Originally created 01/01/02

Willingham is next coach at Notre Dame



SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame hired Stanford's Tyrone Willingham as its football coach Monday, looking to move past the embarrassment of the George O'Leary fiasco.

Associate athletic director John Heisler said Willingham signed a six-year contract but did not disclose the financial terms. Willingham will be introduced at a news conference on Tuesday.

ESPN.com quoted the agent, Ray Anderson, as saying Willingham will get $2 million to $3 million a year to coach the Fighting Irish. Calls to Anderson by The AP were not immediately answered. Heisler called the figure "a real exaggeration."

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

Willingham would replace 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.

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 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.

The deal would make Willingham the first black head coach in any sport at Notre Dame and give him one of the most prestigious positions in college football. The news drew praise from several prominent black leaders.

"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 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.