The Irish's new B.M.O.C.

Updated: December 15, 2004, 2:57 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Charlie Weis is Notre Dame's answer to all the public relations hell-storms it asked for and received when it fired Tyrone Willingham. Charlie Weis is a coaching lifer who believes in Notre Dame. And judging by the number of coaches who ran from even the idea of coaching at the new Notre Dame, Charlie Weis is a member of his own minority.

Charlie Weis
Charlie Weis was the creative force that fueled the Patriots' two Super Bowl victories.
Two, in fact. Charlie Weis is also rounder than most coaches.

And no, that's not some profoundly underfunny joke about Charlie Weis's shape. He nearly died trying to change his shape, and that's about as unfunny as it gets.

Weis is a big man who used to be much bigger, so big that in 2002 he underwent gastric bypass surgery, nearly dying from post-operative complications.

Now gastric bypass is not what it seems, which is a purely cosmetic procedure. In most cases, it is done for serious medical reasons, which is why most insurance companies cover it entirely.

But Weis also did it for career reasons, namely this: Fat guys almost never get hired for head coaching jobs.

"I'm not going to deny what my motive was, even though there are long-term health benefits," Weis told ESPN's Chris Mortensen two years ago. "My thoughts were that if I wanted to be a head coach, I had to lose weight. If that was the obstacle that was going to keep me from being a head coach, then why not do something about it?"

Ralph Friedgen
Despite leading Maryland's resurgence in recent years, Ralph Friedgen has been a known candidate for only one other job.
That's clear enough. Weis looked around and saw three Division 1-A coaches of multiple-XL size (Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Kansas' Mark Mangino). He also looked at the NFL, where there is only one -- Arizona's Dennis Green.

And he made the obvious conclusion: Coaches are the face of the franchise. They sell the product. Large people don't sell as much product as thin people. Ergo, they don't get to become the face of the franchise.

It isn't the same as being African-American, but similar biases exist here. The person hiring doesn't like the way you look, regardless of your expertise, or your ability to share that expertise with others. As one NFL general manager explained the problem to Mortensen in 2002:

"Bottom line, it shouldn't matter. But the head coach is somebody who is always out front with the media in the NFL, and with the alumni and the media in college. Image is part of it, but there are some guys who believe it's a reflection of self-discipline. How can you demand self-control from players when you don't have it yourself? It could be symptomatic of some other issues."

It could be symptomatic of a lot of things, but it is certainly symptomatic of a bias that exists throughout society, and Charlie Weis fought it head-on, nearly paying full retail for that fight.

So you'll just have to forgive him if he seems underwhelmed by Notre Dame's problems. He knows he will have to answer in recruits' homes for Willingham's firing, even though he was nowhere near the process when it happened, and he will have to sharpen his ability to chat up the alumni, especially that segment strong enough to have gotten Willingham fired in the first place.

Charlie Weis is now an extraordinarily public figure, representing a university under fire for not upholding the high moral standards it has always claimed it had. His ability to schmooze, then, will be every bit as important his ability to coach, and he will have to confront the size issue head-on, just as Willingham has had to confront the race issue. It is something that has nothing to do with the job, except that somehow, it does.

Now there is no melanin bypass surgery, so the issues aren't precisely the same. But they are close enough within a sociological realm that Notre Dame should be credited with disregarding a non-football matter that too many people regard, if only in their own hearts, as a deal-breaker.

Weis wasn't their first choice, and neither for that matter was Willingham, but the real test comes next September, when the next new era of Notre Dame football begins. If Weis wins as much as he says he intends to and as much as Notre Dame wants him to, that won't matter any more than the size of his coaching wardrobe.

But it is one more thing he has to deal with even after the full load already given him -- to make people forget the public relations disaster of firing Willingham, and to make people remember what Notre Dame says it stands for.

This is, in short, a very difficult job Charlie Weis has taken on. Almost half as hard as the one he's been fighting most of his adult life.

He's ready.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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