Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
My earliest memories of football include
South Bend, Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome. I can remember Joe Montana
leading the Irish from behind to win big game time and time again. So, it was
a little disconcerting watching the press conference in South Bend this week,
as Athletic Director Kevin White let the world know that Tyrone Willingham
would not be retained as the coach of the Fighting Irish. The move could be
argued as premature, but the Irish were swift in their decision and now must
find a new football coach, although it is obvious who is at the top of the
Nowhere in America does the lights shine brighter than in South Bend, where a
number of coaches have wilted under the enormous weight of the job.
In recent memory, only Lou Holtz, who won a national championship at Notre
Dame, has been able to shoulder the burden of the top job in all of college
The question here is, was Tyrone Willingham given enough of an opportunity to
succeed? The answer is probably not. Even Bob Davie was given a full
opportunity to win in South Bend, so why was Willingham's tenure cut short
well before the end of his first contract?
Was Tyrone Willingham given enough of an opportunity to succeed at Notre Dame?
"All of us had great expectations when we sat here three years ago, and in a
number of ways Tyrone has been an excellent fit and a great representative of
our program," said director of athletics Kevin White. "He personally has
displayed impeccable integrity and tremendous character - and his players have
represented themselves off the field in a first-class manner. In addition, our
football program under his watch has never been stronger in terms of its
"At the end of the day, we simply have not made the progress on the field that
we need to make. Nor have we been able to create the positive momentum
necessary in our efforts to return the Notre Dame program to the elite level
of the college football world."
There in lies the problem. Willingham was the first African-American coach in
any sport at Notre Dame and that along with being the best candidate for the
job was an attractive package three years ago when he left the Farm at
Stanford and made his way to South Bend. White's press release certainly
points to Willingham obviously being good for the University in terms of
putting out the best "student athletes" he could.
However, it is clear which part of that phrase the powers that be in South
Bend put more stock in these days.
Notre Dame is synonymous with college football and if the school is to once
again reach the pinnacle of the sport, bringing in top-notch talent will have
to be its top priority, even if that means lowering academic standards to get
the job done.
While White has claimed that Notre Dame will now begin its "national search"
for a head football coach, this move was obviously made at this time with one
candidate in mind -- Utah's Urban Meyer. The highly successful coach of the
Utes is the hottest commodity in coaching today and the Irish aren't about to
let him go somewhere else. Meyer has a clause in his contract that allows him
to leave Utah if the Notre Dame job (along with a couple of other schools)
opens up. Meyer has a strong, but short resume as a head coach, with
successful stints at Bowling Green and now at Utah. He also served as an
assistant at Notre Dame from 1996-2000 and is a Middle American product born
Urban Meyer is the hottest commodity in coaching today and the Irish aren't about to let him go to another school.
Taking the Notre Dame job will finally move Meyer among the elite coaches in
the game today. He has succeeded both at Bowling Green and Utah, but both
programs pale in comparison to the scrutiny he will be under in South Bend.
Still, the positives to moving on are obvious and not many coaches in the
nation would turn down the Irish if they came calling.
While Meyer is doing the right thing and refusing to discuss the job, instead
concentrating his efforts on Utah's impending matchup with someone in a BCS
Bowl, the Notre Dame job is the plum position in college football.
This seems to be a match made in Heaven, or at the least college football's
equivalent (South Bend).