By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 12, 2005
"Tell the public about the boys. They're the ones that do the work and they should get the credit. The people are interested in them, not me."
Legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne ,to the school's publicist
SOUTH BEND, Ind., Nov. 11 -- Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis was rarely in the spotlight during his 15 seasons as an NFL assistant under coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, remaining in the background while his teams won four Super Bowl championships. Parcells and Belichick seldom allowed their assistants to speak to the media, instead adhering to a strict "one-voice" policy, and Weis seemed more content designing offenses and dissecting game film than talking to reporters.
Even now, as Weis has returned Notre Dame to national prominence in his first season and made the No. 7 Fighting Irish relevant again in college football, the sometimes gruff New Jersey native has chosen to remain in the background, deflecting attention to his players, even though he holds what many would say is the most glamorous coaching position in college sports.
"Hey, I could go make myself look like the second coming," Weis said earlier this week, while talking to a reporter after his team practiced on a cool, crisp evening. "But that's really being a horse's [behind] when you do that. My whole deal coming from the New England Patriots was selling how a team won all those games and Super Bowls. Well, how hypocritical would I be if I'm talking about how the team was more important than the individual, but then I'm out there talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry about the job I've done?"
When Notre Dame was considered the premier college football program in the country, when the Fighting Irish were winning 11 national championships and producing more all-Americans and Heisman Trophy winners than any other school, the coaches often went from average men to national celebrities. It even turned Gerry Faust, a Cincinnati high school football coach before Notre Dame hired him in 1981, into a household name.
Before Knute Rockne died in 1931 in a plane crash in a Kansas cornfield, he was so revered during the Roaring Twenties that he was often mentioned in the same breath with boxing world champion Jack Dempsey and New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth. Notre Dame coaches Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian appeared on the cover of Time magazine, a spot usually reserved for world and national leaders. Former coach Lou Holtz, who led the Fighting Irish to their first national championship in 11 seasons in 1988, became so popular that he still commands tens of thousands of dollars to make motivational speeches to corporations and other groups. Even the nondescript Bob Davie, who failed to match Holtz's success in five seasons as his successor, became a network analyst after Notre Dame fired him.
"If you're the coach at Notre Dame, you're going to be the man, that's just the way it is," said former Fighting Irish wide receiver Tim Brown, the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner and longtime NFL player.
But Weis, who has guided the Fighting Irish to a 6-2 record entering Saturday's game against Navy at Notre Dame Stadium, says he wants none of the fame that comes with the position. Aside from his weekly news conference, Weis has rarely done TV interviews, even turning away reporters from NBC, which pays Notre Dame $9 million per season to televise its home games.
"I'm not going to talk about me," Weis said. "I'll talk about my family. I'll talk about my special-needs daughter. I'll talk about those things, things that are important to me. But what I'm not going to do is talk about myself."
Weis is willing to talk about his family or his foundation, Hannah and Friends, which he and his wife, Maura, started to aid children with autism and global delay. Their 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, has been affected by developmental diseases after she was born with kidney problems.
But ask Weis about himself, the coach who was lauded for his brilliant play-calling while the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons, and he'll quickly decline to comment. A 1978 graduate of Notre Dame, a relatively small, Catholic university in northern Indiana and blanketed in several feet of snow for most of the winter, Weis said the Fighting Irish don't need a salesman.
"Other than his foundation and his daughter, Charlie has not been willing to go on TV and talk about himself," said senior associate athletic director John Heisler, who handles Weis's media requests. "He's made it pretty clear from August until January, we're going to deal with football here. And, when it comes to the football part of it, he says, 'Hey, come talk to our players. Not me.' He's been pretty consistent about it. It doesn't matter who has televised our games."
Weis believes staying away out of the public eye has helped him earn his players' respect. Even though Weis occupies the biggest office in Notre Dame's new Guglielmino Athletics Complex and draws the biggest paycheck -- he signed a new 10-year contract earlier this month that will pay him between $30 million and $40 million, making him the highest-paid coach in college football -- he adheres to the belief that no individual is bigger than the team.
"They know you're one of the boys," Weis said. "I'm not one of those guys that sits up in the tower watching practice. I'm calling the plays on offense and, during individual drills, I go watch the defense. I'm always around, so I'm not trying to be holier than though."
Weis believes the most important part of Notre Dame football is its storied tradition, which he felt had been neglected for too long. Weis invited Brown and former Fighting Irish players Joe Montana, Joe Theismann and Chris Zorich to serve as honorary captains during the team's spring game, and then had nearly 50 lettermen on the sideline when Notre Dame nearly upset two-time defending national champion Southern California before losing, 34-31, on Oct. 15.
"I think bringing back all of the Notre Dame greats of yesteryear has really helped regenerate the magic of the place," Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White said. "This really is a magical place. When all of those former players are at the games, prospects can see it, smell it and taste it."
Brown said the new coach's efforts have gone a long way in repairing relations between the university and many of its former players.
"One of the problems with the University of Notre Dame is that it's Notre Dame and it's kind of a self-fulfilling beast," Brown said. "They don't feel like they need the alumni and lettermen back to help them recruit. Charlie just said this is what we're going to do and here's how we're going to do it. Being able to go back there and being invited to nearly every home game, that means a lot. . . . There were some things about that program that I thought no one could fix and they're not all fixed now, but Charlie's off to a good start."
Weis isn't sure where the Fighting Irish will go this season -- they'll probably receive a Bowl Championship Series at-large berth if they win their last three games against Navy, Syracuse and Stanford. But Weis, who watched Notre Dame win the 1977 national championship during his senior year, knows where the Irish have been.
"That's when Notre Dame was Notre Dame," Weis said. "Coming in here, it was important for me to get everyone to understand what it was. The only what it was I knew was what it was when I was here -- you were at the top of the world."