Chris Weinke, the former Florida State Seminoles Heisman Trophy winner who had been living in Austin and spending most of his time golfing since his NFL career ended in 2007, is getting involved in football again.
The 37-year-old just was named the director of the new IMG Academy football program in Bradenton, Fla.; it launches in a few months. The program's curriculum will consist of John Madden's teachings and coaching philosophy and is aimed at football players from ages 8-18. It's an interesting move for both the former college star and for IMG.
Ever since Weinke finished his career with the San Francisco 49ers, there has been speculation about what a good coach he'd make for some college looking for a sharp, young offensive mind.
On Thursday morning, Weinke spoke about the period of time just after he retired. He wanted to get away from football to see how much he would miss the game.
It didn't take him long to realize that coaching was calling him. Last year, while in Tallahassee for a Florida State football game, he ran into Trevor Moawad, who is the performance director for IMG and has worked as a consultant to Nick Saban and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Weinke explained how he wanted to get into coaching, and not long after that he came back to Florida for an interview with IMG. Turned out it was a good fit.
IMG, which has academies for a host of other sports at its sprawling Bradenton campus and was founded in 1978 by legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, was looking for someone whose approach to football was in sync with Madden's. Weinke flew out to California and spent a day with the football icon.
"The most important thing was 'How does his philosophy fit into what we're trying to accomplish here?' and it aligned perfectly," Weinke said. "Both of us feel like the most important thing is teaching the basic fundamentals of the game, and the kids could have a lot of fun with it."
"Coach Madden is definitely not a drill sergeant. His first thought is he wants the kids to have fun and teaching the basic fundamentals. Some would say that has been lost in recent years. He's very similar to coach [Bobby] Bowden in their approach. They both want kids to have fun."
Weinke's staff will consist of several former college and NFL coaches who live in the area, as well as some former NFL players. The football academy's kickoff begins with a three-day, all-positions camp June 4. The cost is $649 for the boarders and $499 for the non-boarders. Throughout July, IMG will have a variety of football camps, including specialty camps for linemen and kickers.
It will be interesting to see how the IMG camps do, since June is also a month when many kids go to college campuses in hopes of impressing recruiters in those camp settings with scholarships on the line.
"There's definitely going to be competition out there," Weinke said. "June is a big month for collegiate camps. We put a schedule together, and strategically we put our schedule to where we felt it would benefit us the most. We will be unique. Under the guidance of Coach Madden, what we have to offer is going to be different from other camps.
"This is the premier multi-sport training facility in the country, maybe the world. I'm not sure there's another place out there that can offer what the IMG Academy can offer from top to bottom, from our performance institute to our nutrition to our vision testing to the school itself. Academics are a priority, which may differ from other 'boarding schools.' It has everything an athlete would ever need to be successful on and off the field."
What it doesn't have is the ability to offer a college scholarship to a kid who just had a great performance -- although Weinke says the academy will have the potential appeal to help get the word out about a prospect.
"We feel like it is our responsibility through our relationships with college coaches to help place these kids," he said. "That's one of our core principles in terms of college preparation. On one hand, you could say, 'If I go to the Florida State camp and the coaches see me, I may have an opportunity.' But we will do a great job of getting these kids' names out to the coaching contacts that we have, and we've got contacts all over the country. It's what all the other coaches in the other sports here do."
Don't be surprised if down the road this business turns into a full-fledged football program, with IMG playing other schools and becoming a must-see stop for college recruiters. For now, though, IMG is just focused on establishing the camp/training business. As for Weinke's coaching future, this will be a great learning experience for him, too.
He said he had some opportunities to coach at other places but felt this was ideal career move. "I will spend a majority of my time on the field coaching," he said. "I will bring in experienced coaches, whether they were former NFL or college coaches. I will have the opportunity to learn from a lot those guys, so in essence I look at this as similar to a GA [graduate assistant] position in terms of learning the different philosophies of coaches. It was just a win-win situation. But right now my goal is to stay here, build this thing and be the director of this, develop young players and make them a priority."