May 29, 2008
COACH WEIS: Thanks. Because so many of you requested an opportunity to talk about it, it was a heck of an experience to go over there. When you go over, you’re apprehensive because you don’t know what you’re going to see, but I think that the intent of the trip was for us to inspire the troops, and I think by the time, the five coaches that went on the trip and came back, I think we felt as equally inspired by what we saw when we were over there. It was a rewarding, educational experience. My only regret would be that my son and every kid that’s on my football team weren’t there along with me to see the mental discipline and toughness of those 18 to 23 year old kids that aren’t bosses, yet it was rewarding to see the teamwork, the positive frame of mind they had, and it was definitely an enriching, enlightening experience.
Q. Anytime you take a trip out of the country it’s a life changing experience. I have to imagine going to Iraq with everything that’s happening definitely would have changed you. When you got back did you have time to reflect on that? How did it change you?
COACH WEIS: I’m still doing that reflecting part. But I’ve just been you think about everything that happened while you’re there, but then the reality is when you’re getting on that plane from Southwest Asia, on a tanker, and flying 15 and a half hours to Andrews (Air Force Base), you start off with the plane being 125 degrees when you take off, and when you get up high in the sky it’s 35 degrees, and you’re freezing, and you’re saying, how many things do we take for granted? More than anything else, what we take for granted, whether it’s the plane flight over, plane flight back and everything in between. There are so many things we take for granted that the people over there are not taking for granted, especially those people that are defending our country.
Q. Also, you said that your son and the guys from your team, you wish they could have been with you. Do you think it will change your approach with how you interact with the guys?
COACH WEIS: I think it would keep anyone of that age from whining about the little things. They would realize, really, what are we whining about? There are so many little things petty things that we complain about. When you sit there and watch what’s going on over there, those little things become very, very insignificant, because they don’t even like one of my big things, when we’re busting chops with all the troops over there is “Why complain? No one is listening anyway? No one complains! We probably spoke to we probably saw 10 to 15,000 troops and probably spoke to 5,000, and I didn’t one time, out of all those people, hear anyone complain. You think about the odds of that happening. It would be a million to one. I didn’t hear one complaint. The only time was that I had a couple that were near the end of their year, you know, their year of service. They were getting ready to go home. I had one girl getting an autograph that was going home that night, and a couple of them were saying, “I’m going home in two days,” “three weeks,” but I didn’t hear one person complain about anything. It’s unbelievable.
Q. When you got back, was there anything that struck you that you wanted to tell somebody about, saying, I can’t wait to tell them about this?
COACH WEIS: Of course there are the Notre Dame stories. There were a whole bunch that were fun but there was none more inspirational than the solder I saw. We walked into the medical hospital in Germany where we flew into from Scott Air Force Base in St. Louis, and we walk into this hospital, and this guy had gotten blown up from a roadside bomb the day before. Leg was amputated above his right knee, face was all banged up, we walked in there. You would think he got checked into the boards at a hockey game and he was going to be playing later that day. “Hey, I got banged up, but I’ll be okay. They’ll give me a prosthesis, and we’ll move on.” And I’m looking at this guy, and this is the first guy I talked to out of all of them. There was a doctor that said this was going to be kind of tough! That’s the first person I talked to, really had a conversation with out of all on this trip, and it set the tone, Tom, for the whole week. Here is a guy who just got blown up by a roadside bomb, lost his leg, face is all cut up, “Oh, that’s what happens, you know?” And I’m shaking my head and saying, the psyche of this guy, the mental discipline, kind of set the tone for the week. I can say on a humorous note, two people later, I walked into a room of a kid from Fort Wayne, wanted to go to Notre Dame and play hockey, and he had just gotten blown up, but he wasn’t getting amputated. He was torn up pretty good, and he looks at me and he goes, “Coach Weis, I don’t know if that’s you or the morphine.” (Chuckles.) And I’m looking at this guy, and he meant it, too! I signed a hat for him, and I took pictures with him, and I said, “Well, when you down from the morphine, this hat will be sitting here, and you’ll be able to look at it and say, ‘Yeah, it really did happen!'” But this is the third person I’m talking to, and it was pretty positive, brought a chuckle to my day.
Q. Anything aside from talking about the players not whining, anything you might be able to use as inspiration down the road?
COACH WEIS: The first thing that is glaringly obvious well twofold. Teamwork. The prideful sense of being part of a team. Now we have these signs around here now about leaving your ego at the door. There were no egos, now. I mean, the sense of doing their job and doing the job to the best of their responsibility and everyone counting on them to do their job. What better message could you send to a football team or any team or any organization for that matter, about just doing your job to the best of your ability and seeing that was blatantly obvious. I think more subjective and very obvious was how prideful every single person was about their job and their country and, you know, what they were doing and their role and they’re part of a mission. It made you feel good, you know. Tommy (Tuberville) said this a couple times, and I piggybacked on this. He kept on saying, “We’re definitely on the right side,” because watching the way these guys acted, it made you feel good to know that the people that are over there defending your country in a volunteer time are that prideful about what they’re doing.
Q. You have compared Notre Dame to the New York Yankees. I wondered if while you were over there you saw anyone who hated Notre Dame?
COACH WEIS: No, everyone was glad you were there. I ran into people from schools all over the country, but no animosity toward any school. There were Alabama fans ribbing Tommy (Tuberville), and you name it, there were people that were on the other side, but there were no enemies on this mission as far as college football.
Q. I meant more playful ribbing, good-natured fun?
COACH WEIS: Oh, yeah, and my favorite story well, there is actually a Yankee/Mets story and a USC story. We’ll do the USC first. Kid comes up, we’re in Bahrain I don’t know how you spell all these countries, but I do know how to pronounce them. We’re in Bahrain, and we had just done a question and answer, and we were signing tons of stuff, and after we did that we were going to go down on the floor and get in our own areas and sit there and take pictures for whoever wanted pictures. So this kid comes over with a USC football shirt with a bunch of his boys. This was like they were going to be the big joke with a bunch of his boys. I said, “I’m not signing that shirt. There is no way I’m taking a picture of you wearing that shirt.” He’s from Scranton, Pennsylvania, his wife is a die hard Notre Dame fan; he’s recently married. I said, “I’m telling you, I’m not doing it. You put on that green shirt and I’ll take a picture.” And he said, “Oh, Coach, don’t do me like that,” and I said, “We’ll let your boys decide. Whatever they say.” And they were unanimous on my side, and so he had to put on that shirt and take that picture, and he said his wife will never let him live that down. It wasn’t anti anything, it was just a lot of fun with that. Probably the Yankee thing, we were on the USS Nassau out in the Persian Gulf, and the Navy is different. On the ship, you eat in a place according to your rank. So the officers’ mess was always there weren’t very many people in there, plenty of seats, the food was a little bit better, and as you worked your way down on the ship, in the lower levels there were a lot more people and a lot crummier food. The night we were there, we decided we were going to eat with the young kids, so you were at a table for 20 that had 30 people on it. The lines were long, and the kid next to me, he walks up and he has a plate with 15 cheese sticks, mozzarella sticks. I said, “What are you doing?” He goes, “Coach, we haven’t had mozzarella sticks since the Super Bowl. We’re only getting them because you’re here, and I’m eating them!” He wolfed them down. I had two kids across from me, one from the Bronx and one from Queens, and the kid from the Bronx was a Yankee fan, and the kid from Queens was a Mets fan. So we started getting after him. Me and this boy, because the two kids from New York City were both boys, so me and the Yankee fan, we’re getting after the Mets fan. So we signed stuff later, and the kid brings down a Mets shirt, orange shirt and he said, “Coach, I want you to sign this Mets shirt,” and I said, “There is no way I’m signing a Mets shirt.” So he whined to his commanding officer, and the officer came over and said, “Coach, will you sign the kid’s shirt? I said, “No problem.” I signed, “Go Yanks, Charlie Weis” and gave it back to him! So I had a lot of fun, ruined his shirt but had fun. There were a lot of things like that that made the trip. There was a girl, Laura, 2005 graduate (of Notre Dame) that got set up by her commanding officer. She was on an AWAX, which is a surveillance plane. They were supposed to go on a mission, and I was there, and she said, “I can’t believe Coach Weis is here and I’m not going to be able to spend anytime with Coach,” and she was walking to the plane, and her CO said, “We got you covered today. She was like a kid in a candy store. There was a guy from Ohio from around Cleveland. I have never, ever seen he was hooting and hollering. There was a line, and he didn’t care. He was like, “Charlie Weis!” The kid was shaking he was so nervous. He was literally shaking! I’m going, “Relax, man, relax, relax!” “Will you take a picture!” Okay. So we did that, and he said, “The only bigger fan of Notre Dame than me is my dad, in Ohio.” And I said, “Let’s call him.” So it’s four in the morning in Ohio. So I said, “Now, listen, before we call, the first thing you’ve got to do when that phone rings is let everyone know right away you’re okay.” Because you think about it, I’m thinking about it as a dad now. Your kid is overseas, and it’s four in the morning and the phone rings, this is not good news. So he calls and his brother answers the phone, and the first thing he says is, “Get dad! I’m okay!” And so I talked to the dad and I told his father, I said, “It’s on my dime. Why don’t you talk to your kid for a while.” So it was those types of moments that stick with you more than any other. There were so many kids. We didn’t just sign things. We asked kids where they were from, “I’m from Norman, Oklahoma,” “Are you a Sooner fan?” To make it more personable. It was a lot of fun!
Q. Charlie, great stories. Thank you for what you’ve done. Curious about the setting when you were with the coaches. Were you all at tables or separated at different locations?
COACH WEIS: We tried to set up in a team setting for us. What we did is we it took us a couple of days to figure out how to best do this, because we were signing each other’s tee shirts. So a kid would take a Notre Dame shirt, but he would have me sign it first, and then he would get the other coaches to sign it because they could pick one thing. So the kid came with an Auburn shirt or a Georgia shirt or a Yale or Miami shirt, I would sign that, too. But eventually we had these posters, and we would all sign the poster and let them take the tee shirt after the fact, because it sped up the process. But it took us a couple of days, but we all stayed in a row, the five of us altogether.
Q. You mentioned you spoke to thousands of troops. What are the typical stories that you told them?
COACH WEIS: Oh, I think that first of all they were surprised that we were going to actually be speaking with them. They thought they would just we would be there. They didn’t realize that part of what we wanted to do is go in and grind it out and, hey, how you doing, where are you from, take pictures, send e mails. We tried to get more personal than anything else. A lot of those stories you don’t want to share because they are personal, but at the same time I think that our goal when we went over there was to touch as many people’s lives and lift their spirits just a touch, okay? But I would say as we came back and we had a few hours to speak on that plane ride home, because it was such a long flight. I think the message that we had was pretty much the same. We came back feeling so good about what they did for us! Felt just as good as we feel about what we did for them.
Q. I know you said you didn’t know what to expect, but in the back of your mind, general speaking, anything surprise you that you weren’t expecting?
COACH WEIS: Yeah. I didn’t expect it to be such a positive experience. You know, how many times in the political world that we live in, especially when all these campaigns are going on, doesn’t make any difference what affiliation you have as far as party goes, you know, you expect things to be not the way it was. I mean, there wasn’t one person over there that was worrying about whether somebody was a democratic or a Republican, now. They just cared about doing their job the best they could and beating the bad guys; that was it! That was all that was important, defending our country and fighting for the freedom of the people over there. That was the message! That’s what you hope the message would be, but you wouldn’t expect it to come from everybody. You would we live in a cynical world. There wasn’t one! With all those thousands of people, somewhere along the line somebody is going to complain. I didn’t hear one complaint, not one! I mean, think about it. I got chills when I’m saying it to you right now, not one time! They knew we were going to Washington on Monday. You should have heard how many times, “Thank the president, thank the president, thank the president.” Pass that on. Some kid would say his name, and I said, Okay, I’ll be make sure I remember your name and pass that on to him.” But, you know, when we did get a chance to talk to him, we passed that message on to him! They wanted us to thank him. That’s not what you would expect to be hearing. That’s not what you would expect, certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
Q. What was that like at the White House?
COACH WEIS: That was that was a pretty good deal because when we got over there, he brought us into the oval office, and we sat there and talked like you were sitting on a couch in your living room. We did that for about a half hour and talked about the history of the oval office, after thanking us for what we had done, getting background he wanted to hear the stories that you’re talking about. And we all told him some of our own stories, and then he gave us a little background on the White House, and then we went out, you know, with the President outside, and he said a couple of words, and he asked me if I would say a couple of words on behalf of the five coaches, which I did. And we went back inside and took a whole bunch of pictures, and then the five of us went outside, and I made sure I stayed back to let all those guys speak first because, you know, it was all about the unit that we had had the whole week, too. I think it was important to, you know, let everyone have an equal say and part of what we had done. We headed to the airport and couldn’t wait to get home and see my family.
Q. Did you ask for the president’s autograph?
COACH WEIS: No, I didn’t ask for his autograph. I don’t think this was the setting to ask for an autograph. I think autographs was a bad subject with us about this time. Enough things had been signed in the last week. One of the funny sidebars from all the coaches, the book star at Notre Dame had 5,000 to 6,000 shirts, the green shirts from last year, which they gave us to send over for this trip. So I literally sent over 6,000 shirts. And every time somebody one of the other schools would run out of product, they would say, “Just give him a green shirt! We need more green shirts!” Like the green shirt was the big inside joke with us. So I sent everyone a little something from me from the trip, and the P.S. on the bottom says “By the way, can you send me a couple of green shirts?” So I think the green shirts will always be remembered by the people on this trip.
Q. How well did you know the coaches beforehand and how much of an opportunity did you get to talk football?
COACH WEIS: I actually knew Randy Shannon the best, because I had known him from the NFL when he was with the Dolphins, so I actually knew him. I have met Mark (Richt) and Tommy (Tuberville), I hadn’t met Jack (Siedlecki). But we spent so much time together, I mean, we were only together for a week, but it’s about like there isn’t one of those guys who I haven’t felt like I haven’t known for years, not one of them. I mean, I know about their families, trust me, we had plenty of time to talk! I know about their families, you know, we talked about programs. None of us talked about X’s and O’s, we talked about big picture things. It wasn’t about, you know, how are you going to run this against so and so. We talked about rivalries, you know, Auburn/Alabama is no different than Yale/Harvard. In the grand scheme of things, it still comes down to the same thing with the different schools we’re at. I have a lot of respect for those guys.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks everyone, appreciate you being able to make it over here today.
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