Well, it was fun while it lasted.

After five seasons and 27 losses, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick announced on Monday that Charlie Weis will not return next year as coach of the Fighting Irish football team.

In terms of schadenfreude, it was one of the more enjoyable press releases in recent memory.

Weis’s tenure in South Bend was the perfect mixture of defiance and delusion for Michigan fans. As the cocky, arrogant leader of a cocky, arrogant school, Weis put his foot in his mouth time and time again. “To hell with Michigan,” he said at an alumni banquet in the spring of 2008. The comment was allegedly an homage to Bo Schembechler’s similar statements about opposing teams. That nuance was lost on most of us.

Plus, he didn’t win too much. After back-to-back BCS Bowl bids in his first two seasons with the Irish — largely thanks to Tyrone Willingham recruits Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Zbikowski — Weis’s teams went just 16-21 over the next three seasons.

Against Michigan, the Irish went 2-3, including a 38-34 loss this year in which Weis opted to pass the ball late in the fourth quarter when a few running plays could have sealed an Irish victory.

But if Weis was both entertaining and an anchor on one of Michigan’s most-hated rivals, why does his departure leave me feeling so…unsatisfied?

Well, the man could recruit. According to Rivals.com, Weis’s recruiting classes ranked among the top 10 in the nation four times in five years. His 2008 class was the second-best in the country, led by wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The pair combined for 10 catches, 169 yards and a touchdown against the Wolverines back in September.

Despite potential first-day NFL draft picks at every offensive skill position, Weis never took full advantage of the prodigious talent he accumulated. His eventual replacement might.

Whether it’s Brian Kelly, Chip Kelly or Kelly Kapoor, odds are that Notre Dame’s next coach will be far more tactically competent than Weis. He’ll inherit a cupboard that’s far from bare, and the Irish mystique should allow him to continue building top classes for the foreseeable future. Unlike in Ann Arbor, where Rich Rodriguez will need at least three years to build a legitimate contender, it’s easy to see Notre Dame returning to glory in relatively short order.

Considering that Michigan is scheduled to play the Irish every year until 2031, this could pose a problem.

Much like at Michigan, Alabama and Nebraska, Notre Dame has too much history, too much name cache and too much financial backing to stay down forever. It became clear that Weis was much better suited as an NFL offensive coordinator than a college head coach, and the Irish made the right move in canning him.

But while the monetary cost of buying out the final six seasons of Weis’s enormous contract will hang over the Irish program for several years, his bumbling playcalls and press conference snafus likely will not. His successor will surely bring more efficiency and command more respect.

So before Michigan fans celebrate the end of the Charlie Weis era, think about what the future could hold.

Despite a lack of continuity at head coach in South Bend, Michigan has just an 6-5 record against the Irish since Lou Holtz left after the 1996 season. With plenty of talent already in the fold, the right coaching switch could shift this power balance and potentially add a second perennial national power to Michigan’s annual schedule.

Many of the Irish’s potential hires run the spread offense. This could mean more head-to-head recruiting battles, an area where Notre Dame has consistently bested Michigan in recent years.

And perhaps worst of all, whether Weis’s successor initially wins or loses, the Irish will reassume the spotlight in national newspaper stories and ESPN College Gameday segments.

Just by firing him, Notre Dame is relevant again as more than just a punch line. And that’s something we’ll all miss.

—Kay can be reached at iankay@umich.edu

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