Former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis diving into next stage of life

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Charlie Weis recounts the extraction from his coaching job at the University of Kansas in late September, so clinically, so detached, it’s almost as if it happened to someone else.

And maybe, in a sense, it did.

For the first time since 1978, Weis will spend a football offseason as a bystander and not a coach. And it might very well be for good.

“I think it’s highly doubtful that I will ever coach again,” said the 58-year-old former Notre Dame head coach whose five-year regime in South Bend, punctuated by extremes, launched 10 seasons ago.

Until Super Bowl Sunday, there was a chance the moment he walked away from coaching would be deferred. But the handful of NFL offers that came his way over the past few weeks didn’t sync up with his idea of a fit. And the positions on teams that did match that paradigm ended up going to someone else.

The upside, as Weis sees it, is there’s more normality in his life than ever before, not that he necessarily craved it. He’ll fly to Palm Springs, Calif., this weekend — for instance — to attend the wedding of former protégé Jimmy Clausen.

That also will give him a chance to reunite and reminisce with Weis Era former Irish stars and ascending NFL commodities Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph — all in the wedding party.

The downside?

“I’ve been driving my wife nuts,” confessed Weis, unemployed since Sept. 28, when Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger told Weis the day after a 23-0 loss to Texas that his 28th game overall at KU and fourth game of this, his third season would be his last.

“I think she’s ready for me to do something — anything.”

When he talks about turning the page, that’s when the passion starts oozing into his words. For Weis, the next step is a calling that’s been with him ever since his daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with global developmental delays as a toddler.

Hannah was the inspiration that sparked the creation of the Hannah & Friends charity that continues to persist and evolve, even without the visibility it had when Weis was the Irish head coach and, before that, the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator.

The founding mission of improving the lives of people with special needs counts as its most tangible asset the Hannah & Friends Neighborhood assisted living community on the far north side of South Bend. It’s where Hannah and 11 other residents now call home.

She’ll turn 20 in April, with the mental capacity of a 2- or 3-year-old, per her father, and a vocabulary of about 50 words, more than enough to let Weis and wife Maura know how much she embraces a life that increasingly will be independent of her parents.

“We figured there was no way she was going to make it here,” Weis said looking out the window of the neighborhood’s rec center, “but we would try it.

“And she has transitioned and thrived here, to the point where we go visit her and after we’ve been there for a little bit, she says one of two things — ‘ba-bye’ or ‘go.’ That lets you know this is her home. She’s ready for you to go. It’s also how we know she loves it.”

Later this month, a man who outsiders have commonly defined by the size of his ego, his loss column, and contract buyouts from Kansas and alma mater Notre Dame, will pour himself into the fund-raising business full-time through entrepreneur Leo Govoni and one of Govoni’s projects, the Center for Special Needs.

Weis isn’t sure all the details that come with the job yet. His hope is that it will generate funds to not only serve the Hannah & Friends Neighborhood for years to come but to expand it as well. His goal is to add another five houses, eventually.

“Obviously, it’s well-documented, people know every dollar that I’ve made, because everyone writes about it all the time,” said Weis, who maintains a sense of humor of the annual stories documenting what’s left of the ND buyout that’s coming his way (the last payment of which is this year).

“But what it’s done for me and Maura is that it’s allowed us to be philanthropists and really do well by the special needs community. As far as this new job, I know there’s a lot of travel involved and a lot of learning. But this is new territory for me.

“One of the things people thought, when I left Notre Dame, ‘Well that’s it for Hannah and Friends,' that we were just going to bail out of here. We’re completely the opposite of what those thoughts are. We’re totally committed. My daughter is already taken care of. She’s all set. We just think we can do a lot more.”

That includes lobbying in Congress, something Weis and his wife did earlier this month to try to get the government more involved in the special needs movement.

“Maura did most of the talking,” Weis said. “What they wanted from me is what I thought about the last play of the Super Bowl.”

The post-coaching plan includes selling the house in Granger that the Weises moved into shortly after selling the one they bought from ex-ND coach Bob Davie early in Weis’ tenure at ND and kept even after he moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, then the University of Florida, then Kansas in successive seasons once leaving the Irish.

They’ll relocate to Florida, where Maura’s horses can roam and be ridden outside year-round, but keep a smaller residence in South Bend just across the street from Hannah & Friends neighborhood for visits with their daughter.

Son Charlie Jr., a student assistant coach caught in the purging of his father, finished his classwork at KU this week and will accelerate his thrust into the profession his father is exiting, as either a college grad assistant or, more likely, an entry-level NFL position.

The elder Weis knows the last and perhaps lasting impression on a career, with plenty of highs early at ND and before his arrival into the college ranks, will be the 6-22 bottom line at Kansas.

“Would you like the last thing people remember you by in coaching as being great and walking out on top? Of course, you’d like that.” Weis said. “But, realistically, if you’re not a hypocrite about the things that are really important to you, why just go take a job in the NFL just so people will say, ‘Well you went out with a better taste?’

“Again if the right fit was there, I would have coached a little longer. But it wasn’t, so why not go do some good. What good are you doing if you stay on coaching at this point? The only one you’re doing any good for is yourself.”

He won’t miss the spotlight of coaching, which wasn’t always flattering.

“I do care about that,” he admitted. “And some of the way I was portrayed was my own fault. Before you start blaming other people, some of it’s your own fault.

“But I think that my perception of arrogance and obnoxiousness and all those other things that people have said, when they actually meet you, nine times out of 10, they tell you, ‘You’re not that guy.’

“They can judge my coaching and recruiting however they want. That is their right as fans. But to judge you as a person without knowing who you are, I never thought that was right.”

Weis never spills into bitterness, though, as he is pressed about what he might have done differently, especially at the coaching stops that ended with his dismissal.

“I’m not mad at Notre Dame and I’m not mad at Kansas,” he said. “I don’t have one regret about leaving the NFL to take the Notre Dame job. I just wish I could have lasted longer.”

He admits to watching Irish games this fall after he was let go, but not in their entirety and never in person.

“I always felt if I went to a game, I’d almost be a distraction, like, ‘What is he doing here?’ ” Weis said. “My buddies tried to get me to go, but I just felt it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Nor apparently was downshifting into life after football.

“People a lot of times retire for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I enjoyed working. Now I probably won’t work 110 hours a week, but I don’t know how to do anything where I don’t dive in. I just can’t tiptoe my way through, I have to give it my best shot.

“And that’s exactly what this next stage of my life is going to get.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis walks off the field after Stanford defeated Notre Dame 45-38 in their NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009. (AP Photo)