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"You're s------- me."
TO THIS DAY, we share Joe Cool's incredulity. Weis didn't play the game. He was a Monday-morning quarterback, an aspiring sportscaster who gave coaching a shot almost on a whim, who now has four Super Bowl rings to flash in front of recruits and who last year won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award from the Football Writers Association of America. "It's crazy, ridiculous," says Weis's agent, Bob LaMonte. "There is zero percent chance of that happening."
But it is happening. Weis is making it look, if not easy, at least uncomplicated. Having inherited a team that was in just so-so condition, he subjected it to grueling, predawn winter workouts, encouraging those who whined to quit. Some did.
"He would ride you and ride you and ride you and ride you," Quinn told SI last year. "He'd take you to the point where you're thinking, Man, I just want to go to sleep. I just want it to be tomorrow."
"I beat them down, physically and psychologically," Weis agreed. "Things had to hit rock bottom before they got better."
They got better in a hurry because the coach had arrived in South Bend with more than a get-tough attitude. He brought 15 years of NFL experience--of strategy and philosophy gleaned from such oracles as Parcells and Bill Belichick. And he brought digitized video of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady running every play in the new Notre Dame playbook. This is how it's supposed to look. "Not a bad teaching tool for a young quarterback," says Weis.
With many of the same guys Willingham guided to a 6-5 record in '04, Weis won nine of last year's 11 regular-season games. "He inherited some good players and made them better," says Holtz, who is particularly in awe of the development of Quinn, who in last year's opener at Pitt threw predominantly delays and screens. "As he became more and more familiar with the offense," says Holtz, currently a studio analyst for college football at ESPN, "he started going downfield more, and by the end of the season they were wide open." He has those four Super Bowl rings, Holtz points out. "He's not overwhelmed by the expectations or the publicity or the challenge."
UNDER THE HOODED sweatshirt, behind the " New Jersey rhetoric" he uses to keep his players in line and the rest of the world at arm's length, Weis can be a bit of a softy. He and his wife, Maura, have two children: Charlie, 13, whom the coach describes as his "best buddy"; and Hannah, 11, a blithe spirit and happy child whom he calls, in No Excuses, his "guardian angel." She was born with global developmental delays, which impede her speech, motor skills and social skills. Three years ago the Weises founded Hannah & Friends, a nonprofit foundation devoted to raising funds for treatment and awareness about the condition.