Charlie Weis Jr. Returns To Notre Dame, Where His Coaching Career Began
In a cramped coach's office beneath the gymnasium bleachers at old Saint Joseph High School, student football coach Charlie Weis Jr. watched opponent game tape on an old box television. Play after play, he’d jot down formations, worrisome matchups and player tendencies, all by hand.
Connected to the boys' locker room, the office often stunk of teenage body odor. The carpet was dotted with stains and mice scurried through the walls and, on occasion, across the floors.
It was a sharp juxtaposition to Charlie Weis Sr.’s pristine football offices at Notre Dame, located across the street after a brisk walk to the other side of campus.
Yet in the fall of 2007, a 14-year-old Weis Jr. chose to spend his time during lunch and after school in the the high school coach's office. While his father instilled in him a love and admiration for the game, Saint Joseph is where he first dipped a toe into the coaching waters and contributed to the week-to-week success of a football program.
“It was just a positive experience to start and get to see what the coaching world was like, getting to do the film breakdowns and all that,” Weis Jr. said. “It definitely led me to really want to [coach], and it was an encouraging experience.”
That fall, Weis Sr. struggled in his third season at Notre Dame, finishing 3-9, but Weis Jr. encountered success on the high school sidelines when Saint Joseph made a run to the state championship game for the first time in more than a decade.
Today, much of Weis Jr.’s job would be streamlined by the video review and performance analysis tools Hudl offers. The video hosting service technically launched in 2006 in Lincoln, Neb., but it took several years before it was used by countless high school coaches throughout the United States.
And who needed Hudl when Weis Jr. was on staff?
“Us coaches would gather as much information as we could,” said Ben Downey, the Saint Joseph defensive coordinator at the time. “But if there was something really specific that we needed someone to look at, something that the Hudl program would do easily, Charlie was the guy that we could completely count on to go find something about a guy’s stance, or what happens when a guy lines up at this position or when they motion like this.”
Weis Jr. would then turn over a detailed scouting report that often included extra insights the other coaches hadn’t thought to ask for.
As he dreamt of one day becoming the youngest head coach in college football, the experience he gained in high school served as a Pop Warner-like introduction to the analysis he’d do as his career progressed.
Those weren’t the only lessons he’d learn.
Learning the Lows of Coaching
The coach’s office at Saint Joseph may have been a safe haven of sorts for a teenage Weis Jr., but the hallways were often unkind, especially that fall as Notre Dame lost to Michigan 38-0, Purdue 33-19 and Navy 46-44, the first time the Fighting Irish dropped a game to the Mids in 44 years.
At the time, I was a senior walking those same halls. I witnessed some of my fellow classmates berate Weis Jr. for his father’s losses. Those moments stayed with me because, even as a freshman, he always seemed to keep his cool and never lashed out, no matter how much pain or anger he must have felt deep down.
“You're going to be under the spotlight, too, especially when you're on the sidelines during Notre Dame games and stuff like that,” said Reilly Jeffers, one of Weis Jr.’s best friends since high school. “People will find any reason to rip you when you're not winning. He handled it with grace, and I think it really built up his character.
“It's high school, you're always going to have assholes.”
In a town consumed by Fighting Irish football, “assholes” were everywhere. They screamed at their television as Weis Jr. stood on the sidelines with his father in Notre Dame Stadium, a headset around his neck. They covered his front lawn with “for sale” signs after disappointing losses. They never cared about the pain their actions inflicted on a teenage boy who loves his father, his best friend.
Through the support of family and friends, these experiences strengthened Weis Jr. Even as his parents discouraged him from coaching, he knew he’d endured the worst the profession had to offer and he learned he could handle it.
Climbing The Coaching Ladder
Weis Jr. turned 27 in April and his résumé is already filled with references from some of the most prominent players and coaches in football.
After he was fired from Notre Dame in 2009, Weis Sr. accepted the offensive coordinator position with the Kansas City Chiefs. Weis Jr. transferred to St. Pius X High School for his senior year. At the recommendation of Hall of Fame running back and Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers, Weis Jr. decided to play football for the first time in his life. He dropped 60 pounds and played wide receiver.
The next year, Weis Jr. enrolled at the University of Florida, where he worked under his father, the new offensive coordinator, and head coach Will Muschamp as an offensive quality control coach. Weis Sr. was there for one season before taking the head coaching job at Kansas and Weis Jr. followed, but he had another option.
“Muschamp tried to convince him to stay,” Weis Sr. said.
For the next three years, Weis Jr. worked with his dad as an undergraduate team manager at Kansas, assisting a variety of position coaches and breaking down film for upcoming opponents. During that time, he also interned for the New England Patriots during training camp in the summer of 2014 and learned from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While exciting, the gig also came with some grunt work.
“My main job for Coach [Bill] Belichick when I did my internship was to make sure that he had a Diet Coke for every staff meeting,” Weis Jr. said.
After graduating from Kansas with a degree in psychology and a minor in sociology, he earned an interview as an offensive analyst at Alabama. His father was unaware of the opportunity until it was already in motion. Weis Jr. spent the next two seasons in Tuscaloosa.
“When I was at Alabama, my main responsibility was to make the scouting reports for the opponents we were about to play,” Weis Jr. said. “So Coach [Nick] Saban and Coach [Lane] Kiffin wanted a scouting report for all 12 opponents, and they wanted that in the summer.
“Basically, [I’d go] through and break down a whole bunch of games for each team and create about a 20-25 page scouting report and try to make a replica of the opponent’s defensive playbook — what I thought it would be rolled out as based on the video evidence that I'd seen on tape.”
His understanding of opponent defenses gave Weis Jr. a voice in the coaches’ meetings and garnered him praise from Saban and Kiffin.
Next, he spent a year as an offensive analyst with the Atlanta Falcons and worked alongside offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. After the season, Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic University, was in need of a new OC and tabbed a then 24-year-old Weis Jr. as the youngest play-caller in college football.
FAU struggled in 2018, going just 5-7, but the team bounced back in 2019 by winning 11 games and finishing with the No. 13 scoring offense average against Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 36 points per game.
For the most part, Kiffin gave Weis Jr. the freedom to run the offense, but Kiffin was still an offensive-minded coach and thus there were some limitations on the coordinator. That is, until Kiffin left for the Mississippi head coaching job prior to FAU’s matchup against SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl.
“That bowl game was just pure Charlie Weis Jr. offense,” said Jeffers, who was an offensive line graduate assistant at FAU in 2018 and 2019. “There was stuff we ran in the bowl game that Charlie had been wanting to run all year and, for whatever reason, Coach Kiffin — it's his show, he can say yes or no to anything. So Charlie threw them in there finally because Lane had gone to Ole Miss.
“We're not even supposed to be in this game. We had 90 percent of our offensive production out for that game, including a Mackey Award winner, our top receiver and top rusher, and put up 52 points on a top-25 team.”
A few weeks later, Weis Jr. met with Jeff Scott, who’d just taken over the South Florida program. When he accepted the job, the COVID-19 pandemic was still weeks away from hitting the pause button on the college football world and it’d be months before USF added Notre Dame to its schedule.
Built in 1953, the former building housing Saint Joseph High School closed in 2012, and students, faculty and staff transitioned to a new facility in downtown South Bend. In 2016, a majority of the old school was demolished.
A few years ago, Weis Jr. visited the new high school, touring its turf football field and walking the tunnel that runs from the school, down through a hillside and opens near the stadium’s home bleachers.
The football office is still connected to the boy's locker room, but there’s no longer rancid smells or rodents.
Even given the loss of his old high school and that his parents no longer reside in the area, Weis Jr. still visits South Bend on a regular basis.
“Five years growing up was spent there,” he said. “For me, being a coach's son, that's about the longest I was anywhere. I definitely consider South Bend home. We still have that house, and I've gone back and forth a bunch of times throughout the years.”
With USF joining Notre Dame’s 2020 schedule in August, Weis Jr. will make another return trip home.
“Notre Dame is such a special place and such a cool place to play at,” Weis Jr. said. “Obviously, there's a lot of memories of growing up there and being on the sidelines and watching games and some of the cool times from all that certainly popped up.
“More than anything, I’m just really excited to go back and actually coach there for the first time.”
Only this time he’ll walk the visitor sidelines and sit in the coach's box at Notre Dame Stadium without his father in attendance.
The stands will be filled to 20 percent capacity and Weis Sr. wants to avoid creating an additional distraction in a matchup already burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the return of a familiar name.
“He has to live with the stigma of having the same name as me,” Weis Sr. said. “Not with the stigma of being my son, but having the same name. There’s good and bad with being a junior, if you know what I’m saying. Sometimes, you hear ‘Charlie Weis’ and that's a good thing. Sometimes you hear ‘Charlie Weis’ and that's a bad thing.
“When you're the second generation, you have to live with the good and the bad, even though you haven't done anything for anyone to say anything bad about you.”
The last time the son of a former Fighting Irish head coach came into Notre Dame Stadium, Skip Holtz’s South Florida team left South Bend victorious, defeating the 16th-ranked Irish 23-20.
On Saturday, history seems unlikely to repeat itself. Head coach Brian Kelly has turned Notre Dame into a stable, top-10 program, and South Florida is coming off a 4-8 season that led to the overhauled coaching staff.
Still, it'll be impossible to escape the storylines surrounding Weis Jr.’s return to Notre Dame Stadium and the off chance he’s able to pull off the upset, especially given everything he’s been through.
“If it were in a movie, it would seem too hokey,” Jeffers said, “but here we are.”
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