On Sunday mornings, Charlie Weis liked to arrive at the office as early as possible, sometimes before dawn. The routine was familiar: Coffee and a bagel. Solitude. A chance to deconstruct game film while the rest of the world slept.
This Sunday morning, though, Weis’ routine was interrupted by an early-morning visit by KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and one of his top lieutenants, deputy athletic director Sean Lester.
In the months before the 2014 season, Zenger had asked for one thing from Weis, the third-year coach of his flailing football program. He needed momentum. It meant more victories, of course, but it also meant the kind of competitive football that could swirl up support and inspire an apathetic donor base.
It never came.
Zenger fired Weis on Sunday morning after a 23-0 loss to Texas on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. It was homecoming weekend, the latest indignity for a football program that has been mired in irrelevancy for the last five seasons. It was also the last stand for Weis, who will be replaced in the interim by defensive coordinator Clint Bowen.
“I’ve never been a big believer in making changes during the season,” Zenger told The Star on Sunday. “But I really believe there’s talent on this team and talent on our coaching staff. And I believe that this gives those two elements a chance to come together.”
Weis, who was hired in December 2011, finishes his KU tenure with a record of 6-22. The Jayhawks won a single Big 12 game during the stretch, a victory over West Virginia last season, giving Weis a record of 1-18 in Big 12 games.
The move also comes with a short-term cost. After this season, Weis had two years remaining on his five-year, $12.5 million contract. He will receive the remainder of his contract, which amounts to about $5.625 million, in monthly installments through December 2016.
In addition to the money he’ll be paid from KU, Weis received $6.6 million in severance from Notre Dame when he was fired in 2009. Tax records show he was paid around $2.1 million in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and he will continue to be paid by Notre Dame through December 2015.
Zenger, who arrived at Kansas in 2011, has been in this position before. In late 2011, he fired Turner Gill following a 5-19 record in two seasons, a move that cost the KU athletic department the $6 million remaining on Gill’s five-year contract. In all, Kansas will pay Gill and Weis $22.5 million for four-plus seasons of work in which the Jayhawks’ football team is 11-41.
But on Sunday afternoon, Zenger said KU still has the resources to pay competitive salaries for football coaches.
“We feel like we can do whatever is necessary for whomever fits our needs the best,” Zenger said.
Zenger said he expects to conduct a national search for Kansas’ next full-time coach, a process that will probably not be concluded until after the season.
For now, Zenger said, his focus is on supporting Bowen, a Lawrence native and former KU player under Glen Mason who served as a KU assistant under both former KU coach Mark Mangino and Weis. During Sunday’s meetings, according to those present, Bowen received a positive welcome from KU’s players.
“This is all about the University of Kansas and Kansas football,” Zenger said, “and I don’t know another person who cares more about KU football. I believe Clint has earned it as a player here, as a coach here on several occasions. … I believe he’s someone who can rally the troops.”
Zenger acted swiftly to fire Weis. During a 2-2 start that included a demoralizing 41-3 loss at Duke, it became clear that fan support and interest in the program had flat-lined. On Sunday, the move received approval from one of KU’s most influential donors.
“We just have to find the right person, and we haven’t done that,” said Dana Anderson, a real estate mogul who donated $12 million for the construction of the $33 million Anderson Family Football Complex, which opened in 2008.
Anderson relocated back to Lawrence this past summer, and on Sunday morning he received a phone call from Zenger, notifying him about the coaching change.
“We’ve made some mistakes in personnel selection that weren’t right,” Anderson said, speaking of the Weis years. “And I’ve done that in my career. I’ve made some business decisions that weren’t right. Nobody bats a thousand. But I’m very comfortable that we have the right people in administration with (Zenger).”
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little also voiced support for the decision to fire Weis in a statement on Sunday morning.
In December 2011, when Weis was introduced at Allen Fieldhouse during halftime of a men’s basketball game, he offered the following promise. He was here to clean up a football program, to guide the Jayhawks back to respectability. Kansas had just come off Gill’s disastrous two-year tenure, falling into the Big 12 cellar just four seasons after an Orange Bowl victory.
“I’m not going to make a promise of how fast,” Weis said then. “But I’ll make a promise that it’s going to happen.”
It was daring and hopeful talk. His teams were crippled by a revolving door of poor quarterback play and inefficient passing offenses. For a coach who made his reputation as a quarterback guru, guiding a young Tom Brady to Super Bowls in New England and helping Matt Cassel to success with the Chiefs, the passing game problems were a constant source of puzzlement.
In the months after Weis arrived, he brought transfer quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps, two former top recruits, into the program. Crist struggled in 2012, his only season in the program, while Heaps was not much better after sitting out the 2012 season and playing in 2013.
In the offseason, Weis hired Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan, a former assistant under Mark Mangino, to aid the offense. On Saturday, sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart completed just 12 of 31 passes, passing for 140 yards and four interceptions. Afterward, Weis was left saying familiar lines.
“Our Achilles’ heel on offense is still making productive plays in the passing game,” Weis said. “And that’s, at the end of the day, what ended up costing us.”
By early Sunday morning, it had cost Weis his job.
“I appreciate what Coach Weis did with several facets of our football program,” Zenger said. “But we have not made the on-the-field progress we believe we should. I believe new leadership gives our coaches and players the best chance to make a fresh start.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The timing of Charlie Weis’ firing sent a message to the KU fan base. | B1