SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Charlie Weis seemed like the perfect fit for Notre Dame.
An alumnus, a friend to Joe Montana, a mentor to New England quarterback Tom Brady and the owner of three Super Bowl rings from his days with the Patriots, Weis promised five years ago to outscheme other coaches while putting a "nasty" team on the field.
In the end, though, the man who as a student called the university president to complain about the play of the football team couldn't lift the Irish out of mediocrity. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Monday that he'd fired Weis and begun the search for someone who can end the longest title drought for Notre Dame's acclaimed football program.
"I believe our ability to take the next step and return to a level of prominence is all about bringing the right individual in here," Swarbrick said.
But who? Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Weis, the last three to lead the Irish, all are among the worst coaches at Notre Dame.
Swarbrick, who took over as AD before the 2008 season, wouldn't be too specific about criteria in seeking Weis' replacement other than to say he believes leadership is key and it is important the next coach has succeeded in building and sustaining a Division I program.
Swarbrick said he would consult with people in college and pro football to get their assessments on possible replacements as well as consulting with people at Notre Dame about characteristics the new coach should possess.
Receiver Golden Tate knew who he'd be looking for.
"To be honest, another guy like Coach Weis, with great character and knows the game. Hopefully we can find someone who fits that criteria," said Tate, who plans to talk with Weis on Friday about whether he should enter the NFL draft.
Center Eric Olsen said he thinks Notre Dame should pick another "Notre Dame man."
"Obviously the wins and losses didn't work out the way that everyone wanted with coach Weis, but if nothing else he really was a Notre Dame man. He loved this university with all his heart," Olsen said. "He wasn't a hypocrite when it came to academics and the little things outside of football, and that's something really important. The integrity of this place and what it means to come from the University of Notre Dame is something special."
Speculation about who would possibly replace Weis has been rampant for a while. Among the top names mentioned, Florida's Urban Meyer and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops already have said they plan to stay where they are. Speaking on a conference call Monday, Stoops said: "I'm going to be at Oklahoma next year, so I can't be at two places at once."
Cincinnati's Brian Kelly has also been mentioned, along with Stanford's Jim Harbaugh and TCU's Gary Patterson.
Assistant head coach Rob Ianello will step in for Weis until a new coach is hired.
Swarbrick said Monday the search for a new coach will begin immediately and will be finished "as fast as we possibly can." He didn't set a timetable. He said during a campus news conference Monday evening that the school has not contacted any potential replacements.
Swarbrick expects a lot of interest in the job.
"It is a job in which people understand the potential that is here to return Notre Dame to a position of prominence in college football, and I am excited to embark full-bore on the process of finding the right next successor to the legacy of Rockne and Leahy and Parseghian and Holtz," he said.
Irish fans once dreamed that Weis would be adding his name to that list when he started his career 19-4 with two games left in his second season. Instead, the Irish lost their next two, went 3-9 in his third season and then finished the next two regular seasons 6-6. He finishes with a 35-27 record in five seasons.
Swarbrick predicted Weis will return to the NFL.
"He'll add some Super Bowl rings to the ones he already has as a successful coordinator in the NFL and we will miss him," Swarbrick said.