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Respects paid, Irish move on

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, September 26, 2005

Ronald Talley wasn’t leaving the field until he found Tyrone Willingham. Joe Brockington walked off the field with his former position coach, Bob Simmons, now a tight ends and special teams coach for Washington.

Captain Brandon Hoyte told his former coach how much he respected him. Fellow captain Brady Quinn was friendly with the man whose firing greatly upset him at the time.

“Obviously, [I] had a couple words, talked with the coach,” Quinn said. “I think anytime you spend a couple years with a coach like that, you’re gonna have a few things to say.”

And it wasn’t just Talley’s pursuit of the former Irish coach or Brockington’s walking off the field with his helmet still on talking to Simmons. It was everyone else – Trevor Laws, Dan Stevenson, Corey Mays, Mark LeVoir, to name a few – who went up to their former coach.

“It’s the truth,” Hoyte said of his respect for Willingham. “I mean, how could you not?”

The respect they paid after the game to their former coach was an indication of their opinions on Willingham as a person.

“I expected that to happen, I expected them to at least say they knew me, so that’s what happened,” Willingham said.

But now it’s over.

The controversial firing that led to a public outcry can be put to bed. The much-hyped matchup between Notre Dame and Willingham, talked about since the day he was hired at Washington, is over. Notre Dame was the better team, and it came away with a win against a team that won one game last season.

So now the Irish can focus on their problems on the field, which number far more than the 36-17 final score indicates.

No one knows this better than safety Tom Zbikowski, who said he went over to shake hands with those coaches who recruited him.

“It feels good to get that win out of the way so now we’re focused on football and only football,” he said. “There’s not going to be any of the outside stuff that’s going to affect us.”

But what will affect the Irish is their pass defense, as shown by Willingham’s willingness to throw the deep ball. He knew if the Huskies were going to win, they were going to do it at the expense of the Irish secondary.

“We thought we would have a lot of success with our passing game, and there, for a stretch, we relied on it,” Willingham said.

Time and time again, Notre Dame got beat deep and Washington players hit career highs. Receiver Anthony Russo’s 39-yard catch was the longest of his career. Wide receiver Marlon Wood has his first career reception Saturday, a 69-yard bomb which was also the longest completion of quarterback Isaiah Stanback’s career. At the end of the day, Stanback finished with 353 yards passing.

And with the passing of this game, the focus shifts back to football. Back to Notre Dame’s struggles to cover the deep ball. Back to Purdue, this week’s opponent, which is coming off a tough overtime loss to Minnesota.

It’s time to move on. There are no more distractions. No more talk of the “Ty Bowl.” No more reasons to talk about the old coaching staff of Notre Dame. No reason to debate the firing of Willingham anymore.

And Irish head coach Charlie Weis said he and Willingham talked before the game about how what he called a “circus” is going to end with kickoff.

“I think we were both glad to get to kickoff and get it over with, because no matter how hard you try, you know what it’s going to be about,” Weis said. “I think that we got to share a little chuckle together because we were both thinking the same thing.”

And so now Weis gets to think about what he likes best – football.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Please contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu