When the final seconds ticked off the clock at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Saturday night, they did more than signal the end of another loss for Notre Dame. They also signaled the end of Charlie Weis's time on the sidelines in South Bend, even if there won't be any official action taken until the season officially comes to a close.
There isn't much point to debating Weis's future anymore. He has shown neither the demeanor nor the ability to teach young players what it takes to win in college football. The fans are angry, the school brass isn't even willing to offer a limp vote of confidence and you have to imagine the boosters aren't thrilled about finishing outside the Top 25 for the sixth time in the last 10 years or a trip to a second or third-tier bowl.
If everyone realizes the futility of keeping Weis around, you wonder how many realize what his departure will represent. When Weis goes, he'll take Notre Dame's claim to a place of superiority in the football hierarchy with him.
Plenty of people will argue that they lost that place sometime during the Bob Davie or Tyrone Willingham eras, but the Irish had been through down times before (see Faust, Gerry) and come out smelling like a rose. With Weis, though, things were different from the get-go. They gave him an enormous contract extension weeks into his first season and revered him like he walked on water simply because he won a few games with another coach's players. That wild departure from their historical reticence to commit to a coach early in his tenure was a glowing neon sign of the school's desperation to remain relevant in a football world that had blown by them at warp speed.
Giving Weis that extension was a naked attempt at recapturing everything that made Notre Dame special and extending their myth of grandeur under a famous coach who joined Rockne, Parseghian and Holtz in the pantheon of the Golden Dome. They made it clear that Weis was the man who would restore the glory that was a birthright for all who wore the colors. They placed such a big bet on Weis that their spot at the top of the college football food chain was on the table.
That attempt failed and it failed so miserably that all Notre Dame has now is a fight song, a few good marketing ploys and a place of honor among football fans who think it is still 1955. Their schedule and rigorous recruiting standards make it very difficult to compete with the powers in the SEC and the Big 12, and their national appeal matters much less in a world where cable television brings dozens of teams into every household on a weekly basis.
Notre Dame may still believe they are different than the rest of college football. They may believe that their higher regard for academics, tradition and rituals makes them better than everybody else. But the fact is that they are about to fire their third straight coach with a winning record for failing to live up to the outsize expectations that those beliefs hold.
They are, in other words, just another school.