Tomorrow at noon TJ Weist will return to the sidelines of Nippert Stadium. But he won’t be doing so wearing red and black. No, for the first time in nearly a year Weist will be running out of the tunnel onto the visitor sidelines with the Nippert press box and thousands of screaming enemy fans at his back. And quite honestly it’s difficult for me to see him as a “foe”.
From 2010 thru 2012, Weist was Cincinnati’s wide receiver coach for the Bearcats. During those three seasons he did a nice job developing the players under his watch, including Kenbrell Thompkins who went from an undrafted free agent to one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets on the New England Patriots. Weist was also instrumental on the recruiting trail, opening up doors in the previously under-cultivated recruiting grounds of Georgia and Florida. A good portion of the depth on the Bearcats’ roster right now can be attributed to his efforts. It goes without saying that he positioned UC for further success beyond his departure.
Another guy who left Cincinnati in a better shape than when he found it was Weist’s former boss Butch Jones. Despite how some disgruntled fans might feel about him, I’ve always been grateful for what’s he done for UC football. Jones streamlined many of Cincinnati’s backend programs such as the team’s nutrition and weight room regiment as well as UCATS and the 1200 Club. Additionally, as I alluded to above, he and his coaches made it their business to bring in a slew of talented high school players to fill the Bearcats’ coffers. Oh and the pair of Big East trophies Jones added to the Lindner Center was also nice.
My only gripe with Butch Jones’ departure wasn’t that he left UC but how he left. Firstly, after the Bearcats’ final regular season game, he strung along Cincinnati’s athletic department (not to mention Purdue and Colorado) for a full week, holding out for the Tennessee job to come open. A week is a lifetime during that critical juncture when the best coaches in college football get snatched up sometimes hours after their last games. Obviously it all worked out in the end with Whit Babcock hiring Tommy Tuberville but at the time it could have been devastating for UC’s football program.
Secondly, and most pertinent to this piece, is that when Jones bolted for Tennessee he left TJ Weist behind in Cincinnati. That never sat well with me. You just don’t do that to one of your colleagues and friends. Maybe Jones had gotten wind about Weist being a frontrunner for the UConn offensive coordinator but based on the timing of both moves (Weist was hired a month and a half after Jones left), I doubt it.
Overall, after the way Butch Jones carried himself at Cincinnati, preaching family and loyalty at nearly every turn, the way he handled his departure from UC certainly made every word he spoke in the previous three years ring hollow and my respect for him drop tenfold.
But it all worked out for Weist and perhaps better than he could have hoped. He was hired as UConn’s offensive coordinator in mid-January, continuing his ascension up the coaching ladder. And less than a year on the job Weist was promoted to head coach after Paul Pasqualoni was fired. He is only in an interim role right now as the UConn AD begins his search for a permanent head coach but if Weist shows significant progress with the Huskies, I’d have to believe his name will be in the mix.
In all likelihood Weist doesn’t lead his UConn Huskies to a win on Saturday. The deck is stacked against them as they face a Bearcats team that he himself helped build. You can just taste the irony in that statement. Purely beating his former team isn’t the point for Weist, though. Even with Pasqualoni at the helm, UConn probably wasn’t going to come out of Nippert Stadium with a victory anyways. For Weist, he simply needs to prove that he can rally what strengths his team does have and implement them in the right ways even if the outcome doesn’t go to plan, something Pasqualoni failed to do in a little over two years at UConn. So far Weist has done that this year and even though a win tomorrow is improbable and he is on the opposing sides lines, I’m sure I’ll find myself rooting for him a little bit. He made a noticable impact on Cincinnati football and more than deserves an offensive coordinator or head coaching role at UConn or somewhere else.
But, if it doesn’t work out for him, I’m sure UC would love to have TJ Weist back returning to his role of showing the Bearcats wide receivers the right way to run a drill. Remember kids, the backwards visor makes you go faster.