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Replacing Willingham ‘eventually’

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 28, 2004

As the losses accumulate, Notre Dame continues its fall from the ranks of college football’s elite. Saturday’s meltdown serves as yet another piece of mounting evidence that our University’s football team will be unable to achieve sustained success under Tyrone Willingham.

Regrettably, many of the decision makers within our University tend to dismiss criticisms of the current coaching staff as knee-jerk reactions to painful losses. They chide disgruntled alumni for being impatient and insist that Willingham will win once he “gets his own players in.”

These defenses of Willingham’s regime may have been appropriate when the team struggled last season, but with this season’s disappointments, the administration’s excuses have lost their credibility. After nearly three seasons under Willingham, signs of progress at Notre Dame Stadium are as elusive as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His teams have constantly exhibited the sort of inconsistent play that impedes success. Simply put, routine blowout losses, frequent “too many men on the field” penalties and playing down to inferior competition are not the signs of a competent coaching staff.

The 2004 installment of the Irish is one of the most talented Notre Dame teams in recent memory. It boasts high school All-Americans at nearly every position. With the exception of the freshman class, every player on this team arrived at Notre Dame as part of a Top 10 recruiting class. Willingham has led a potent football team this season. Unfortunately, he and his staff have failed to develop this talent, as evidenced by his record up to this point.

Willingham’s record at Notre Dame currently stands at 20-13, which is slightly worse than Bob Davie’s 21-12 mark at the same point. Even more alarming than the team’s habit of losing is the way that the Irish have lost under Willingham. Gerry Faust and Bob Davie each patrolled the Notre Dame sideline for five seasons. They lost by 21 points or more a combined total of seven times. Meanwhile, it took Willingham only 30 games to lose his seventh game by three touchdowns or more.

Willingham’s winning percentage at Notre Dame is currently .650. Compared to Knute Rockne (.881), Frank Leahy (.855), Ara Parseghian (.836), and Lou Holtz (.765), his marks look very mediocre. Although Willingham’s winning percentage might be acceptable at Stanford or Northwestern, it is unacceptable at schools that are accustomed to competing for national championships.

Just this week, the University of Florida fired its head coach, Ron Zook, whose 20-13 record is identical Willingham. Like his counterpart in South Bend, Zook was in his third season at a program with high expectations. However, Florida decided there would be no forth season for a coach with a mediocre record. Our administration should reach the same conclusion.

It is important to remember that Tyrone Willingham is a good man. He occupies one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports, and he has conducted himself with dignity and class in the face of intense scrutiny. When he steps off of the football field, he is a great representative of our University, and his dedication should be appreciated.

However, three years after he first led the Fightin’ Irish out of the tunnel, there are few signs that Willingham is capable of returning the University of Notre Dame to college football’s upper echelon. Our problems on the gridiron will not go away through patience or by blindly allowing him to complete five seasons under the Golden Dome. If we are to return to the pinnacle of the college football world, Willingham will eventually need to be replaced.

Prior to firing Zook, Florida’s athletic director reminded reporters, “What needs to be done eventually should be done immediately.” Hopefully, our beloved University subscribes to this philosophy.

Laurence Acker


Class of 2003

Oct. 27