TAMPA — He’s in higher demand than hand sanitizer these days. Seems every media outlet from South Bend to St. Pete wants a few minutes with Charlie Weis Jr., the prevailing story line of USF-Notre Dame week.
“This is like, the fourth (interview),” the Bulls' first-year offensive coordinator says on this muggy Tuesday, barely 36 hours into game week.
“There’s more coming tomorrow,” USF assistant communications director Jay D’Abramo notes.
“This is okay,” Weis adds. “I’ve got my speech nailed by now.”
To be sure, Weis' media savvy belies his birth certificate, which stands to reason. By age 12, the dude already had a sideline pass to the scrutiny, splendor and scorn that accompanies college football’s most prominent gig. You know, the one over which Touchdown Jesus presides.
His prodigiousness has astounded much-older peers ever since. By 14, Weis already was drawing up scouting reports for the coaches at the South Bend high school he attended. By 18, he was a University of Florida offensive quality-control grunt. By 25, he was the youngest offensive coordinator in major college football.
No wonder then, at the median age of most coaching neophytes, Weis, 27, is being asked for nostalgia.
“It will be cool to go up there, cool to see the stadium one more time and all that, but I just want to do the best I can to help our guys win,” he said.
Weis' visit Saturday to Notre Dame Stadium — bedecked in green and gold, no less — will be his first since Nov. 21, 2009, when the Fighting Irish fell to Connecticut, 33-30 in double overtime.
It was the elder Charlie Weis' last home game as Notre Dame coach, the third of what would be four consecutive defeats to end the Irish’s third season in a row of at least six losses. By then, the vitriol of Notre Dame’s national fan base was at an apex, the stress on the Weis family palpable.
At that point, a large contingent seemed perturbed just to see the younger Weis on the sideline, holding up cards signaling plays and personnel groupings.
“People say, ‘He could screw this up,’” said the elder Charlie Weis, 35-27 in five seasons as Irish coach. “Well, when the coaches say, ’21,' and you hold up the number 21, how are you gonna screw that up? ... But they don’t know, that just gave them another opportunity to take a shot.”
So why, having witnessed the pillorying of his father and the mercurial temperament indigenous to big-time booster factions, would a kid still want to subject himself to the coaching profession?
Because amid the rancor, Weis saw what only those privy to a program’s inner sanctum can see: the bonds coaches forge with players. Following his dad’s dismissal, Irish players still came to the Weis house, still attended the golf tournament benefiting Charlie and Maura Weis' nonprofit that helps special-needs individuals such as their daughter, Hannah.
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Charles Joseph Weis Jr. was sold.
“Seeing those relationships, and seeing that my dad meant something to them, that they would come back and help a charity that was important to him even though he wasn’t their coach anymore, was something where I was like, ‘All right, this is really cool.’” Weis said.
“Even though you’re gonna have ups and downs, highs and lows, great moments and bad moments, that’s the stuff that really sticks with you.”
Weis already had set out on the coaching path before realizing he wanted to stay on it. An overweight teen by his own admission, he spent afternoons as a student assistant at Saint Joseph High — across the street from Notre Dame — before walking over to his dad’s practices.
In dingy, closet-sized offices, Weis — barely old enough for a learner’s permit — would watch tape and draw up scouting reports on opponents as the team practiced.
“What Charlie did for us is what Hudl (a popular video-analysis tool) does for coaches now,” former Saint Joseph defensive coordinator Ben Downey said.
“Coaches have always watched film and found tendencies and broken down film, but there was not enough time in the day to do what Hudl now does. And that’s when Charlie Jr. came in. ”
Following his dad’s dismissal at Notre Dame, the family moved to Kansas City, where the elder Weis had been hired as Chiefs offensive coordinator. Having transformed his body with the help of a cousin, Weis embarked on his lone season of organized football, as a slot receiver at St. Pius X High in Kansas City.
Then it was back to the toil of scouting reports, video breakdowns, play cards — the menial labor assigned to the plebes aspiring to ascend in the profession. When his dad became offensive coordinator at Florida in 2011, Weis became an offensive quality-control assistant. When the elder Weis was hired as coach at Kansas, his son became a Jayhawks manager.
“The stuff below the (graduate assistants),” Weis said with a chuckle. “The bottom of the bottom work.”
“I allowed him to do that stuff but never encouraged him to do it,” said the elder Weis, who now resides in Wellington and hosts an NFL talk-radio program weekday mornings on SiriusXM.
“Now, with that great growing experience and learning experience of being there and doing that, both he and I were ridiculed for being on the sideline and being involved. They’re ridiculed until you talk to them in person and simply ask this question: What dad wouldn’t want his kid to be around him as much as you could have him around him as he’s growing up?
So I never understood why fans would say, ‘Well why is he down there?’ He’s down there because he can be down there, and he wanted to be down there. ”
The gripes of nepotism vanished when Weis left the figurative roost for a gig as an offensive analyst on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. In his well documented job interview with Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Weis was handed Kiffin’s driver’s license and given three minutes to memorize it.
At the end of the allotted time, Kiffin took the license back and began peppering Weis with questions. He nailed them all. The next day, Kiffin asked him more questions about details on the license. Weis got all of those correct, too.
Weis spent two years on Saban’s staff, including the Tide’s 2015 national title season. At 24, he was hired by Kiffin — then Florida Atlantic coach — to serve as Owls offensive coordinator.
In 2018, FAU ranked 14th nationally in total offense (478.8 ypg). In ’19, the Owls ranked 14th in scoring (36.4 ppg) and 27th in total offense (448.6 ypg), and won 11 games.
The success hasn’t surprised his dad.
“Remember, I wasn’t like buddy-buddies with Nick (Saban),” the elder Weis said. "I knew Nick. We actually knew each other through (NFL circles) more than anything else...and he just said to me that he was probably one of the most impressive young coaches he’s ever seen in his entire life.
“And coming from Nick, that’s a strong statement.”
Including the sideline stints with his dad at Notre Dame, USF is the sixth major college program for whom Weis has worked. More than a decade has elapsed since he lived in South Bend. He understands the compelling nature of this weekend’s story line, and acknowledges he might get a bit sentimental when Wake Up the Echoes kicks in, but this is a business trip.
“At the end of the day it’s another game,” the younger Weis said. “My job is to help our players at South Florida do the best that they can do to put us in situations to win the game.”
He likely won’t even have time to visit Hannah, who remains globally developmentally delayed after suffering a rare seizure disorder as a child. Now 25, Hannah is flourishing in the South Bend assisted-living community established by her parents.
“She has just thrived, so she’s a happy camper,” said the elder Weis, who won’t attend the game but will be cheering for USF. “Even though she’s dependent, she’s very independent within her dependency.”
Make that two Weis kids flourishing on their own.
“It makes you feel proud as a dad who happened to have been a coach,” the elder Weis added. “There’s so many people that have so many favorable things to say about him. But he’s on his own."