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Boiled down to three words, says White: "He gets it."
WHICH IS ANOTHER way of saying, He gets out. Not only does Weis perform the auxiliary obligations that come with the job--speaking engagements with each of the 26 student residences in his first year; at pep rallies before home games; at the Knute Rockne dinner held by the Chicago branch of the Notre Dame club each spring--but he also embraces them.
He has been embraced in return. As the blogger El Kabong opined on ndnation.com after the Rockne dinner in April, "He's one of the gang.... When you hear ... how he describes the Grotto and other campus landmarks and their personal meaning to him, you know he understands...."
Cut by the baseball team, not good enough to walk on the football team, Weis sated his jones for sports by playing intramurals and attending every varsity athletic contest he could get to as an undergraduate: football, basketball, baseball, hockey. "Being at the game meant being part of the game," he writes in his upcoming book, No Excuses: One Man's Incredible Rise Through the NFL to Head Coach of Notre Dame (which goes on sale Oct. 10). Feeling, as he did, like such an integral part of things, Weis was very comfortable shouting his advice from the bleachers.
There was an illuminating moment during the pep rally on the eve of last year's USC game when the coach reminded his congregation of the importance of respect--"for each other, for our elders and for our opponents." When an apparently liquored-up undergrad shouted, "Trojans suck!" Weis glared briefly at that section of the stadium, a look that said, Don't make me come up there. "Be quiet," said the coach. And there was quiet.
Players, administrators, students, subway alumni--they would follow him through fire. It isn't just that Weis is, as Lou Holtz says, "a brilliant football mind" who made his bones in the NFL and has molded Quinn into a touchdown machine. It isn't just that under Weis, according to Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor of scout.com, the Fighting Irish are back to hauling in classes that place in "the top five, the top 10, year in, year out--and they're only getting better."
It's that he has accomplished all this in less than two years, against very long odds. Weis didn't play football at Notre Dame--he sat in the stands, second-guessing Ara Parseghian, then Dan Devine. He was friends with Joe Montana. After graduating, then getting his fill of life on the assembly line, Weis taught and coached two New Jersey high schools, which led to a job at South Carolina, which led, circuitously, to a position breaking down tape for the New York Giants. (Among the many people Weis impressed on the way up were a few who had the ear of Parcells, who developed an interest in him.) There is this great moment in No Excuses, in which the Giants are playing the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football in 1990. On the field before the game, Weis walks up to Montana, whom he hasn't seen since college. They have the following exchange.
"What are you doing here?"
"For the Giants?"