SEATTLE - Tyrone Willingham and Lorenzo Romar are recognized as accomplished college coaches, the biggest reason Washington administrators are glad to have them working the sidelines.
The fact that both men are black and supervising the school's two most visible athletic programs is "a little bit extra," in the words of university president Mark Emmert.
It's also historic.
Willingham was introduced Monday as Washington's new football coach, two weeks after being fired at Notre Dame. Romar is in his third season as coach of the men's basketball team.
Washington is the first major-conference school to have two black men overseeing the two major sports.
"We're delighted to have in Lorenzo Romar and Tyrone Willingham two first-rate coaches who are wonderful people of great character," Emmert said.
Willingham's hiring is newsworthy for another reason. He's the first black head coach to be fired by one high-profile football program and then quickly resurface at another.
"That is honestly significant," Willingham said. "With the old landscape, there have been limited opportunities for one to truly be able to get back into the system. I think that's a very positive step."
Romar, hired by former athletic director Barbara Hedges, leads a basketball team that reached the NCAA tournament last spring. The basketball Huskies, No. 18 in this week's poll, are expected to contend for this season's Pac-10 title.
Both Willingham and Romar said their positions at Washington represent progress for blacks, but insisted that job qualifications should always mean more than skin color.
"I'm excited as an alum and a current employee of the University of Washington that our university is making progress and not using color as the No. 1 factor on whether they're going to hire someone," Romar said. "It's about who is the best qualified. Who is the best fit?
"This may be the most important hire in the history of Husky football," Romar said. "You can't make it a political hire."
Said Willingham: "I am proud to be African American, but we should get to the point where that's not the focus, where it's really the body of work that a man does. I'm looking forward to increasing my body of work."
Emmert and athletic director Todd Turner, who both are white, said race wasn't a factor in Willingham's hire.
They simply wanted the best coach, and Willingham's name topped their list when Keith Gilbertson stepped down after a 1-10 season. Emmert said the university would have used the same approach in hiring a college dean.
"This is the man we wanted as our coach," Emmert said.
Willingham's firing at Notre Dame, after the third year of a five-year contract, raised questions about whether he was given enough time to succeed and drew criticism from the Black Coaches Association.
Willingham was one of only five black head coaches in Division I-A last season. That number dropped to two after Tony Samuel was fired at New Mexico State, Fitz Hill resigned at San Jose State and Willingham was let go.
"Tyrone Willingham is an outstanding individual, in terms of the way he carries himself both in public and behind closed doors," BCA president Stan Wilcox said. "You couldn't find a better gentleman of character and respect within the football coaching community. He is going to do great things for Washington."
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