New Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, back on campus for the first time in a couple of weeks, walked into a room full of reporters Friday morning, took a seat behind a table and quickly laid down the law.
"Before we get going on any questions and answers, let me just clarify a couple things about how business is going to be done as far as the media goes," Weis said. "I don't want anyone any more contacting a player or a coach on your own, okay? They're all off limits. You want to interview a player or a coach, I'll be more than happy to give you permission to talk to them.
"Obviously, one of the things I've tracked in the last month, why this whole thing has gone down, we have too many team spokespeople around here, okay? The kids were put in a very uncomfortable situation of having to talk about the past staff, of having to talk about the present staff. I mean, you guys took total advantage of them, and those days are over."
Even as he is spending most of his time in Foxboro, Mass., preparing the New England Patriots' offense for their first game in the NFL playoffs next Sunday, Weis is in charge of his next challenge — rebuilding Notre Dame's football program. And, if his media policy is any indication, Weis will use blueprints drawn by his mentors, NFL coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Notre Dame will be a one-voice program — "I don't need them speaking for me; I think I can speak for myself," Weis says — and there will be little doubt about who is running the show.
Weis, the first Notre Dame alumnus to coach the football team since 1963, hasn't coached at the college level since he was an assistant at South Carolina in 1988. He has worked the past 15 years as an assistant in the NFL, all on staffs led by Parcells or Belichick. He is quickly being brought up to speed on NCAA rules — he returned to campus early last week to take a recruiting exam before he was allowed to go on the road — and about Notre Dame's returning personnel, academic programs and facilities.
Weis, 48, is taking over a Notre Dame program that has had one winning season in the past four. The Fighting Irish finished 6-6 this past season after losing to Oregon State, 38-21, in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28, their seventh consecutive loss in a bowl game.
While Weis is well aware of the challenge, he told the crowd at Joyce Center at halftime of Notre Dame's basketball game against Villanova on Saturday, "Let's see if you're clapping on October 15th" after Notre Dame plays two-time defending national champion Southern California. "Between you and me, I hope they're undefeated."
"I think that any truly competitive coach has a passion to win, and until you start winning many, many games, you're going to be miserable," Weis said. "I don't like being miserable. I'm hoping it's not too long" before Notre Dame is an elite program again.
Since he was named Notre Dame's coach Dec. 12, Weis has hired his coaching staff, installed his offseason conditioning program, found schools for his children, located a home in South Bend and addressed the program's most immediate concern — recruiting.
All the while, Weis has been preparing the Patriots for an attempt at their second consecutive Super Bowl and third championship in four seasons. Because the Patriots finished with the second-best record in the AFC at 14-2, they had a bye in the first round of the playoffs and will host the winner of a first-round game next weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. If the Patriots advance to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., Weis won't be able to spend all of his time at Notre Dame until Feb. 7 — five days after college football's national signing day.
Weis said his work weeks with the Patriots already exceeded 100 hours, and now he's starting earlier and finishing later. He works on New England's game plans until around 9 p.m., gives his assistants enough work to keep them busy until the next day and then watches tapes of Notre Dame games and calls recruits for several hours.
"What I've done is I've had to put myself on extreme time management so that I could get everything done the same way," Weis said. "All I've done is cost myself a little sleep. But I think as far as the time management goes, I think I have it down. Now, if it had to go past February, I don't know how much longer I would make it, but I think I have it down till then."
Belichick, known as a tireless worker and demanding coach, said he has no qualms about Weis's dual roles.
"I think that Charlie has done a good job at what he's done, from the beginning of the year through the entire regular season," Belichick said at a news conference last week. "I think he's done an outstanding job. It was our most productive year offensively since I've been here, by far, and one of the most productive years in the history of the franchise."
The Patriots' open date allowed Weis to return to Notre Dame on Thursday to prepare for the program's biggest recruiting weekend. Weis had his first staff meeting and quickly assessed where recruiting stands. Notre Dame lost oral commitments from three high school players after Tyrone Willingham was fired, but managed to keep eight players who had committed. Programs such as Nebraska, Texas A&M, Alabama and Virginia have 24 committed players, and Rivals.com, a Web-based recruiting service, ranks Notre Dame's current class No. 48 in Division I-A.
Weis said Notre Dame's approach in recruiting will be similar to how NFL teams prepare for the draft. He has designed a depth chart with returning players, positions of need and potential recruits. If the Patriots keep winning, and Weis can't be on campus to visit with recruits, he'll meet with them via video conferencing.
"I think that things have gone fairly well" in recruiting, Weis said. "I think that sometimes you come in with a kid, and it's just irreparable and it's too late. I do not in any way think that we won't have a successful recruiting class this year. Are there some players that we're too late on? Yes. That's just the way it is. It's the nature of the beast. But in no way do I think that I've been received in anything but a positive manner, even with the kids that aren't going to end up coming here."
In assembling his coaching staff, Weis obviously had recruiting in mind. He hired three former recruiting coordinators — Michael Haywood (Texas), Rob Ianello (Arizona and Wisconsin) and Brian Polian (Central Florida), son of Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian. Weis also hired three former college head coaches — David Cutcliffe (Mississippi), Rick Minter (Cincinnati) and Bill Lewis (Wyoming, Georgia Tech, East Carolina).
"I think a lot of times the reason why coaches don't have those guys who have been head coaches on their staff is because they're intimidated by them," Weis said. "You know, 'Well, this guy's going to take my job.' And that certainly is not one of the things going through my mind."
Those coaches spent this weekend at Notre Dame hosting more than a dozen prospects, who were greeted by about eight more inches of snow that fell earlier in the week. With three weekends left to have recruits on campus, the Fighting Irish don't have much time to make an impression. Weis stayed on campus until Saturday night before taking a late flight back to Foxboro, as Belichick had a staff meeting scheduled for 6 a.m. Sunday.
After juggling two jobs for nearly a month, the days seem to be running together for Weis.
"At Sunday at 1, if you were looking for me, you could find me at my desk," he said. "That's why we're meeting at 6 in the morning, so we have seven hours to work before that game. Is my math right? That's right. Seven hours to work before that game starts because we'll be watching that game at 1."
After that, it will be a few more hours of game planning and then several more telephone calls to recruits. All in a day's work for Charlie Weis.