Loyalty for a coach?

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 10:35 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 10:35 a.m.

(AP) - The man is guaranteed an era.

Rockne, Leahy and Parseghian weren't, and Ty Willingham wasn't even given the chance.

Loyalty is in such short supply in college football these days that plenty coaches think seeing through a 5-year contract with a courtesy car thrown in is like stealing money. But over the weekend, the higher-ups at Notre Dame didn't just hand Charlie Weis a contract running through 2015; they opened the bank vault and warmed up the getaway car.

Reports peg Weis' salary over the life of the deal in the $30-40 million range. If correct, that makes him the highest-paid member of the college fraternity, even though Weis is barely through rush week. And if that sounds like rapid advancement, consider 10 months ago he was barely a blip on Notre Dame's radar screen.

But then the dominoes fell his way in quick succession. First, Steve Spurrier spurned Florida and opted to resurrect his reputation at South Carolina instead. And then Urban Meyer, who seemed destined at birth to one day coach Notre Dame _ and even had an "out" clause in his contract at Utah for just such a contingency _ turned down an offer from the Golden Domers and latched onto the Florida gig instead.

The only person who wasn't surprised at the time, apparently, was Meyer's father, Bud. He told a newspaper a few days before his son officially became Gator bait, "Unless he's still drawn to the aura of Notre Dame, the better job is Florida. ... If you go where you can't win, you won't be coaching long."

Spurrier and Meyer both proved again Saturday they can still win, even though it's not quite as often as they'd like. The old ball coach scraped together just enough offense to beat up an old patsy in Tennessee. The new ball coach, meanwhile, throttled back his ambitious spread option and got his season pointed in the right direction with an upset of Georgia.

But Weis had a better weekend than either, even though the Fighting Irish enjoyed a bye.

"It is important when you are doing things like this," he said, after signing the new deal, "to set your priorities. What is the most important thing? For those that know me, they know the more important thing to me is my family and being true to your word.

"I have been both good to my family and true to my word at the same time," Weis added, "without this being about money."

Noble as that sounds, it's not entirely correct. Weis was making a handsome living as an NFL assistant _ arguably the best offensive coordinator in the game _ working for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Still, it wasn't this kind of money, and maybe not even this kind of security.

But the speed with which Notre Dame doubled Weis' five-year deal should make a few heads spin. For one thing, rumors that he was being wooed by the NFL were hardly more than that at this point. For another, the people in charge beneath the Golden Dome are still paying plenty for terminating Willingham after three seasons of a lucrative six-year deal.

"In a very short period of time, Charlie has clearly and impressively demonstrated the ability to take the Notre Dame program where we all want it to go," athletic director Kevin White said. "Whether you talk about on-field results, off-the-field understanding of the Notre Dame athletics and academic culture, recruiting, public relations or any other area, Charlie already has indicated that he possesses the abilities to position our program to compete at the elite level of college football."

It took almost 30 years for Weis to transition from Notre Dame student to distant admirer to head coach, but only a few months to prove he grasps the unique demands of the job. He can dazzle _ whether serving as master of ceremonies at the pep rallies, parrying questions at news conferences, or out on the recruiting trail, Even his retro look _ brush cut and generous waistline _ fits.

Still, Notre Dame is expecting more than appearances for that kind of cash. The decision to lock up Weis for the long haul most likely was sealed during the heart-stopping loss to top-ranked and unbeaten Southern Cal two weeks ago. But moral victories don't count much with Weis and they'll get old with his bosses soon enough.

And if you don't think they're expecting a return on their money, consider something else: Right now, the Fighting Irish are 5-2 and squarely in contention for a BCS bowl. Under the current contract, qualifying as an at-large team means Notre Dame picks up a cool $14 million and shares it with no one. Next year, in the first year of a new BCS pact, that figure drops to $4.5 million.

"When I came here," Weis said Sunday, "the thought of people thinking that I was here for a short time fix, those type of things do affect me. It is very important for me to be loyal to this university."

The Irish, too, expect him to stay for a long time, and win. But make no mistake _ the sooner, the better.

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