Notre Dame Fires Tyrone Willingham

Notre Dame Announces Change In Football Staff :: Head coach Tyrone Willingham will not be retained for 2005. (Notre Dame Sports)

The University of Notre Dame announced today that Tyrone Willingham will not be retained as its head football coach. Willingham finished 21-15 overall in his three seasons (2002-04) as Irish head coach.

via Kevin Aylward at Wizbang and SportsBlog

Robert Cox reports that Notre Dame has scheduled a press conference at 4 p.m. Eastern; Willingham will not attend.

I’m quite surprised by this move. Willingham took over a moribund program and had quite a bit of success his first year. Willingham has only had three years, which is barely enough time to install a completely new system and not yet time for his initial recruiting class to become seniors. He’s a classy guy and would likely have turned the program around given sufficient time.

While barely qualifying for the Bowl isn’t exactly where Notre Dame sees itself, few schools can expect to compete for the mythical national title every year. The Irish play perhaps the toughest schedule in the country each year, making it even more challenging.

Tony Kornheiser has argued for more than a year that Notre Dame has never fired a football coach during their first contract and that it wouldn’t break that tradition now. Unfortunately, even religious schools with high academic standards are treating their programs as if they were professional franchises. It’s a shame.

Update (1422): Leave it to ESPN to make it about race.

Two black head coaches in I-A

Coach Tyrone Willingham was fired by Notre Dame on Tuesday after three seasons in which he failed to return one of the nation’s most storied football programs to prominence. Willingham had a record of 21-15, including 6-5 this season. The Fighting Irish lost 41-10 to No. 1 Southern California on Saturday. It was not immediately clear whether Willingham would coach the team at the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28. Notre Dame accepted the invitation to the game on Sunday. Athletic director Kevin White scheduled a news conference for 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

With Willingham out — and after the recent firing of New Mexico State’s Tony Samuel and resignation of Fitz Hill from San Jose State — there are now only two black head coaches in Division I-A: Karl Dorrell at UCLA and Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State. There are 117 football programs in I-A.

In 2002, Willingham became the only first-year Notre Dame coach to lead the program to a 10-win season, posting a 10-2 regular-season record and earning a trip to the Gator Bowl. The Irish went 5-7 in 2003.

Frank Solich, who last time I checked was white, was fired last year at Nebraska after compiling a 9-3 regular season and going 58-19 in six seasons. Willingham–and Solich–deserved better. But it’s not about race.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. the Pirate says:

    I would agree, Ty did good work and should of atleast been extended the opportunity to impliment his system with his recuits. But given the nature of expectations around Notre Dame, I am not caught by suprise that he was fired.

    As far as ESPN they love making race an issue when ever they can, this one tops the whole ‘story’ they did about how there are only 2 black starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.

  2. Nathan Hamm says:

    I’m probably playing with fire saying this, but I can’t stand Notre Dame because of the attitude of entitlement to success at football. That attitude surely played a big role in the decision to can Willingham. I like Ty Willingham and hope he finds success at a school that is interested in giving a coach a little more time to develop a porgram.

  3. catnip says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble guys, but, Wiillingham was fired because he is NOT a good coach, When Kevin White, the AD at ND, brought him in from Stanford he had a worse record than Davies.
    To add insult to injury, he brought his incompetent staff with him. He is a nice person, but that don’t win games. And YES, ND has a legacy of winning and we intend to keep it that way.

  4. Brian says:

    James, rarely do I disagree with you … looks like this is going to be one of those times.

    Notre Dame has high expectations, yes. And? The problem isn’t that the team under Willingham hasn’t met expectations. It’s that they aren’t even competitive on a national level right now, and they don’t seem to be improving.

    A closer look at Willingham’s record with the Irish reveals that he hasn’t been nearly as successful as his W-L record appears. I blog about this in greater detail here.

    By the way, I agreed with Solich’s firing too. Again, it wasn’t the 9 wins, it was the 3 losses and who they lost to, and how they lost, and the fact that the team was on the decline.

  5. John Scarbeck says:

    If ND can’t sign Urban Meyer, why not Tom O’Brien of B.C.? The Eagles, under O’Brien (perfect Irish name, that) have beaten (and outcoached) N.D. four years running. O’Brien has a good staff – his offensive coordinator called virtually all passes in the second half against the Irish this fall, yet N.D.’s defense couldn’t stop the Eagles.

    This link:
    gives positive info on O’Brien, a former Navy football player and U.S. Marine. He also can coach his tail off: besides besting the woeful (but deeper than B.C.) Irish the past four years, he’s consistently led the Eagles to bowl games – something neither N.D.’s Davie nor Willingham could do.

    I wish *some* media person would “talk up” O’Brien … if N.D. can’t land Urban, why not O’Brien???

    – John Scarbeck
    South Bend, Ind.

  6. Owen J. Brady says:

    I am 68 years old and am a loyal Irish fan. I have been proud to be a part of ND. I live in Phoenix and am cancelling my plans to attend the Insight Bowl. The firing of Willingham is disgraceful.
    Greed and money has taken over the finest school in the land. Trust and honor is more important than winning. “Play like a champion today” doesn’t always mean you win. You do your best “honorably”. Shame on Notre Dame. Hang your heads in shame. I actually hurt inside because of your deceite.
    I can no longer praise the “Fighting Irish”. The good Fathers had better go on a retreat and reflect on what has happened. This is the saddest day in the annuls of Notre Dame football.

  7. calidude620 says:

    Willingham was not a bad coach at all. He revived a dying program. I agree with all that say its money and greed because it is. I’m ashamed of Notre Dame and I hope Ty finds a good coaching job elsewhere.

  8. John O'Kief says:

    Please consider a great coach who recruits Pac 10 players who are rejected by other Pac 10 teams,and thenbeats the pac ten teams. That alone should tip you off on how he gets players to buy into his system which is a very balanced offense.
    I have met Dan once and was so impressed with his demeanor and attitude. He is a devouted Catholic and family man. His players love him and give 110% on the field for him. His teams are units of one with respect to all. Not contacting him in my opion would be a big mistake, even if he wasn’t your final choice.