Fighting Irish Name New Coach

FILE--Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham leads his team onto the field to face San Jose State, Sept. 9, 2000, at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. Notre Dame was close to hiring Willingham as its football coach in a deal that could be completed as early as Monday, Dec. 31, 2001, The Associated Press has learned. If hired, Willingham would become the first black head coach in any sport for the Fighting Irish. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
Tyrone Willingham emerged as a possible successor to Bob Davie shortly after he was fired as Notre Dame's football coach on Dec. 2.

Almost a month and one hiring fiasco later, Willingham has the job.

Willingham, 44-36-1 in seven seasons at Stanford, signed a six-year deal with Notre Dame on Monday night, associate athletic director John Heisler said. A news conference was scheduled Tuesday to introduce him as the new coach.

Willingham, who officially will take over as coach on Wednesday, is the first black head coach at Notre Dame in any sport. It also gives Willingham one of the most prestigious coaching positions in sports.

The news drew praise from prominent black leaders.

"It's a victory for fairness and equal opportunity to succeed or fail," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who previously 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." quoted his agent, Ray Anderson, as saying Willingham will get $2 million to $3 million a year to coach the Fighting Irish. Messages left for Anderson by The AP were not returned.

Heisler declined to reveal the financial figures, but called the $2 million to $3 million report "a real exaggeration."

Athletic director Kevin White was not available for comment Monday night, but issued a statement praising the job Willingham did at Stanford.

"I've spoken to a great many people about Tyrone — and every one of them regards him as one of the very top coaches in the game today — at the college or pro levels," he said.

White had similar praise when former Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary was introduced as the Irish coach on Dec. 9. The school announced five days later, however, that O'Leary had resigned because it was revealed that he lied about his academic and athletic background. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in school history.

Willingham's introduction Tuesday is expected to be much more low key than when O'Leary was hired. That introduction was part news conference, part pep rally as the public was invited to attend, the Irish band played and the cheerleaders performed as university personnel passed out O'Leary T-shirts.

Tuesday's news conference is not open to the public and will be held in the same room where Davie's firing was announced.

White said of Willingham: "To the people at the NCAA, he's a man of impeccable integrity; to the recruiting gurus, he's among the very best at attracting talent even when maintaining the highest SAT scores in the nation."

Willingham appears to fit the criteria that 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.

"He's left one of the great universities and one of the great athletic programs in this country to be a part of Notre Dame," White said.

Players said they were happy with the hiring.

"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 storied history of the Irish. Notre Dame coaches historically have done better than 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 to 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 1997-00, 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.

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