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Willingham’s assistant coaches currently wait in limbo

Justin Schuver | Wednesday, December 1, 2004

While Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham was removed of his duties as football coach Tuesday, the fate of his assistant staff is still up in the air.

“Everybody will be retained until we have a new head coach in place,” Irish athletic director Kevin White said at a press conference Tuesday.

According to Ivan Maisel at ESPN.com, seven of Willingham’s assistants were not even aware of the firing because they were traveling on business trips. It was not clear who those seven assistants were.

Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick are among those coaches whose jobs are currently in limbo. Offensive line coaches Mike Denbrock and John McDonnell, defensive line coach Greg Mattison, wide receivers coach Trent Miles, running backs/special teams coach Buzz Preston, linebackers coach Bob Simmons and defensive backs coach Steven Wilks are the other assistant coaches on staff.

At this point, it is unclear which coaches, if any, will be retained after the hiring of a new head football coach at Notre Dame. Of the current Irish assistant coaches, all but Mattison were either brought over from Stanford with Willingham in 2002, or have been hired during Willingham’s tenure.

Mattison was the defensive coordinator under Willingham’s predecessor Bob Davie, and was retained as a member of Willingham’s staff.

There have been speculations that Baer might be a prime candidate for the vacant head coaching position at Utah State, Baer’s alma mater. He began his Division-I coaching career with the Aggies, serving as Utah State’s outside linebackers coach from 1977-82, and then as the team’s defensive coordinator from 1983-85.

The members of the assistant coaching staff are not the only employees of the football program whose jobs are currently in limbo. Among one of the more important figures that might have to be replaced is Jimmy Gonzales, Notre Dame’s director of player development.

Gonzales has worked directly with members of the coaching staff in recruiting, and is seen as one of the most important recruiting gurus under Willingham’s program.

There have been several rumors surrounding the firing of Willingham that White might have first asked the coach to make changes to his coaching staff. White all but denied those rumors Tuesday.

“We never really got to that conversation, and I think I have a history of not being a micromanager,” White said. “And I don’t think Father Malloy has spent a whole lot of time spending a lot of associates athletic directors to hire and I haven’t spent a whole lot of time telling our coaches who they need to hire to serve as their assistants.

“At the end of the day, the end game is we really have to do a good job on Saturday, and we have to get back to the elite. Coach Willingham knows how to hire a staff and put together a staff, and he’s a professional. And so no, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time having those conversations.”

Contact Justin Schuver at jschuver@nd.edu