Vahe Gregorian

KU’s Weis not afraid to tell it like it is

Updated: 2013-08-06T05:07:48Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— Mere seconds into his news conference Monday at Big 12 Media Days, Kansas coach Charlie Weis embarked on remarks that were construed as offensive.

And that was just to Jayhawk fans.

“Well, we were 1-11 (in 2012) and picked by everybody to finish last in the league (this season), and that’s justifiable,” he said. “If I were you, I’d pick us in the same spot. We’ve given you no evidence or no reason to be picked anywhere other than that.”

But that was only the appetizer.

“The problem with me is … I’m a very straightforward person, and these players either really like you or they can’t stand you; it’s one or the other,” said Weis, before revealing the creative recruiting pitch he began using during his woeful inaugural season in Lawrence: “ ‘Have you looked that pile of crap out there? Have you taken a look at that? So if you don’t think you can play here, where do you think you can play?’ ”

His words might not go down with rallying cries like “I have not yet begun to fight” (John Paul Jones) or “I shall return” (Douglas MacArthur) or even “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” (John Belushi as Bluto).

But Weis wasn’t apologetic when later asked to clarify, and even if he didn’t seem to see the room between honesty and full disclosure, between tactful criticism and raw insult, he defended his stance well.

I know his words are somewhere between rude and incendiary to many, especially with his 1-11 record. But, frankly, I find the candor refreshing.

Some are taking offense that he shouldn't say such things after winning one game. Well, when else should he say it — and what else should he say now, anyway?

Besides, ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding, as Weis says:

If he wins, this stance will be a memorable platform of his administration's success.

If he doesn't, well, he told the truth, didn't he, even if it was unpalatable. Not wanting to hear it doesn't make it any less true.

“I’d rather just tell the truth,” he said. “I want a guy that five years from now, when they walk out the door, they (can) say, ‘That’s the same guy who recruited me.’ I’m not saying that other people don’t, but when you have a personality like (me) a lot of times that can be misconstrued, OK, as just being arrogant, obnoxious all those other things.

“Sarcasm is part of who I am. I’m not trying to be funny when I use it, It’s just part of who you are. … News flash: I’m going to be sarcastic five years from now. So I think that when kids know that you’re going to treat them honestly, they’re going to respect you.

“They might not all like you, but they’re going to respect you.”

As an example of how he might be misconstrued, Weis noted Monday afternoon that his words of the morning already had been taken by some as giving up on the season.

“If you were paying attention at all, you knew that wasn’t what I was saying,” he said.

And he was right. It was clear he was using that as a jumping-off point, even said “inside our walls and closed doors” the expectations are much higher.

But just in case, he amplified it again later.

“I’m talking about what they saw last year. We have yet to play this year,” he said. “So we have 12 games at least for them to change that impression for this next set of recruits that’s going to be coming and watching games.

“Hopefully, I can’t use that (selling point) this year … But it is what it is.”

Maybe Weis always has been like this. But maybe, too, circumstances have made him more this way.

After all, in 2002 he was comatose and administered last rites because of complications from gastric bypass surgery.

His professional life was in tatters after he was fired in 2009 by his alma mater, Notre Dame, leaving him saying Monday that his “biggest regret” was not leaving there a success and that he’d learned from both good and “stupid” things he’d done there.

Weis, the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2010, also got another dose of perspective last year when linebacker Jovan Belcher committed suicide in front of team administrators.

“Lookit: Three of my friends where standing there when Jovan pulled that trigger,” he said. “Three of my close friends were standing there, trying to talk him out of doing it. Three of them, not one of them. Three of them.

“And it happens 5 feet away from them. You just think about that.”

As Weis thinks about that, his thoughts drift to his 18-year-old daughter, Hannah, who is globally developmentally delayed and on June 8 moved into the “Hannah & Friends” home that Weis and his wife, Maura, were instrumental in building in South Bend, Ind.

“It’s been a fairly trying time, for my wife, especially,” he said.

She had been the primary caretaker all along until now, feeding, bathing and changing her, singing to her every night.

“I don’t want to sound corny here,” he said, “but I’m going to say it anyway: We believe that God gave us Hannah for a reason. … Hannah’s taught me more than anything I’ve taught to other people because she’s … a perfect soul. She doesn’t have one negative bone in her body.”

A “guiding angel,” he calls her — though Weis being Weis he can’t help but add that there were times she could seem like “God’s revenge.”

“Just so you know,” he said, smiling, “she’s gotten the best of us.”

But he remembers as a child the kids who got on those “special-needs buses and everyone making fun of them. … That’s my kid, getting on that special-needs bus. That’s my kid who can only say 50-75 words even though she’s 18 years old. That really changes your perspective. …

“So in the grand scheme of things, OK, people who can’t help themselves are the people I care about. People who can help themselves, what can I do?”

Except tell them how it is.

“It’s not like coach Weis hasn’t said that to us personally,” KU quarterback Jake Heaps said, laughing.

Indelicate as Weis might be, he has his reasons.

“At the end of the day,” Weis said, “being honest with everyone is the best and safest way to go.”

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868, send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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