When the Domers looked up from their earning sheets recently, they realized that the Trojans have erected an altar to college football right there in South Central's Heritage Hall. In the last few years, USC has won two national championships and two Heisman Trophies.

So here's the running tally:

Notre Dame: 11 titles and seven Heismans.

USC: five championships and six Heismans.

And more hardware is looming out West, with Reggie Bush, the best football player in the country (on any level), setting up shop in the Trojans' backfield, which is expected to lead the way to a third straight national title. They're a threat to the legend. Oh, the straits are dire at the golden dome.

Problem is, Notre Dame had a coach in Willingham who wouldn't ransom his reputation by recruiting just anybody to play for him. And that's the rub. One of the reasons the Domers finally hired Willingham in the first place -- he was their fifth choice -- is because they figured a black coach would have an easier time recruiting black players.

But there was still the matter of selling high school players on old training facilities left over from the Parseghian years. There was still the matter of the difficulty in selling a history that's meaningless to many 18-year-olds. And there was still the most pressing matter: Notre Dame's location in South Bend, Ind.

Willingham got a few kids, most notably running back Darius Walker, the team's best offensive player. But the program just wasn't growing fast enough.

So they fired the coach.

But let me be clear on this: I don't feel bad for what Notre Dame did to Willingham. The school could never "do" anything to that man. He's employed again and living in Seattle; and from what I can tell, he's still very much Tyrone Willingham.

But when Notre Dame fired the first black coach in its history -- and after just three seasons, which is the shortest tenure of any of its head football coaches -- Notre Dame "did" something to itself: It exposed itself. And comically and predictably, it keeps on exposing itself.

Witness the latest installment of Irish hoopla. Everyone in South Bend is all a-twitter over Charlie Weis and the way he's embracing the Irish "tradition." Lies! Tradition has very little to do with whatever success Weis, who came from the NFL, will have. A professional coach will attract professional players, and that's why Notre Dame wanted Weis.

That Weis graduated from the school? Just so much gravy.

Yet, they try to distract us with that word: tradition.

The other day, former Notre Dame and current New Orleans Saints linebacker Courtney Watson told me, "Even though he didn't yell and scream all the time, our last coach was all about tradition."

But the Domers wanted more than that. They wanted Willingham to jump up and down and yell and scream to let people know he was, you know, enthusiastic.

I watched a game last season in which Willingham, in fact, did stomp up and down the sideline and throw up his hands, ranting and raving about something or other. And I thought, "What is this? That's not him. Who does he expect to fool with that act?"



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