||January 23, 2005
||New York Post
Mark Bavaro remembers the day he first met Charlie Weis. It was the summer of 1990 and the Giants were in the beginning of training camp at Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison, N.J. Bavaro and his teammates were resting outside the cafeteria when an overweight guy with a Jersey accent approached the legendary tight end.
"This guy starts asking me about Notre Dame," Bavaro said. "I had never seen Charlie before. I didn't know he was a coach. I thought. 'Who is this guy and how did he get over here?' I was ready to get security."
After a few minutes, Bavaro learned Weis was the Giants' new assistant special teams coach. It would not be the last time someone would accuse Weis of not quite fitting the mold of an NFL coach.
The 48-year-old New Jersey native has never been fazed, though, by others' perceptions of him. Instead, those close to him say he has used an unwavering confidence and an unmatched intellect to forge a remarkable rise from a high school assistant coach to the unprecedented dual role he occupies today - head football coach at Notre Dame and offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.
Weis has spent the past month working 20-hour days preparing the Pats for another run at the Super Bowl while working on building a staff at Notre Dame and luring recruits to South Bend. Weis has been given the challenge of bringing the Fighting Irish back to prominence. For most people, that would be enough of a chore, but Weis told his alma mater he would not take the job if he had to leave the Patriots before their season ends.
"Charlie would smack me if he heard me say, 'Give Charlie some time,' " said Kevin Donovan, who taught and coached Weis at Middlesex High School. "Charlie is a guy [who] will want to turn the program around now. It's not a four- or five-year plan. That's not the way Charlie operates. It's 'Let's win today.' "
Weis' approach to coaching began on Princeton Drive in Middlesex. The second of five children, Weis was a sports fanatic as a child. The son of an accountant and nurse, Weis passionately followed the Knicks, Rangers, Giants, Yankees and Notre Dame.
"We'd play some type of sports 365 days a year," said Nick Bonge, Weis' childhood friend. "Football, baseball, basketball, street hockey, everything. We'd play basketball in his driveway and Wiffle ball in his backyard."
His skill never matched his zeal, though, and Weis never became a sports star. He was a backup on his high school football team and started at catcher for the baseball team.
After graduating from Middlesex in 1974, Weis left New Jersey for South Bend. He majored in communications and never missed a home football game. Several football players lived on Weis' floor in his dormitory and he was never shy about sharing his criticisms of the Notre Dame coaching staff after games.
"Even back then, he understood the game and would second-guess the coaches," said Dr. Jim Benenati, Weis' roommate. "People would get mad at him, but it turned out more often than not that he was right."
Weis graduated in 1978 and returned to New Jersey to become a teacher and coach at Boonton High School. After one year with Boonton, Weis took a job at Morristown High School as a freshman coach. The work ethic that would become legendary first showed itself here with Weis spending hours in the Morristown football, nicknamed the "Cave."
"I could see then he wanted to coach badly," said John Chironna, the Morristown head coach at the time. "I could see he was intelligent. He asked good questions. The guy had everything. He was cocky, as he still is, but we got along fabulously."
When Chironna became athletic director, he asked Weis to take over the basketball team when he could not find a coach. Weis did and led the team to a county championship. He would also coach fencing and lacrosse during his time at Morristown.
"He just has that way," Chironna said. "As a player, he gets your attention. Once you get the player's attention, you can teach fundamentals. That's what he does."
Weis became one of Chironna's most trusted assistants before leaving in 1985 to take a graduate assistant's job at the University of South Carolina. He made a quick impression on the coaching staff there.
"He was a fat, obnoxious loudmouth that didn't fit in," said Jim Washburn, a South Carolina assistant at the time and the current Tennessee Titans defensive line coach. "Everybody thought he was a [jerk] and then he became one of the most respected and loved guys down there."
He earned their respect by spending long hours in the Gamecocks' football office taking on any chore thrown his way. Those around the program began to see something special in the Jersey transplant.
"Charlie was a guy that, in basketball lingo, was a gym rat," said Kerry Tharp, South Carolina's sports information director. "You'd see him around the office morning, noon and night. He was a jack of all trades and didn't mind rolling up his sleeves."
Weis spent four years at South Carolina before head coach Joe Morrison's sudden death in 1989. He returned to New Jersey and went back to the high school ranks. He became the head coach at Franklin High School, installed a run-and-shoot offense and guided the team to a 10-1 record and a state title.
It was clear to those at Franklin that Weis would not be there long. He had his sights set on bigger goals.
"He said to me that he was going to be the head coach at Rutgers," said Joe Stinson, Weis' offensive coordinator at Franklin. "I guess he's done better than that."
While Weis was at Franklin, Al Groh, who had met Weis at South Carolina, recommended Weis to Giants personnel director Tim Rooney for a position with the Giants. Rooney gave Weis films of players to evaluate in the winter of 1989 and was immediately impressed with Weis' reports.
Weis kept coming around during the football season and began gaining fans in the Giants' offices despite his sometimes overbearing personality.
"He really had a tremendous amount of self-confidence bordering on arrogance," Rooney said. "If you didn't know him real well, you'd say he was arrogant but he backed it up."
After winning the state championship, Weis left Franklin and left football for a short time, returning to South Carolina, where he sold long-distance phone service. A phone call from Bill Parcells ended that, though. Parcells had gotten to know Weis during his long hours at Giants Stadium. Parcells hired him as an assistant special teams coach.
The Giants won the Super Bowl in Weis' first season. He spent two years with Ray Handley before joining Parcells in New England and later with the Jets. During this time Weis became one of the most respected assistant coaches in the NFL as he helped develop Ben Coates, Curtis Martin and Terry Glenn as their position coach. He returned to New England when Bill Belichick took the job there in 2000.
As the Patriots rolled to two championships and Tom Brady flourished, Weis began to be mentioned for head-coaching openings. Weis kept being passed over and some thought it was because of his appearance. He had reached nearly 330 pounds by the summer of 2002, when he underwent gastric bypass surgery and nearly died from complications. He spent two weeks in intensive care but missed only three days of Patriots training camp.
Notre Dame came calling in December, finally giving Weis a shot at being a head coach. The Irish have struggled for much of the past decade and patience likely won't be plentiful among the program's followers. Weis may struggle at first but those around Notre Dame will learn, like Bavaro did years before, Weis may not make the best first impression but he usually makes a lasting one.
"If you only go by the first 10 minutes, you'd never get Charlie Weis," said Rich Bisaccia, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant coach who worked with Weis at South Carolina. "He comes across as a pain in the butt, but the guy has a heart of gold."