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With failing record, Weis did the unthinkable: He became likeable

Go ahead. Make your fat jokes. Mock the man's ego. Say that Charlie Weis deserved what he got, that he came in like a lion and went out like a lamb chop, fresh meat for any decent team he played.

But give the man this, OK? Just this one thing: he leaves with his dignity intact. Weis was much more likeable in failure than he was in success. And when you fail as publicly as a Notre Dame coach fails, that is a hard trick to pull off.

Yes, Weis deserved to be fired. He was paid a lot of money to win football games and he didn't win enough (Weis had a 35-27 record in five years). But how many coaches acknowledge, before the deed is even done, that they understand why they're getting whacked?

Weis always blamed himself first. He did not complain that Notre Dame fans were living in the 1940s or that the academic standards at the school were too high.

His failure was his failure. He owned it, lived with it, paid some emotional taxes on it. But he never passed it off as somebody else's.

Charlie Weis had worked his whole life for this job. He did not play football for Notre Dame, but he did go to school there, and even then, he wanted to be a coach. The story about Weis is that in his undergrad days, players would go talk to him about what really happened in the games. Even then, he saw himself as an X's and O's savant.

When he worked for the Patriots, Weis underwent gastric bypass surgery, supposedly because he thought he would have a better chance at a head-coaching job if he was (relatively) slimmer. Whether that was the only reason for the surgery is not the point. Weis wanted to be a head coach so desperately that people believed he would go that far.

Maybe that is why he talked so big when he finally got the Notre Dame job: He wanted the whole world to know he deserved it.

The stories about Weis's ego are plentiful and easy to believe. He told his players they would never lose to Michigan State again. He said he would flip the USC rivalry on its head. He flashed his Super Bowl rings to everybody he saw on recruiting trips. He said his players would have a "decided schematic advantage" and boasted that other coaches better wait until they get a load of some of these NFL plays.

At some point, it became hard to separate the myth from the fact when it came to Charlie Weis, because the myth was so very close to the fact.

If Weis had won at Notre Dame like he expected to win -- national championships, annual BCS berths, the whole deal -- he would have been insufferable.

Instead, his career started to fall apart in year three of his tenure, which has always been the show-me year for coaches in South Bend. Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won the national championship in their third year at Notre Dame. Weis finished 3-9.

The big guy was falling on his face. He became the most mocked coach in the country.

And that is when he started to become endearing. After his first loss in 2007, a 33-3 debacle to Georgia Tech, he cracked a joke at his own expense in the postgame press conference, then told the reporters he hoped he could at least get a laugh out of them.

Somebody put up a billboard in South Bend that read: "Best wishes to Charlie Weis in the 5th year of his college coaching internship" ... and Weis joked that it was a very nice thought until the last word.

Notre Dame plucked Weis out of an NFL coordinator job, and in the end, that's all he was: an NFL coordinator. He built impressive offenses around gifted drop-back passers. But his defenses were never good enough, and he made foolish decisions when his offensive coordinator's heart got the best of his head-coaching head. Weis always thought he could playcall his way to happiness.

Soon, he'll go back to being an assistant coach, probably in the NFL. He will be remembered, always, for failing at Notre Dame. But I'll try to remember how he handled that failure, too. That was the funny thing about Charlie Weis. The more he won, the more I wanted him to lose. And once he started losing, I found myself pulling for him to win.

AP: Notre Dame fires Weis after five seasons

GALLERY: Recounting Weis' demise

MANDEL: Notre Dame job is death trap in waiting

KING:Five NFL teams who may want Weis

MANDEL:Possible candidates for ND, other BCS jobs

VAULT:Weis tapped to bring 'Fighting' back to Irish (04.25.05)

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