to be mean about this. I really don’t. But this can’t be ignored. People talk about Mark Mangino’s weight being an issue, but at least he walks around under his own power. I don’t think Charlie’s health issues should have disqualified him as a candidate, but if they wanted Mangino again (which they didn’t), they should have just hired Mangino again (which they sort of did).

When we evaluate coaching hires, we are not really making a judgment about the coach. We’re making a judgment about the school. In most people’s minds, the coaching hierarchy is fairly clear. At the top you have your Urban Meyers and Nick Sabans and Pete Carrolls. At the bottom you have your no-name assistants and small-college guys. Somewhere in the middle you have your re-tread coaches, guys who weren’t quite successful enough satisfy a blue-blood fanbase or who did something wrong and got pushed out, but who are generally still regarded as quality football coaches.

A successful hire is one in which the level of the coach is commensurate with the level of the school. A home run hire is when the coach is better than the school (Bob Huggins at Kansas State). A failed hire is when the school is better than the coach (whoever replaces Steve Jobs at Apple).

It seems to me the Weis hire favors Kansas, at least a little bit. People talk about how he did not win big at Notre Dame. But that’s irrelevant. For one thing, comparing Notre Dame to any other coaching situation is a failed comparison. For another, I don’t know if anybody has noticed, but nobody has won big at Notre Dame in 20 years*.

*Except for Charlie Weis, who in 2005 had the Irish in position to play for the national title until Reggie Bush obviously cheated by pushing Matt Leinart into the end zone, winning a game that, according to the NCAA, never even happened.

Many folks also have noted his success with the New England Patriots seemed to have a lot to do with Tom Brady and that his offense at Florida this year, according to my SEC-loving friend Jacob, “couldn’t score in a whorehouse.”

These are all valid concerns, but if they did not exist, Weis might be the coach at Ohio State right now, instead of Kansas. It’s that hierarchy thing. I think Sheahon Zenger, the Kansas athletic director, did well to get a coach of Weis’ quality, and if Weis was the only available coach at that level (which he probably was) then I consider it a good hire.

I just can’t believe it actually happened.

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