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Irish program used to be special … now it just isn't

Charlie Weis and his football program are under siege, which is as much Notre Dame's fault as it is his. They are the victims of self-inflicted wounds that have sucked much of the specialness, if not the football relevance, out of the place.

If Notre Dame football were a blood-pressure reading, the nurse would jot down 40 over 20 -- barely a pulse. The recent defeat to eight-loss Syracuse (a Notre Dame first) only intensifies the scrutiny of Weis, whose record during the past two seasons is the worst in Notre Dame history. It won't get any better this Saturday, when the Fighting Irish lose their seventh consecutive game against longtime rival USC and finish the regular season at a forgettable 6-6.

That's another thing. Notre Dame followers are now conditioned to lose to USC. They expect the annual beatdown, which makes sense, I guess. Since Weis' arrival in 2005, the USC margin of victory has grown from three points to 20 to 38 to who knows how much this time as the Trojans try to earn style points for the ridiculous BCS beauty pageant.

The sense of doom reveals much about the state of Weis' program. But mostly it reveals why Notre Dame is no different than other football factories.

The very fact that Weis' coaching future is in question is Exhibit A of Notre Dame's spectacular series of miscalculations. In a bizarre bit of symmetry, the very reason for Weis' hiring -- Tyrone Willingham's firing after just three seasons -- is why Fighting Irish fans, boosters, power brokers and maybe even school officials now feel empowered to call for Weis' dismissal. It's why Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick had to recently issue a vote of confidence for a head coach he didn't hire.

The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's incoming president at the time, helped create this sloppy scenario the moment he supported Willingham's firing after the 2004 regular season. By ridding themselves of Willingham, who just happened to be the school's first African-American head coach, Jenkins & Co. ended the very thing that differentiated Notre Dame from everyone else: a five-year commitment to its coach. That commitment represented the very best of Notre Dame. Now it's like everyone else, but with snowball throwers.

Willingham's tenure was the shortest of any non-interim Notre Dame football coach in the previous 70 years (George O'Leary never coached a game). It was a mistake to fire him then, just as it would be a mistake to fire Weis now.

Money isn't the issue. Even with a contract that runs through 2015 and a huge buyout attached, Notre Dame and its friends of the program could write a check to make Weis go away. And if they did, the school would soon have its fifth different coach (Bob Davie, O'Leary, Willingham, Weis, the new guy) in the past nine years. You expect that out of Alabama, not Notre Dame.

Weis is responsible for much of his own discomfort. Those nine losses last season were the most in Notre Dame history. His record after his first three years was almost exactly the same as Willingham's. His celebrated recruiting classes haven't translated to the field yet. And did you think you'd ever see the day when a Notre Dame coach admitted, as Weis did recently, that he'd like to go to a bowl game because his team would get more practices that way?

But what also has undermined Weis is, well, Weis. And Notre Dame hypocrisy.

The Domers loved Weis when he first got to South Bend. They loved his Jersey attitude, his cockiness, even his arrogance. His personality was the polar opposite of the reserved, dignified Willingham. Plus, Weis was one of them, a Notre Dame grad.

So it's amusing to hear the criticism four years later. What made Weis endearing in 2005 makes him unbearable in 2008? Funny how that works.

Weis' personality has never changed. He can be charming, arrogant, bright, condescending, clever, sarcastic, humble, overbearing and caring all in the same five minutes. What has changed is the wins and losses: 19-6 during his first two years; 9-14 since.

The worst thing a school can do to a coach is hang him on the clothesline and let him flap in the wind. Vote of confidence or no vote, that's what has happened to Weis. You can hear opposing coaches whispering to Notre Dame recruits right now: "You sure you want to commit to a guy who might not be there in a week?" … "Remember how he said he'd outscheme everybody? How's that working out?" … "See the Chicago Tribune story where Weis big-timed Terrelle Pryor and his high school coaches?"

Weis has alienated his share of people at and outside Notre Dame. But he isn't the first coach with a jerk quotient, and he won't be the last. He deserves much of the criticism leveled against him, but he doesn't deserve to be fired. Not for this.

Notre Dame lost its football DNA and its inner self when it dismissed Willingham four years ago. It compromised a belief. But it's not too late to go retro.

Win or lose Saturday, it's time for Jenkins and Swarbrick to end the speculation and say Weis will return in 2009 for his fifth season. You say it because it's not only the right thing to do, but because it used to be the Notre Dame thing to do.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.