Charlie Weis saw it as a long-term project, a commitment he was willing to keep. It would not be completed in one day, one week or one month. It would require time and vigor, and a heap of resolve. The project — no, the promise — would also call for patience.
That’s what Weis said at the beginning, and that’s what he’s saying now, as he begins his third season at Kansas on Saturday night. This is for his family, he says. For his team. For his future and quality of life.
“I told them that in February,” Weis says now. “I would drop 100 pounds.”
All his life, Weis has battled weight issues and processed a complicated relationship with his body. In his 2006 book “No Excuses,” Weis called himself a “pudgeball” kid while growing up in New Jersey. During his days as an NFL assistant in New England, he straddled the 300-pound line, sometimes ballooning well above. On a summer day in 2002, he entered a hospital in Massachusetts and underwent gastric bypass surgery. He nearly died a few days later, the scary complications from the procedure leaving him with limited feeling in both feet and a slow and labored gait.
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More than a decade later — after hip replacement surgery in 2011 and four different professional stops — Weis has prepared for another football season with new motivation. His son, Charlie Jr., a student assistant at KU, was about to begin his senior year of college. It was time, Weis thought, to take on his weight demons again.
Nearly seven months later, his son has seen progress.
“He said he wanted to do it for us,” Charlie Jr. says. “He wanted to be able to one day see my kids and be alive for when I’m coaching football and doing all those types of things. So it’s pretty cool to see him make that promise and fulfill it.”
In the public eye, Weis often strikes a familiar posture. During news conferences, he is a combination of blunt, affable and grousing. He is often long-winded, and his answers can feel doused with coach-speak. But when the subject of his ongoing weight-loss came up in July, Weis dropped the usual public guise.
“I do feel better,” Weis said, his words a little slower and more hesitant. “But I did it because I made a commitment to both the team and my family. That’s what I said.”
To this point, Weis has rarely discussed specifics. (He did tell a Rivals.com reporter in June that he was down 70 pounds.) And he has rarely brought up his weight-loss goals with his players. At fall camp, a few players noticed that their coach had shed some pounds. You can see the transformation most prominently in his face. Weis mentioned it at least once, they said, but there were no grand speeches or announcements tied into his project. He may feel healthier and possess more energy for his coaching job, but it’s clear this has been a personal mission.
“I was a mess,” Weis says. “I’m less of a mess now.”
Now one long-term project will bleed into another as the regular season begins. The Jayhawks open the season at 6 p.m. Saturday against Southeast Missouri State in Lawrence. And as football moves to the forefront, Weis’ other long-term plan certainly will be under scrutiny.
In two seasons at Kansas, Weis has recorded a 4-20 overall record and is just 1-17 in the Big 12. If year three is not a full-fledged referendum on Weis’ rebuilding effort, then it’s at least a notable mile marker after a key offseason.
“I think that Kansas football at this stage is not about being just respected,” Weis says. “I mean, we all want to win, starting in this building.”
Weis has relinquished control of the Kansas offense, giving the reins to new offensive coordinator John Reagan. The limited offensive duties, he says, has allowed him more time to be a head coach first and focus in on the Jayhawks’ special teams.
“Just minding my own business,” Weis says. “That’s what I’m doing.”
In one crease of Weis’ large office, the two projects often collide. Near the glimmering desk and widescreen view of Memorial Stadium sits a recumbent stationary bike. The bike, Weis says, is part of the plan. He can sit in that office, work up a sweat, and study football at the same time. He can also go down the hall and talk to his son.
“He’s my dad, and I’m his son, so we still talk about all that stuff,” Charlie Jr. says “With all the weight he’s lost, and having to do all these different things and working out, it’s been really cool to see.”