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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Weis has dealt with the reality: He's splitting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The days have dwindled to single digits. The suddenly finite life of Charlie Weis as the Patriots' offensive coordinator is drawing to a close, and guess what? It's starting to sink in. Weis has been too busy to dwell on this before now, because he has been using every free second of his time to recruit for Notre Dame, the next stop on his football odyssey.

Yet here he is, at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, pausing to take a long, last look at his professional football players, even as he woos potential college players between media sessions and team workouts.

He is walking away from a pro team on the precipice of a third title in four years, and from a quarterback who is quietly elbowing his way into an inner circle of elite players. Tom Brady is a Weis disciple, yet he's more. He is a cherished friend, one who kept a vigil at Weis's bedside after the coach's gastric bypass surgery in 2002 went horribly awry and left him fighting for his life.

Brady has grown up professionally with Weis, having been cajoled, chastised, encouraged, and challenged by him. None of us know the true effect the coach has had on the player. Next year, we'll find out.

"Tom Brady will be fine without Charlie Weis," the coordinator declared. "When the crowd files in to watch the game Sunday, they're coming to see Tom Brady, not Charlie Weis.

"Forget the stuff on the field. I'll miss him more personally than I will professionally."

It hasn't been easy, serving two masters these past few weeks. Weis dashed off to South Bend, Ind., last week, arrived at midnight, snatched three or four hours of sleep, then got an early wake-up call so he'd be in the weight room by 6 a.m. to greet Notre Dame players who do their morning workouts there. He spent the day visiting with current players and possible future stars, then jetted back east and reviewed the game plan that had been assembled for the Patriots.

The workload has not been a bother; Weis likens it to two-a-days during training camp. But the mental strain of wanting to serve both teams to the best of his abilities has started to take its toll. Asked if it has been an emotional week, he answered, "There's been emotions the last several games, to tell the truth.

"My 11-year-old son Charlie said to me, `You have to win in the playoffs, daddy, or else I'll lose you to South Bend.' You don't think of it from their perspective. My children will stay on and finish school [in New England]. And I'll be gone."

There is no way of telling what impact the departure of Weis will have on the Patriots. We know he has been innovative, creative, even a tad reckless at times, but how many of the high-risk/high-reward maneuvers were his, and how many were the handiwork of coach Bill Belichick?

"I think Charlie does most of it," offered Eagles coach Andy Reid. "I don't think I'm giving anything away. Bill Belichick has said it himself. Charlie has the most say in terms of what they call, and Bill puts in his thoughts."

Told that Reid, who has been friendly with Weis for years, was convinced that Weis runs the offensive show with little interference from the boss, Weis chuckled and said, "Tell Andy to go eat another cheeseburger.

"Our head coach is involved in all we do, OK?"

We know that, but what we really want to learn is who thinks up the idea of having Mike Vrabel play offense on third down and catch touchdown passes? Who came up with the notion of having Richard Seymour check in to throw a killer block down near the goal line?

"The biggest quality of an offensive coordinator is play calling," Weis said. "I'm not talking so much about sitting in a classroom and designing a play as calling the play at the right time. That is what's critical."

So when it's third down and Adam Vinatieri fakes a field goal, then tosses the ball to Troy Brown in the end zone, does Charlie Weis draw that up, or does Bill Belichick?

"In a critical situation like that," Weis said, "that's Bill's call."

He will miss the give and take with his boss, who loves to be challenged. He will miss having someone with Belichick's keen mind conspire with him to fool the opposition when they least expect it.

"Usually those conversations take place long before you play the game," Weis said. "On Saturday night, Bill and I will meet one on one. By then, I've already met with [quarterbacks coach] Josh McDaniels and Tommy for a few hours.

"By Wednesday or Thursday, we're already zeroing in on not just what plays we have, but what plays we'll use."

Speculation has centered on tight ends coach Jeff Davidson as Weis's successor, something the offensive coordinator is not ready to discuss.

"I haven't talked to Bill much about it, but I'm sure he has plans," Weis said. "He probably had a plan before I took this job. One thing about Bill Belichick is, of all his qualities, his foresight is second to none. He prepares for the future better than anyone.

"We've had a lot of success together, but I'm sure he won't miss a beat. He'll probably upgrade."

Weis confessed that in the moments before he entered the stadium for yesterday's media session, he was on the line with Notre Dame recruits, telling them, "Hey, I'm calling you from the Super Bowl . . ."

"I'm going to do everything I can to beat the Philadelphia Eagles," Weis said. "Millions of people are going to watch the game. I'm representing the Patriots, but I'm representing Notre Dame, too."

It's time to move on. It has been for a while. He can't let sentiments -- or a dynasty in progress -- overwhelm him now.

"It's a bittersweet moment," Weis said. "I look at the players and the coaches, and I know a few days from now, I'm gone. It's not going to be easy.

"But I'll tell you this: It'll be a heck of a lot easier if we win the game."

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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