By: Bob George/
December 11, 2004

NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Wise, Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates
Patriots notebook: Patriots hold bonding time at Children’s Hospital
Guregian: Patriots Hall of Famer Matt Light says there’s more to being a successful offensive lineman than the measurables

FOXBOROUGH -- If there is a football head coaching equivalent of hitting the lottery, Charlie Weis has pretty much done it.

You might think that all the championships Weis has won would qualify as the seminal moments in his coaching career. Not a chance. In every case, he was a veep, not a prez. Weis has finally pulled a slot machine lever and come up with three bars.

His commission has finally come in from the war department. Charlie Weis is finally going to be a head football coach.

That by itself is not earth shattering. Everyone knew that Weis would be one someday, somewhere. It's not the fact that his ship has finally come in. It's where he's going to be the big boss instead of a little boss.

Simply stated, he will soon walk the same sideline in the same stadium where Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz once walked. The program is to college football what the Boston Celtics are to the NBA. The job is to college football what Red Sox manager is to MLB.

Oh, the poetry. Weis will wake up the echoes. He will cause the rabid Fighting Irish fans to send volleyed cheers on high. What though the odds be great or small, old Charlie Weis will win over all.

Weis will quadruple his salary as a Patriot assistant coach by moving to South Bend, Indiana and taking over the Notre Dame program, which fired head coach Tyrone Willingham recently. His contract calls for six years at roughly $2 million per year. This was a sore spot during the offseason when his contract became an issue and it became clear that this would be Weis' final season as offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champs. Even though Weis enjoyed the greatest successes of his career as Bill Belichick's top offensive lieutenant, it now seems that Weis' best days are ahead of him instead of right now.

Or are they?

There are two storm clouds which hover over Weis as he prepares to assume the toughest and most scrutinized head coaching position in all of college football. One of them has bearing only on the present. The other won't be known until he actually takes the field as Irish head coach sometime next fall.

It remains to be seen what will become of Weis the Patriot, now that his departure at season's end is certain. Belichick is counting on Weis to fulfill the rest of his contract and finish the season as offensive coordinator before switching over to Notre Dame full time. The Patriots, who are favorites to advance once again to the Super Bowl this season, could tie up Weis until February 6.

There is precedent for Weis to stay, but he doesn't have to. Nick Saban took the head coaching job at Michigan State in 1994, but finished the season under Belichick in Cleveland before leaving for East Lansing. That Browns team also made it to the postseason, beating New England and losing to Pittsburgh. Saban left once the Browns were put out of the playoffs. Weis could very well do the same here with the Patriots if they indeed embark on a path towards their second straight Super Bowl title.

But Weis does not have to stay. NFL rules say that Weis cannot make a move within the NFL until after the season, and he may not even interview for a vacant position until his team's season has finished. He is not barred from any such move to a non-NFL job, namely a collegiate position. If Weis wanted to skip out right now, he can.

Then there's the issue of recruiting and letters of intent. The deadline for high school seniors to sign their letters of intent is February 2; Super Bowl XXXIX is four days later. How will Notre Dame feel about a coach who needs to get cracking with recruitment yet is still embroiled in a team's push towards the Super Bowl? This single issue right here will likely decide how Weis will finish his Patriot career.

Nobody will really know if there was any acrimony between Weis and Belichick when Weis' contract status was made public back on May 23rd of this year. Weis and his agent went to Belichick and asked for a raise, but were denied. Weis' agent came right out and denounced the denial, but Weis later on would go on record as distancing himself from his agent's remarks. He seemed committed to doing what he could to help the Patriots in 2004.

But Weis stopped short of saying that he would be back, or that he would like to be back. Weis has made no secret that he wanted to be a head coach. On Saturday, he finally got his wish.

And what a wish. Now, Weis gets to tackle the toughest coaching job in the college ranks. Which brings us to that second storm cloud.

The expectations of the Notre Dame football program are always through the roof. The traditions that Rockne started in the 1920s and 1930s, perpetuated by Leahy in the 1940s, Parseghian in the 1960s and 1970s, Devine in the 1970s and Holtz in the 1980s and 1990s, is going to be a lot for Weis to swallow as he makes his way to northern Indiana. The alumni body is near impossible to deal with, and they will make sure Weis knows everything about Notre Dame, from Tom Schoen to Robin Weber to Eric Penick to Rudy Ruettiger.

Weis has only one option in South Bend, and that is to succeed. That is why Weis should make the only decision he should make, and that is to get going with that job as soon as possible. Staying on as Patriot offensive coordinator is noble and commendable, but it is wrong for both parties involved.

The Patriots need someone totally focused on this team and this job, not someone with one half of his brain in Foxborough and the other half in South Bend. While the Patriots do not have a natural successor on the offensive side of the ball like they do on the defensive side (Eric Mangini would likely succeed Romeo Crennel if he were to leave), rumours are that Jeff Davidson would ascend to the top offensive position if Belichick did not assume the offense himself. The Patriots need someone who can think about the next opponent and only that. Weis can no longer perform at the level Belichick would require.

And Weis needs to get out and reel in those recruits. For the high profile and high-tension job he has landed, he needs to hit the ground running. There will be no grace period in South Bend. The current student body and the omnipresent alumni body will demand nothing less than an instant turnaround and instant success. Compounding that problem will be the perception by the Notre Dame faithful that, since Weis has multiple Super Bowl championships under his belt, success will be a given and not a projection. There will be no honeymoon for Weis at Notre Dame. He needs to begin that job immediately.

This was going to happen sooner or later. The Belichick coaching tree has just sprouted a new branch. Weis deserves this shot, much as Patriot Nation may hate to see him leave. Weis has gone through too much strife, both professional and personal, to not allow him the fullest chance at success at a school where success is measured only in national championships.

And the Patriots will move on without Weis. Somehow, they will manage and do just fine. If Belichick hasn't convinced you by now that he can win under most any circumstance, nothing will.

That's how it will turn out in the end. Both the sons of Belichick and Weis will march onward to victory. For Weis, that march needs to begin right now.