After his first season as Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis hung a banner in the weight room that read: "9-3 is not good enough."
Those words may prove prophetic.
That record is the best the Fighting Irish (6-3) can finish the regular season following their stunning 23-21 loss to Navy on Saturday, and critics of Weis, who has six years left on his 10-year contract, are out in full throat. Fan message boards are rife with those calling for his firing _ with some saying he should be let go immediately.
South Bend Tribune columnist Al Lesar wrote the loss could be a "deal-breaker," saying that the loss to Michigan had already faded and the loss to USC had been excused. But the loss to Navy is different, he wrote, it won't go away.
"It's one that will be on the top of the pile come review time," Lesar wrote.
Irish players showed frustration, too. Jimmy Clausen, hobbled by toe turf toe most of the season and needing to be helped off the field in the third quarter when he was hit hard and fumbled at the goal line, was called for a late hit for pushing back a Navy lineman after Clausen's pass bounced off receiver Michael Floyd's back for an interception.
After the game, Notre Dame nose guard Ian Williams said that Navy "out-schemed us and I think they just played harder."
That drew a response Sunday from Weis, who pointed out that safety Kyle McCarthy said after the game that Navy's success had nothing to do with the scheme.
"There's a reason why one guy's a captain and one guy's not," Weis said.
But even McCarthy said the Irish defensively "just tried to do the same stuff as we did last year." That's what Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said he was counting on.
The loss Saturday was reminiscent of last season when it seemed Weis had done just enough to get off the proverbial hot seat when the Irish inexplicably blew a double-digit lead in a loss to Syracuse, the first time in its storied history that Notre Dame was beaten by an eight-loss team.
Until the loss Saturday, the Irish were aiming for a Bowl Championship Series berth and the talk about Weis had generally subsided. That changed quickly.
Weis said he didn't hear from any fans after the loss, saying the only two fans he had to deal with were his wife Maura and 16-year-old son, Charlie Jr.
"Trust me, they're a lot worse than the rest of them," he said.
Now the best the Irish appear capable of is going to either the Gator or Cotton bowls, and they still have games left at No. 8 Pittsburgh (8-1) and at No. 25 Stanford (6-3), sandwiched around a game at home against Connecticut (4-5).
Weis was asked how the Irish, who have a star quarterback and two standout receivers, can fail to make it to a BCS game.
"Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?" Weis asked rhetorically. "We lost three games by 13 points. But there are a lot of close wins that could have gone the other ways for us, too. I think we have some dynamic players on our team, but it still comes down to situational football. You still have to excel in situational football."
The situation for Weis is this: A loss at Pitt would leave Weis with a 35-25 record, the same record that got Bob Davie fired in 2001. It's also the same .583 winning percentage that got Tyrone Willingham fired in 2004. A loss also would leave the Irish at 6-4, just a loss away from the record Willingham had in his last season when he was fired and Weis was brought in.
"Right now you're a 6-5 football team, and guess what, that's just not good enough," Weis said when he was introduced in 2004. "That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me."
The question is: Will 9-3, 8-4 or 7-5 be good enough?