Wednesday, December 1, 2004 Updated: December 2, 12:47 PM ET
Coach's only regret: Irish didn't win
ESPN.com news services
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tyrone Willingham blamed himself Wednesday for his firing as Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach, saying he failed to meet the school's expectations of producing an elite team.
But Willingham, whose three-year tenure was the shortest of any
non-interim coach at the school in 70 years, wouldn't say whether
he was given enough time to turn the storied program back into a
Tyrone Willingham said he is a realist who deals with "events as they occur."
"I don't get into what's fair and what's not fair. I am an
optimist by nature, but I am also a realist, and that makes you
deal with the events as they occur," he said. "So I will deal
with the events."
Willingham was fired Tuesday with three years left on his
initial six-year contract after going 21-15. Notre Dame had made a
tradition of allowing its coaches to at least work through the
length of their first contract.
"I understand that I did not meet the expectations and
standards I set for myself and this program," he said. "When you
don't meet your own expectations you make yourself vulnerable to
the will of others. So today I am no longer the head football coach
at Notre Dame."
His players, though, left no doubt they thought three years
wasn't enough time for Willingham.
"Think about it," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "It's not
even allowing one of his recruiting classes to get all the way
The hardest part about being fired for Willingham is leaving
Notre Dame without meeting the goals he set and leaving behind the
players he recruited.
He said there is just one thing he wished he had done differently.
"Win. That's it," he said.
Willingham knew some discussions about his job were under way
Sunday, but said he was still surprised by the firing.
The university's outgoing and incoming presidents, the provost,
the executive vice president, athletic director Kevin White and two
board of trustee members met Monday night and Tuesday and decided
it was time to fire Willingham.
Chris Zorich, a former Lombardi Award winner and defensive lineman at Notre Dame, told ESPNews that he is "embarrassed" by Willingham being fired before the end of his contract.
"It really tarnishes what Notre Dame is all about," Zorich said.
Willingham, the first black head coach in any sport at Notre
Dame, was asked if he had any thoughts on the number of black head
coaches in Division I-A being reduced from five to two.
"Plenty, but none of them will be discussed now," he said.
Willingham said he will take a "moment" to decide what he will
"I don't know how long that moment will be. A moment could be a
moment or it could be a week," he said. "It's kind of indefinite
what that moment will be."
Willingham also talked about a report that he had been contacted
by Washington two weeks ago about its coaching vacancy. He said
there was no official contact, but there was informal contact.
He said his response was: "I am the Notre Dame football coach.
I came to do this job and only this job."
He declined comment on whether he had been contacted by
Washington since being fired.
Willingham tried to keep his first public remarks since being
"I've never had a bad day. I've had bad moments. Sometimes
those bad moments will run into another day and you'll have hurt,
pain, etc., but it is still a good day," he said. "There are so
many blessings that Tyrone Willingham has that are amazing."
And his ouster could have already cost the Fighting Irish a coveted recruit.
Lawrence Wilson, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound end who carries a 3.2 grade-point average, said he has not ruled out Notre Dame, but he will withdraw his verbal commitment to attend the school.
"The firing of coach Willingham is very disappointing," Wilson said Tuesday. "I am very unhappy. Coach Willingham and the assistant coaches were one of the reasons I decided to attend Notre Dame."
Wilson, also a standout basketball player at St. Vincent/St. Mary's in Akron, Ohio -- alma mater of NBA Rookie of the Year LeBron James -- said Ohio State and Pittsburgh, two of his final three choices, re-enter as possible candidates. Wilson has said he wants to play basketball and football in college.
Notre Dame players said a liaison committee of five players has
been formed to give input into what they're looking for in a new
coach. Quinn, a member of the committee, said he knows what
characteristics he wants in the new coach.
"I think for me, someone like coach Willingham," Quinn said.
"Maybe he has a twin out there he doesn't know about."