December 4, 2004


When Notre Dame fired Ty Willingham the other day, a lot of eyebrows were raised. Appearances can be deceiving I know, but it sure looked like the availability of Urban Meyer, the Utah coach who had spent five years as a Notre Dame assistant, was a primary factor in the premature dismissal of Willingham. Meyer is this year's Next Big Thing, and he supposedly had a lifelong dream to coach the Irish. The alumni had to be salivating. Their only problem was that they already had a coach under contract. But they couldn't risk losing this Meyer guy to someone like the University of Florida. What was the problem again?

My own assumption was that enough back-channel contacts had been made to assure the Notre Dame people that they had Meyer in their hip pocket, and that all they had to do was create a vacancy before they made the public move to contact their new coach. Surely the Athletic Director who had embarrassed himself and the university three years ago in the George O'Leary mess wouldn't risk the certain wrath of the national media for firing a talented and honorable black coach in the middle of his contract unless he was sure he could deliver to South Bend the guy who could return the Irish to the glory days. Right?

Well, today the only guy in the world who looks more ridiculous than Notre Dame A.D. Kevin White is Barry Bonds claiming that he didn't know they were steroids. It is reported this morning that Meyer has accepted an offer to become the new coach at Florida. Jim Caple of ESPN's Page 2, is ruthless:

Notre Dame fired football coach Tyrone Willingham on Tuesday and with this one craven move, the Fighting Irish officially changed a famous saying inscribed on a campus building from "God, Country, Notre Dame" to "Notre Dame: Just Like Everyone Else."

The dismissal marked the first time "The School That Is Above All That Stuff" fired a coach while he still had years remaining on his contract. What will be the school's next low move to appease the alumni and attract recruits? Hiring Nicollete Sheridan to leap naked into the arms of Touchdown Jesus?

The entire university should be ashamed. Willingham was 21-15 and had one losing season yet Notre Dame let him go just three years into his five-year contract. Three years! His predecessor, Bob Davie, had a worse record after three years but still got an extra two years to coach. Three years! Good lord, even Gerry Faust got five years.

"Coach Willingham is an outstanding football coach," Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said Tuesday. "He's got an impeccable reputation."

So naturally, he fired him.

Somehow, you get the feeling they're probably not going make an inspirational movie about what happened in South Bend this week...

...Despite the dismissal, Willingham will do just fine. He's a good coach with a great reputation and a strong resumé and he'll be re-hired quickly (rumor has it that he's going to Washington, much to the joy of beleaguered Husky fans everywhere). The big loser is Notre Dame. The next coach may win or he may not but the school's reputation will never recover from this.

Ivan Maisel thinks Willingham might be getting a bit of satisfaction out of the Irish predicament: feels like something has changed in the DNA of college football. Notre Dame is no longer Notre Dame.

Schadenfreude is not an Irish word. It's German for enjoying the trouble of others. Even Willingham, class act that he is, must have had trouble suppressing a smile Friday.

Let's just say I'm not suppressing my smile.

UPDATE 12/4: Skip Bayless says it was a mistake for Notre Dame to have hired Willingham in the first place. He also reports that Willingham's job was in jeopardy before the start of this season, and that his contacts with U. of Washington were weeks old at the time of his termination.

Posted by dan at December 4, 2004 12:49 PM