Notre Dame fired coach Charlie Weis on Monday after a string of disappointing seasons that was capped by an agonizing four-game losing streak.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced the decision, saying in a news release: "We have great expectations for our football program, and we have not been able to meet those expectations."
Swarbrick said he recommended to university president the Rev. John Jenkins on Sunday night that Weis be let go with six years left on his contract. Weis leaves his alma mater with a 35-27 record in five seasons, among the worst of any Fighting Irish coach.
Assistant head coach Rob Ianello will step in for Weis until a new coach is hired.
Following a 6-2 start this season, the losing streak began with the second upset by Navy in three years. Then came losses to Pittsburgh and Connecticut -- in double overtime -- and in the season-finale to Stanford and it seemed inevitable Weis would be gone.
Speculation about possible replacements for Weis has been rampant for weeks. Among the top names, 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.
A brash offensive coordinator with the NFL champion New England Patriots when he was hired, Weis raised Irish expectations with back-to-back appearances in BCS bowl games in his first two seasons.
Since then, though, one of the nation's most storied football programs has gone 16-21 -- the most losses ever by the Irish in a three-year span.
Weis' record is worse than his two predecessors, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, who also were fired. Notre Dame will be looking for its fifth coach this decade.
Weis has six years left on a 10-year contract signed midway through his first season, just after a thriller against top-ranked USC that ended in a 34-31 loss.
The way that game played out served as a model for the Weis era. Clinging to a 31-28 lead with less than 2 minutes to play, Notre Dame allowed the Trojans to convert on a fourth-and-9 from their own 26. That ultimately set up a quarterback sneak in the waning moments, when Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinhart into the end zone for the winning score.
What made Weis' fall worse for fans of one of the nation's most storied football programs was that it began so promisingly.
Weis came to Notre Dame brimming with confidence after serving as offensive coordinator for the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots.
The first two seasons under Weis produced more victories (19) than any other Notre Dame coach, including Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian. Both seasons, though, ended with BCS bowl losses.
Asked about his start at the time, Weis said: "I really haven't done anything yet."
He didn't know he had reached the high point of his tenure.
With Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and other key players gone in 2007, the Irish started 0-5 for the first time in school history. They finished 3-9, leaving Weis one loss shy of matching Davie's school record of 16 losses in his first three seasons.
Most shocking, though, was the fact the Irish finished last in the NCAA in total offense just three years after Weis said at his introductory news conference that when it comes to X's and O's "we have the greatest advantage."
The past two seasons the Irish have collapsed in November. They got off to a 5-2 start before going 1-4 down the stretch a year ago. This time they ended the season with four tough losses.
Notre Dame fans who celebrated Weis' cockiness when he was winning grew tired of his Jersey attitude when the Irish started losing, with many calling him arrogant.
His biggest failure, however, was his team's inability to play good defense. The Irish never finished higher than 39th in the country in total defense and gave up big play after big play.
Weis appeared to know his firing was imminent, saying a day after the loss to Connecticut on Nov. 21 that he would have a hard time arguing against his dismissal "because 6-5 is not good enough" -- an echo of his words when he took the job.
Overall, Weis' teams lost six games by 26 points or more. That's the same number Willingham had in three seasons. Davie only had one such loss and Lou Holtz didn't have any. Weis had a pair of 38-0 losses to Michigan and USC that tie for the eighth-most lopsided losses in Notre Dame history.
Whoever replaces Weis will be charged with ending the longest title drought in school history. Notre Dame has not topped the AP's final poll since the end of the 1988 season.