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Weis just isn’t the guy for Irish

After Saturday’s football game, in keeping with tradition, the Notre Dame marching band played the “1812 Overture” as a tribute to its head coach.

For most of the last four years during that song, devoutly loyal students have further honored Charlie Weis by forming a “W” with their hands.

On Saturday, for the first time, it felt like an honor for a goner.

Some of those hands formed into fists. Some cupped around mouths that booed. Some formed around snowballs and flung them.

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Only a handful of those hands formed a “W,” with most students instead trying to figure out how to shape an “F.”

That’s the only letter that suits their coach these days.

“When he came here our freshman year, with all of our blissful Notre Dame pride, we loved Charlie Weis,” said Joey Brown, Notre Dame senior class president. “But now I’d say he’s lost us.”

Thus, when the Super-Bowl-ring-bearing, sarcastic-scowl-wearing boss of college football’s most mystical program leads Notre Dame into the Coliseum on Saturday against USC, he will be dead Irish walking.

If Weis doesn’t coach a competitive game against USC -- and he won’t; his team has already quit on him in ways Rudy never would -- expect Notre Dame boosters to shake a few couch cushions and dig up the $15 million or so that it would take to buy him out.

It could be among the most expensive breakups in the history of sports.

But for those who believe Notre Dame can still be a special football place, it could be worth every penny.

Weis’ perceived arrogance has lost the athletic department and alumni. His weekly performances have lost the students and fans.

In his first two seasons, he was brilliant with former coach Tyrone Willingham’s players. But in the last two seasons, he has been clearly unable to coach his own.

Maybe it’s because of an aloof NFL attitude caused by years of breathing in the harmful second-hand arrogance of New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

Maybe it’s because he’s just too darn smart to reach his college kids, or too darn impatient to keep trying.

More likely, it’s because he’s a square pro coach trying to fit into a round college game.

It wouldn’t be the first time an NFL coach has failed at the NCAA level. It wouldn’t even be the 100th time.

Whatever the reason, a place that fashions itself as a college football nirvana deserves a college football guy, and Weis isn’t it.

“It’s really hard for a Notre Dame student to ever say anything negative about the football team, it’s such a beloved part of our school,” Brown said. “But many of us agree, Charlie is just not the guy.”

After two double-digit win seasons, he went 3-9 last year, the worst record in Notre Dame history. This season, he is 6-5, but the team has grown increasingly disinterested and even dysfunctional.

In the last four games, which include three losses, the Irish have been outscored 42-10 in the fourth quarter.

There was the blown lead in the last three minutes in an overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

There was a collection of highly recruited offensive players being shut out by Boston College.

There was the blown lead that nearly led to a loss to Navy.

Then came Saturday, when the Irish blew a 13-point lead and fell to an eight-loss team -- Syracuse -- for the first time in school history.

Worse than even that loss, though, were the quotes that followed it.

Did you hear receiver Golden Tate?

“I didn’t feel any emotion on the sideline,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “Even I was kind of, ‘Eh.’ ”

Eh? Eh?

Having attended several Notre Dame football functions, I have seen many different emotional expressions on the faces of those moved by the pomp and tradition.

Not one of those expressions has ever been “Eh.”

Syracuse football is “Eh.” Notre Dame basketball, most years, may be “Eh.” Given its budget and reputation, even during its worst years, Notre Dame football should be nothing less than “Wow.”

Did you hear tackle Sam Young?

“Bottom line, to be kind of blunt, they wanted it more,” Young told the Tribune.

The last time I felt this apathy from Notre Dame football was at the Coliseum in 2004.

Walking the sidelines behind the Irish team in its 41-10 loss to USC, I was struck by looks of resignation under the face masks. The players seemed lost. They appeared bored.

Soon thereafter, with a three-season winning percentage of .583, then-coach Willingham was fired.

The move caused a national commotion, as Willingham was the school’s first black head coach, and it was the first time in 40 years that Notre Dame didn’t give a coach five full years to prove himself.

If Weis loses Saturday, he will have a four-season winning percentage of .571.

So, given more time than Willingham, he has been worse than Willingham, yet he gets to stay?

You ready for another commotion?

Given those numbers, the question is not about how Notre Dame can fire him. It is, how can it keep him?

“I think the team has a chance to be pretty darn good next year,” Weis said this week. “I can’t worry about my job status. I’m the head football coach. And that’s what I intend to be.”

Well, yeah, on Saturday, Charlie Weis will be the head football coach against a talented and motivated USC team that will show little mercy as it begins its final push for national Bowl Championship Series attention.

On the bright side, no snowballs.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com


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