- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — His hair still damp from a quick post-practice shower, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis hustled to a table ringed with waiting reporters and huffed out an apology.

“Fifteen so far,” Weis said. “That was the first thing I had to take care of. Sorry I’m running a little late.”

Fifteen was the number of signings Weis just had collected in his other job, a side gig known as coaching Notre Dame. With college football’s national signing day and Super Bowl preparations coinciding yesterday, Weis darted from one press conference to the next, first discussing high school seniors with Fighting Irish beat reporters and then discussing, well, high school seniors with the assembled media masses for Super Bowl XXXIX.

“Can we talk something about the Super Bowl?” Weis griped after a good dozen queries about Notre Dame. “Can we talk something about the Eagles here?”

In three more days, Weis finally will finish straddling two of football’s most high-profile posts. After 7 weeks of burning the candle at both ends, the offensive architect of an ostensible NFL dynasty will shift his focus once and for all to rebuilding one of college football’s most tradition-laden programs.

Weis’ workload hasn’t been envious since he accepted the Irish job Dec.12. Logging more hours than a campaign staffer in late October, he has shuttled back and forth from South Bend, Ind., to Foxborough, Mass., orchestrating recruiting strategies and plotting Patriots offensive schemes late into the night.

Amazingly, if the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend and his modestly rated recruiting haul pans out, he will have pulled off this bold balancing act.

“Hopefully, things go well for us on Sunday,” Patriots assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia said. “I think it’ll be the culmination of everything he’s wanted out of this deal.”

“An incredible job” is how Scarnecchia described Weis’ performance in recent weeks. And it’s tough to argue with the Patriots’ side of the equation: Since a Dec.20 clunker against the lowly Miami Dolphins, Weis’ offense has averaged 356 yards and helped propel New England to the brink of a third title in four years.

“He’s still putting us in situations,” wide receiver David Patten said. “He’s still coming up with great game plans. He’s focusing on the here and now. He wants to go out with a bang.”

But how will Notre Dame boosters remember this stretch? Among three recruiting commitments Weis lost was Wichita Falls (Texas) wide receiver David Nelson, who according to the Chicago Tribune wouldn’t sign unless Weis visited his home. Nelson defected to Florida when Weis couldn’t squeeze in a trip to Texas.

Yesterday Weis conceded a few of his Irish duties have gone unfulfilled, if only in an “unavoidable” sense.

“There is one area you could say you’re really banking on your assistant coaches — to do all the face-to-face meetings — because you just didn’t have time to do it,” Weis said. “But that was unavoidable. There was nothing you could do about it. But if you’re asking, ‘Would you like to have been there yourself?’ Yes, you’d like to have been there yourself.”

By all accounts, Weis retains a solid chance to snap Notre Dame out of its decade-long malaise. As Ralph Friedgen did at Maryland, Weis should transform the Irish offense if only through creative, pro-style game planning. And after studying under coach Bill Belichick, a organizational wizard, Weis should mold his new program in winning fashion.

“He is decisive and smart,” Belichick said. “He understands and adapts quickly. He can pull the trigger. He is not afraid to make tough decisions or to make calls in critical situations. He knows what he wants to do, and he does it with a lot of confidence, and I think that gets conveyed to the people who are executing it.”

There’s also little doubt Weis packs a hefty dose of passion in his voluminous midsection. That passion was on full display yesterday as, wet head and all, he discussed why he opted to go double-fisted for the past 7 weeks. Anyone listening might have left convinced of his sincerity — and of his strong odds for success in South Bend.

“If you hang your team out to dry, if I had walked away, it might have saved Notre Dame a couple of players,” Weis said. “But the fact that it could have had a detrimental effect on the Patriots, that’s not the right way of doing things. It just is not right. And I said that right from the beginning. I think I owed it to the Patriots and the organization and the people from New England to finish what we started.

“Everyone was wondering, ‘How the heck’s he going to do this?’ It’s signing day, and we’re getting ready for the Super Bowl. That makes you feel pretty good.”

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