Chris Weinke had an itch to get into coaching after his NFL career ended in 2008, but he wasn't sure where or at what level.
Sports is part of his DNA. A decorated athlete at Cretin-Derham Hall, Weinke won a national championship and the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Florida State. He played professional baseball before college, and started 20 games at quarterback in his seven NFL seasons.
But the St. Paul native hadn't established any concrete long-term plans after his athletic career finally ended.
"Played a lot of golf," the 38-year-old said.
His life took a new course, however, after he ran into a staff member of the renowned IMG Academy at a Florida State football game. That spurred a process that led Weinke to become director of the IMG Madden Football Academy, which opened last spring in Bradenton, Fla.
Known for its work with golf and tennis prodigies, IMG hired Weinke to help launch its football academy, which offers specialized camps and instruction for players at all levels.
His clientele includes a 13-year-old quarterback from Kentucky, high school kids hoping to earn a college scholarship and ... Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn and recent No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Weinke also began working privately with Vikings quarterback Joe Webb last week, and first-round pick Christian Ponder is scheduled to join them this week.
Weinke spends hours every day working on the field and in the film room with a diverse group of players at different stages of their careers.
"That's why I say it's the best job in the world," Weinke said.
An option for QBs
The football academy is open to players at all positions, but Weinke works primarily with quarterbacks for obvious reasons. His daily regimen with Newton provides a glimpse of Weinke's desire to make the academy a place where quarterbacks receive specialized training.
Newton, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers, trained at IMG before his pro day workout and returned recently because of the ongoing NFL lockout.
Weinke scheduled his own "four-day minicamp" with Newton, who brought his Carolina playbook with him. Weinke said they worked in the classroom for 90 minutes going over plays and defenses in the morning, followed by 90 minutes of work on the field. They returned to the classroom after lunch for another 90-minute study session. Newton had the option of a second throwing session in the afternoon.
"We're spending about 3 to 3 1/2 hours a day in the classroom installing his offense and watching video," Weinke said. "We film everything, we video it, we analyze it. We come back in the afternoon and do some more installation and review some video. It's really similar to what they would face if they went to a minicamp following the draft."
Weinke said the work is especially important for rookies because of the lockout. The players don't have the luxury of minicamps and organized team activities to learn their systems. They can't even communicate with their coaches during the lockout. Weinke said Ponder, the No. 12 overall pick, is scheduled to train with him for one month and will get plenty of film study.
"I'll do the same thing with him [as Newton]," Weinke said. "There will be an installation of the offense, for him to get familiar with the verbiage and the concepts. We'll take all that information and go to the field and apply all of that."
Ponder and Webb are represented by the same agency, SportsTrust Advisors. Ponder received a portion of the Vikings playbook when he visited Winter Park after the draft. Webb got a copy of it when the lockout was lifted for one day. Weinke will help the two quarterbacks begin to learn Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's system.
"We're excited for both of those guys to have the opportunity to work at a facility like that and work with someone like Chris who obviously has NFL experience playing the position," said Pat Dye Jr., who is Webb's agent. (Jimmy Sexton represents Ponder.) "I know both Joe and Christian will have their playbook, and my understanding is the goal is to work on their footwork and installing their plays as much as possible while they're down there."
Weinke evaluates quarterbacks' mechanics on the field and offers tips and suggestions. He also videotapes the sessions and reviews them with the players afterward.
"I'm not here to change these guys," he said. "I'm here to really refine their skills and help them or point things out."
Not just the pros
While Weinke's work with NFL players attracts more attention, he spends the majority of his time instructing youth and high school players in camps and individual sessions.
Weinke said the academy's inaugural weekend camp last summer drew 130 players from 26 states. Five junior high kids enrolled in the school on the IMG campus for year-round training. Weinke even anticipates fielding a high school and junior varsity program starting in the fal of 2012.
Weinke, the Heisman winner in 2000, describes his new career as a "perfect fit."
"I've always said I was a student of the game," he said. "I couldn't run fast, couldn't jump. I was blessed with a decent arm. But at the end of the day for me to have any success, I had to be a student of the game. That's really where I think I can separate [myself] in terms of the teaching aspect of it. That I did understand the game, that I spent a lot of time studying the game. Players are always trying to find an edge."