Willingham on the short end of the South Bend stick

The famous sign lies over the exit of the locker room at Notre Dame: Play like a champion today. Players continue the tradition every week by touching the sign on the way out to the playing field. If Notre Dame’s Athletic Department was intelligent, it’d stay as far away from that sign as humanly possible. Over the last few years, the Fighting Irish’s Athletic Department has been out of championship form; the school has been notorious in pulling the plug too early.

After doing it in the Bob Davie era, the Fighting Irish hired George O’Leary and then promptly fired him six days later. O’Leary had a faulty resume.

Then, the Athletic Department thought it had a perfect fit with Tyrone Willingham. After a flash in the pan, Willingham only made it through three seasons in South Bend.

It is now the Charlie Weis era.

Weis helped the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls in the past four years and was a hot commodity on the market. In his first season at the helm, Weis has Notre Dame ranked No. 9 in the land with a 5-2 record. Saturday, Weis’ alma mater showed him how much it appreciated his work up to this point. Weis inked a 10-year extension to his contract, which assures him the coaching position for the Domers until the 2015 season.

Now if Willingham were a brash and loud coach like Bobby Knight and Bill Parcells, this would be a media frenzy. But Willingham, classy as ever, has stayed content in his new job coaching the Washington Huskies.

To be blunt, Willingham got a raw deal at Notre Dame. He had great success in his first season there when the Fighting Irish jumped out to an 8-0 start, but he never got the chance to see his players graduate.

Now, Weis is benefiting from players Willingham recruited. The first three years were a pleasantry for players such as senior Brady Quinn, who has now sprung onto the Heisman watch list this year.

“In a very short period of time, Charlie has clearly and impressively demonstrated the ability to take the Notre Dame program where we all want it to go,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White said Saturday in an ESPN report.

Whoa whoa whoa. Let’s make a quick comparison here.

A 10-1 start equals fired after three seasons. A 5-2 start equals a 10-year extension.

I guess math isn’t a prerequisite when making lofty football decisions in South Bend. What’s worse, Weis is now making top dollar. With the extension, Weis is making nearly as much as NFL coaches at $1.5 million a year – and colleges play four fewer games than the pros.

Now, not taking anything away from Weis, but why aren’t more people making the argument that Weis is winning with Willingham’s players? People didn’t wait very long after Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl to complain that coach Jon Gruden won with Tony Dungy’s players.

Shame on Notre Dame and its Athletic Department.

In a series of classless and seemingly brash moves, the Fighting Irish yet again are left with egg on their faces.

Let’s see if they fire Weis if he has a couple of losing seasons. My guess is no, they won’t.

Good luck in Seattle, Ty Willingham.