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Bowden, Ray Perkins have faith in Weist

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 08. 2013 4:00AM

A million little bits of distractive speculation will surround T.J. Weist in the coming months, none his creation. More speculation will follow. Then comes speculating on the speculation as if the speculation originated from fact and not, well, speculation.

This is how it works when you are an interim coach with somebody else's players charged with winning football games for a winless team. Immediately. All while your job status becomes fodder for water cooler chit chat, talk show blather, newspaper conjecture and message board clamor. Ah, the football life.

Indeed, maybe T.J. Weist, for whom life changes with an exclamation point come high noon Saturday at Rentschler Field, can hum a little "That's Life" for the next few months. Never a bad idea to channel you inner Sinatra for inspiration:

"And as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stomping on a dream; but I don't let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around."

Note Francis Albert's word choice: this fine old world. And it is college football's fine old world that knows T.J. Weist. College football's fine old world of names you know. Names you respect. All of which invites the question: Amid all the speculation, is the right guy for UConn football here already?

T.J. Weist, born in South Bend, Indiana, raised in Michigan, was a walk-on wide receiver at Alabama. He played there for Ray Perkins and Bill Curry. He coached at Michigan under Gary Moeller. He coached at Western Kentucky under Jack Harbaugh, father of John and Jim. He coached under (current Tennessee coach) Butch Jones at Cincinnati.

And now before Weist has coached a game here, hosannas from across the country are fighting for airspace around him, perhaps trying to supplant the speculation of who might be taking his job.

"I interviewed him one time for a job. It came down to him and (current Clemson coach) Dabo Swinney," former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said Monday in a phone interview. "I had a hard time making the call. T.J. is a very, very detail-oriented guy. Thorough and disciplined. Able to teach the mechanics.

"I was a walk-on, too (at West Virginia)," Bowden said. "They're usually overachievers. I'm partial to guys like T.J. I like their toughness. When you're a head coach, your job is to win games. Guys like T.J. were the 'do the right thing' guys. Dabo was a walk-on, too. They usually make good coaches. Dabo has proven that. T.J. deserves this chance."

This from Perkins, once the coach of the football Giants, now coaching at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss: "I remember T.J. well. A hard working guy, a dedicated guy. There aren't many walk-ons who make it at Alabama. He's made up differently. When everyone else says you can't, he's one of the guy who figures out how you can."

Earlier this week, Curry and Jones used similar words, describing Weist to Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register:

"Nothing came easy to T.J. He wasn't handed anything. He didn't have a scholarship, but I liked him so I found him a job (as a graduate assistant). He has done everything to be ready for this kind of a challenge," Curry said.

Jones: "He is a great individual. He has a great family, he is a family man and an individual of the highest character. He is extremely competitive and very detailed. He is detail-orientated in everything that he does. The other thing is he genuinely cares about the kids. Academics are important; the way he charts their progress, holds them accountable."

Once again: What if the right guy for UConn football is already here?

Athletic director Warde Manuel said last week he would not call potential candidates "behind the backs" of colleagues, meaning this process this won't crackle until the season is over. That hasn't stopped fans and media alike from throwing around names like horseshoes at the family picnic.

Nobody knows how Manuel plays this. He probably has The List somewhere in his head, top drawer or secret file in the laptop. Here's what else nobody knows: How many coaches want to be part of a league without an automatic BCS berth, with a small home off-campus stadium that's not always filled and a not-so fertile recruiting base.

But for now, this is T.J. Weist's production. And a guy the old world likes gets his swing.

"In situations like this, there's doubt and indecision among the players. The biggest task for T.J. is to get their attention and get them not to quit," Bowden said. "Make sure they know there's a new sheriff in town. Nobody asked to be in this situation, but it's time to work."

Bowden and Perkins also offered some insight, somewhat scary, into what the old college football world thinks about football in the northeast.

"There aren't too many coaching staffs, when they have their first recruiting meeting, who say, 'let's go to Connecticut to recruit,'" Bowden said. "Not a lot of players up there. Recruiting is secondary right now for T.J. because he's got to win right away and show improvement. But I coached 32 years and when it came time to recruit, I didn't pay attention to that part of the country."

Perkins said, "It's hard to find players up there in that weather, where no one wants to play football."

But that's the mission of their guy. Maybe the right guy. It begins Saturday.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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