'An Unbelievable Football Mind': Lane Kiffin's New 24-Year-Old OC Is No Gimmick

Matt Hayes@matthayescfbSenior National College Football WriterJanuary 24, 2018

Charlie Weis Jr. poses with the national championship trophy in January 2016, when he was a graduate assistant at Alabama.
Charlie Weis Jr. poses with the national championship trophy in January 2016, when he was a graduate assistant at Alabama.Photo via @cjwjr23 on Instagram

He's 24 and has never been an offensive coordinator. Hell, he's never even been a position coach.

How can it possibly work for Charlie Weis Jr. to be suddenly flush with so much responsibility at Florida Atlantic University, you ask?              

Listen to Gil Brandt, legendary NFL personnel man, tell the story of when he first knew, in 2011, that Weis Jr. was different from any young coach he had ever seen:

"I'm sitting down with Charlie Weis, his dad, and Charlie Jr. at Florida when Charlie was the offensive coordinator for the Gators," Brandt says. "I had talked at length with his son, who was in his first year of school there. He was 18. All he ever wanted to be in life is a football coach. An unbelievably meticulous, organized, bright football mind."

Brandt stops here for emphasis, because the enormity of what he's going to say doesn't roll off the tongue without hesitation.

"So Charlie Jr. leaves, and Charlie asked me, 'So what do you think of him?'" Brandt continues. "I told him, 'I've met two people in my life where I knew, without a doubt, he would be a successful coach. One was Bill Belichick.' Then Charlie asks me, 'Who was the other?' I said, 'He just got up and walked away.'"

Charlie Weis Jr. has never played football, and he will be all of a year older than some of the players he will coach at FAU. The fresh, baby-faced photo on his bio on atlantafalcons.com looks like the DMV mug of a 16-year-old thrilled to get his first license.

Charlie Weis Jr.'s Falcons profile photo
Charlie Weis Jr.'s Falcons profile photoUncredited/Associated Press/Associated Press

He's by far the youngest offensive coordinator in college football, and though there are no records of these things, it's a safe bet he's the youngest offensive coordinator in the sport in a long, long time, if not ever.

This is the coach Brandt mentions in the same breath with maybe the greatest coach of all time, the coach primed to win his sixth Super Bowl next week?

"Not a doubt in my mind," Brandt says.

Weis Jr. has been at this since he was a teenage sponge who couldn't get enough of the game while his dad was head coach at Notre Dame. He sat in meetings and broke down game tape; he evaluated players and situational schemes of all three phases of the game—as a 13-year-old.

He followed his dad to Florida in 2011 and then moved again in 2012 when his dad accepted the head coaching job at Kansas. After graduating, he took a job as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama.

When asked about Weis Jr., Saban says, succinctly, "He has a bright future."

This brings us to the latest turn in a meteoric rise for Weis Jr., one that involves Lane Kiffin, the misunderstood savant of a coach who's never been shy about trying to capitalize on unique opportunities.

When Kiffin left Alabama after the 2016 regular season to take the FAU job, he was told he could take one person from the Alabama staff with him. He chose Weis Jr. and made him a tight ends coach.

Within a month, Steve Sarkisian—Kiffin's replacement as offensive coordinator at Alabama—left Alabama for the same job with the Atlanta Falcons and also was told he could take one staffer with him. He chose one who had already left, taking Weis Jr. away from Kiffin and making him an offensive assistant.

A year later, Kiffin went back to Weis Jr. and offered the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach job. Kiffin says Weis Jr. won't be calling plays at first, but even so, it was a gig the Falcons couldn't compete with. Weis Jr. wants to be a head coach in college football, and what better way than proving your chops as an offensive coordinator in the one Group of 5 job Kiffin has made must-see?

"I always think of Pete [Carroll] hiring Sark and I at USC and what we did there," Kiffin says of his thought process in hiring Weis Jr., reminding that he and Sarkisian were both in their mid-20s when they were tight ends coach and grad assistant, respectively, under Carroll. "Smart, young guys that aren't lazy."

It should come as no surprise then that eight of Kiffin's 11 coaches at FAU are in their first full-time coaching jobs. And the Weis Jr. hire is the most prominent of the lot—a position that Kiffin has made high-profile in just one season.

"I know for a fact [Falcons coach] Dan [Quinn] wasn't happy losing him," one NFC scout tells Bleacher Report. "You won't talk to one person who has a bad thing to say about Charlie. He's going to be a star in this business. Lane is way ahead of the curve on this."

You won't talk to one person who has a bad thing to say about Charlie. He's going to be a star in this business. Lane is way ahead of the curve on this. — NFC scout on Charlie Weis Jr.

Brandt visits teams regularly before and during the season and is a valued voice/springboard for many coaches. He spent time with the Falcons prior to this season, and one of the first things he asked Quinn was the status of Weis Jr.

"[Quinn] looked at me and said, 'How is he doing? Let me show you how he's doing,'" Brandt says. "He reaches back behind his desk and pulls out this huge notebook that was as big as a New York City telephone book. Charlie had broken down every team on the Falcons' schedule, in all three phases of the game.

"His dad was like that when he was young, but Charlie has taken it to another level. Other guys, when they're young, they're out carousing and drinking and chasing girls. Charlie was studying the game and learning everything it means to be a coach."

JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

Weis and his wife Maura tried for years to convince their Charlie that going into football coaching might not be the best career move. The family has dealt with the fanaticism of all things Notre Dame, the brutal and vicious times when no one in the family was spared criticism.

Years ago, Weis told me his only regret about taking the Notre Dame job was putting his family through that annual stress. His son walked the sidelines on game day with a headset on, hearing every call, every decision, and soaking in every nuance of the job. Then he'd go to school at Saint Joseph High on Monday and have to relive all the negativity from any loss.

Through it all, Charlie Jr. never wavered.

Don't expect him to now. Don't think he won't thrive in the unique atmosphere of FAU. Don't think he won't be another out-of-the-box hire by Kiffin (see: Kendal Briles) who will eventually move on to bigger and better things.

"Charlie is just like his father. He has an unbelievable football mind," a Falcons staffer tells Bleacher Report. "You don't need to play football to be a helluva football coach.

"I'm telling you now, watch this kid. He's going to be special."