In Pittsburgh, the coach with one Super Bowl ring planned to attend last night's celebratory bonfire on the university's Cathedral Lawn. In South Bend, Ind., the coach with four Super Bowl rings spent time text messaging teenage recruits about the benefits of his university.
Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt, two men returning to coach their alma maters after working the past 15 years in the NFL, are freshly immersed in college football's distinctive culture. Their teams will meet fittingly at Heinz Field, also home to the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, and considering their professional lineage, tomorrow's game is perhaps best suited for a Sunday afternoon.
Weis and Wannstedt are part of a contingent of former NFL coaches who have opted to settle on campus that this season also includes first-year South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, the former Washington Redskins head coach. Weis spent the last five seasons as an offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots; Wannstedt was the head coach of the Chicago Bears for six years and of the Miami Dolphins for 41/2 seasons before resigning midway through last season.
"I think that college has been more enticing to guys in the NFL," Weis said, "because if you have the personality to coach in college, it does not fit everyone, but certain people kind of enjoy it, and I do. I have not talked to Dave recently; I think he enjoys it, too."
There are obvious differences between the college and pro game they have come to accept. For instance, Wannstedt this week did the unthinkable, actually lamenting the fact that there were no preseason games during which he could gauge the readiness of the 23rd-ranked Panthers.
"You can only do what your players can execute and have time to comprehend and learn," Wannstedt said. "So for me to think we're going to do a lot of the things we're able to do with the Miami Dolphins defense is unrealistic. And it's the same thing Charlie is going through."
Weis, meanwhile, has appeared equal parts Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, his two most influential NFL coaching mentors. Weis, who frequently uses blunt terms, told the local media that he is "not in the business of passing on information" or saying anything that could negatively affect Notre Dame's chances tomorrow.
On the field, Pittsburgh appears closer to the sport's top tier. The Panthers return 16 starters from a team that finished 8-4, won the Big East and played in the Fiesta Bowl. Standout wide receiver Greg Lee said he feels the team could win the national championship.
The Fighting Irish have further to go after firing Tyrone Willingham last season despite a winning regular season record. Notre Dame must negotiate a schedule that features four nationally ranked opponents, including two-time defending national champion USC, in its first six games. But when a reporter asks about the tough early schedule, Weis responds, "You sound like the alumni."
Weis's mind-set already has instilled confidence in players. When asked about the team's goal for the season, senior right guard Dan Stevenson said, "We expect to win every game."
Weis, who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and one as a defensive assistant under Parcells with the New York Giants, said his championship rings get players' attention not because of the "bling, bling. It's what it stands for. It means you were the best at what you did."
Wannstedt said he and Weis are friends but know each other much better from a strategic standpoint. Their teams last met Oct. 10 last season, when the Patriots beat Dolphins, 24-10, New England's 19th consecutive victory and Miami's fifth straight loss to open the season.
"We're going to see the majority of the Patriots stuff," Wannstedt said. "Guys may change their offense, but there are tendencies that people have -- when they like to try trick plays, when they like to take a shot deep. Those things are part of someone's personality."
Lee, a candidate for all-American honors as a junior, said Wannstedt occasionally talks about his experiences as defensive coordinator with the University of Miami in 1987, when the Hurricanes won the national title, and as assistant head coach with Dallas in 1992, when the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. Wannstedt was also a graduate assistant on Pittsburgh's 1976 national title team, when offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was the star quarterback. Not that any of the current players remembered before the staff told them.
"I don't think 99 percent of them knew," Cavanaugh said.
In contrast, Weis graduated from Notre Dame in 1978 but never played football there. But he often speaks of his goal -- "win as fast as we can" -- and has shown the team the movie "Rudy." The preseason, he acknowledged, allows coaches to essentially say anything they wish about their teams publicly without having to back it up.
"Honeymoon," Weis said, "officially ends Saturday night at 8:07."
By game time, all parties hope the former NFL coaches will be fully acclimated to today's college game, but they may need every minute.
When Pittsburgh's staff gathered Monday to talk about the game plan, Chris LaSala, the team's director of football operations, said, "Now we have to talk about the recruiting weekend coming up."
Wannstedt responded, "Recruiting weekend?"