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Where there's a Willingham

Notre Dame gives Stanford coach six-year deal

Posted: Monday December 31, 2001 8:57 AM
Updated: Tuesday January 01, 2002 12:32 AM
  Tyrone Willingham Tyrone Willingham led Stanford to a 9-3 season and a Seattle Bowl bid. Scott Halleran/Allsport

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- An unprecedented fiasco has given way to an unprecedented hire at Notre Dame.

Tyrone Willingham was chosen to lead one of college football's most storied programs Monday, becoming the first black head coach in any sport for the Irish.

The former Stanford coach signed a six-year contract, but the school did not disclose financial terms. He will be introduced Tuesday at a news conference.

ESPN.com quoted his agent, Ray Anderson, as saying Willingham will get $2 million to $3 million a year. Associate athletic director John Heisler called the figure "a real exaggeration."

Willingham was among the leading contenders for the job after Bob Davie was fired Dec. 2 following five mostly disappointing seasons, including this one, when the Irish were 5-6.

Willingham replaces George O'Leary, the former Georgia Tech coach who resigned five days after taking the job Dec. 8 because he lied about his academic and athletic achievements on his resume. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in school history.

News of the Willingham deal drew praise from several prominent black leaders.

Black coaches intrigued by Willingham's hiring
Turner Gill, Nebraska's quarterback coach, like Tyrone Willingham, is black. He knows that in a sport that has long been criticized for its lack of minority head coaches –- five in Division I-A this year –- the hiring of Willingham to perhaps the most glamorous post in the country is sure to raise some eyebrows. But he isn’t ready to make any historic proclamations.

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    "It's a victory for fairness and equal opportunity to succeed or fail," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had urged Notre Dame to consider black candidates. "To even the field for athletes, you have to be willing to even the field for coaches."

    Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association, said: 'This opens up a lot of doors for a lot of people. We have minority candidates out there that just haven't been considered before. There are other Tyrone Willinghams out there.'

    Willingham appears to fit the criteria that Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White listed when he fired Davie: Willingham has been a head coach for seven seasons, he has a winning record (44-36-1), and he knows how to recruit at a school with high academic standards.

    "With all the things that have gone on the past few weeks, I think they've looked him over pretty close and I think he'll be a good choice," cornerback Vontez Duff said.

    While Willingham's winning percentage of 54.9 percent is worse than Davie's 58.3 percent (35-25), Stanford doesn't have the illustrious history of the Irish. Notre Dame coaches historically have done better than they did at their previous stops.

    Ara Parseghian was 36-35-1 in eight seasons at Northwestern. Dan Devine was 25-28-4 in four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, including 6-8 his last year. Both won national championships at Notre Dame.

    Willingham has been a perennial candidate mentioned for other vacancies. Ohio State considered him last year, while North Carolina State and Michigan State -- Willingham's alma mater -- were interested in him after the Cardinal made the Rose Bowl in 1999.

    Stanford was 9-3 this season, and Willingham has led the team to one Pac-10 Conference title and into four bowl games.

    Willingham, Dennis Green's running backs coach with the Cardinal from 1989-91 before a stint with Green's Minnesota Vikings, succeeded Bill Walsh at Stanford after the 1994 season.

    Though Stanford had a winning record in just one of four seasons from 1997-2000, Willingham maintained his status as one of college football's best organizers and managers. He led the Cardinal to a Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl in 1999, and never lost a game against rival California in seven seasons.

    Stanford athletic director Ted Leland said the school would start the search for Willingham's successor immediately.

    "We know that we will get a great football coach," Leland said. "If you think back on our last three coaches, Dennis Green, Tyrone Willingham, and Bill Walsh. We will find a successor for that group of individuals and we will find a great coach."

     

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