The college football world woke up on Sunday expecting a firing.
Saturday delivered another embarrassing home loss for a major-conference team, this one worse than the last. Another 60 minutes of inoperable offense and sturdy, but insufficient defense. Another sunny gameday beginning with hope and ending with morose fans slumping toward the exits while the clock and any lingering optimism ticked south. Red zone opportunities were squandered; turnovers piled up again. It’s not even October, but already all hope is reserved for next February’s recruiting class.
The large man in charge would get the axe today.
But as college football devotees wrestled out of their post-Saturday slumber, they would learn that Michigan’s Brady Hoke had not been ousted on church day, not even after his Wolverines were walloped 30-14 by Minnesota.
Instead, the large man kicked out of town was Kansas head coach Charlie Weis.
Casual fans may have forgotten Weis’s existence, but serious fans use him as a punchline. He is the man credited with helping develop Tom Brady, counting three Super Bowl rings among his treasures. Upon his hiring at Notre Dame, he notoriously declared his Irish teams would maintain a ‘schematic advantage’ on offense after his rollicking success using the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system in New England. If Weis could outsmart the brightest defensive minds in the NFL, how difficult could it be to win against coaches who have to balance most of their years recruiting?
Weis won 19 games and made two BCS appearances in his first two years with his predecessor’s players. He signed a 10-year contract with his alma mater, and was thus positioned to be the face of Notre Dame football. He was royalty in the sport, large in stature with a personality to match.
Then his own recruiting classes arrived and didn’t perform like his older players did. His star quarterback (Brady Quinn) graduated, along with his ace pupil (receiver Jeff Samardzija). It didn’t matter that he nabbed top national recruits like quarterback Jimmy Clausen, wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Kyle Rudolph. As suddenly as Notre Dame ascended under his leadership, its decline was just as swift. And his chattiness didn’t help at an institution prided on its piety.
Bad luck, evolving opposing offenses and stagnant play manifested itself in an embarrassingly large buyout just four seasons after he signed that 10-year contract. Never short on ego, the schemer insisted on the value of his skillset, as he bounced from South Bend to failed one-year stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida before landing in the football wasteland of Lawrence, Kansas, a town which grinds coaches from "Rock Chalk!" into body chalk. Formerly the owner of one of college football’s most coveted jobs, Weis had landed in purgatory.
When Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zegner hired Weis in 2012 to the surprise of the national media, he confidently declared “I set out to find the best and I found Charlie Weis.” The Jayhawks flailed after opting for a trendy hire in Turner Gill in 2010 -- suffering through two seasons of poor offense and bland press conferences -- so they chose a polarizing candidate whose last success predated the financial crisis. Kansas’ only noteworthy seasons over the past two decades were under a similarly large, brash offensive mastermind (Mark Mangino), and the athletic department envisioned Weis as the kind of verbose personality to summon a football renaissance at a basketball school.
After he finished his first season 1-11, a year dedicated to rebuilding where he kicked an astounding 29 players off of the team, Weis attempted to sell recruits in an unorthodox, brazenly pessimistic manner. “I said, have you looked at the pile of crap out there?” Weis said about his own team to Grantland. “If you don’t think you can play here, where do you think you can play?” His logorrhea also resulted in a ridiculous attack on the student newspaper that only compounded his image as a coach bypassed by the modern game.
Eminently quotable, that Charlie Weis. And always divisive.
Surly to some, smug to others, always chatty, Weis may not see his ouster as cause for concern. Perhaps an NFL job awaits him; they often do for Bill Belichick disciples. A man who survived a coma after complications from gastric bypass surgery (he was even read his last rites) and who started a foundation for autism awareness (his daughter Hannah is autistic), it’s just another twist for one of the most complex figures in football. A man of his coarseness may not be fit to lead 90-something developing young men, after all. Perhaps this is his comeuppance for years of arrogant quotes and cocksure behavior.
But he would always talk.
Without knowledge that he’d be fired hours later, Weis, adorned in his black Kansas shirt, patiently answered questions that produced four pages worth of quotes after his team lost 23-0 to Texas. It’s devoid of coachspeak and unflinchingly honest.
“What do [my players] get for all that blood sweat and tears?” Weis lamented. “All I can tell them is that this is what people do. This is what people that persevere do … they keep pushing, because your only other choice is to quit. I don’t think you saw a lot of that out there today. I don’t think you saw -- as a matter of fact I don’t know if you saw any of that.”
The college football world got its firing today. The large man got the axe. And it's Charlie Weis, one of the quotable ones, who starts over again.