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Willingham concedes that he deserves blame

Published: Thursday, Dec. 2 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

Former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham answers a question during a press conference Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. (Joe Raymond, Associated Press) Former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham answers a question during a press conference Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. (Joe Raymond, Associated Press)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tyrone Willingham blamed himself Wednesday for his firing as Notre Dame coach, saying he failed to meet the school's expectations of producing an elite team.
But Willingham, whose three-year tenure was the shortest of any non-interim coach at the school in 70 years, wouldn't say whether he was given enough time to turn the storied program back into a football power.
"I don't get into what's fair and what's not fair. I am an optimist by nature, but I am also a realist, and that makes you deal with the events as they occur," he said. "So I will deal with the events."
Willingham was fired Tuesday with three years left on his initial six-year contract after going 21-15. Notre Dame had made a tradition of allowing its coaches to at least work through the length of their first contract.
"I understand that I did not meet the expectations and standards I set for myself and this program," he said. "When you don't meet your own expectations you make yourself vulnerable to the will of others. So today I am no longer the head football coach at Notre Dame."
His players, though, left no doubt they thought three years wasn't enough time for Willingham.
"Think about it," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "It's not even allowing one of his recruiting classes to get all the way through."
The hardest part about being fired for Willingham is leaving Notre Dame without meeting the goals he set and leaving behind the players he recruited.
He said there is just one thing he wished he had done differently.
"Win. That's it," he said.
Willingham knew some discussions about his job were under way Sunday, but said he was still surprised by the firing.
The university's outgoing and incoming presidents, the provost, the executive vice president, athletic director Kevin White and two board of trustee members met Monday night and Tuesday and decided it was time to fire Willingham.
Willingham, the first black head coach in any sport at Notre Dame, was asked if he had any thoughts on the number of black head coaches in Division I-A being reduced from five to two.
"Plenty, but none of them will be discussed now," he said.
Willingham said he will take a "moment" to decide what he will do next.
"I don't know how long that moment will be. A moment could be a moment or it could be a week," he said. "It's kind of indefinite what that moment will be."
Willingham also talked about a report that he had been contacted by Washington two weeks ago about its coaching vacancy. He said there was no official contact, but there was informal contact.
He said his response was: "I am the Notre Dame football coach. I came to do this job and only this job."
He declined comment on whether he had been contacted by Washington since being fired.
Willingham tried to keep his first public remarks since being fired positive.
"I've never had a bad day. I've had bad moments. Sometimes those bad moments will run into another day and you'll have hurt, pain, etc., but it is still a good day," he said. "There are so many blessings that Tyrone Willingham has that are amazing."
The Notre Dame players were still deciding whether to go to the Insight Bowl in Phoenix on Dec. 28, an invitation the school already accepted.
The players also said a liaison committee of five players has been formed to give input into what they're looking for in a new coach. Quinn, a member of the committee, said he knows what characteristics he wants in the new coach.
"I think for me, someone like coach Willingham," Quinn said. "Maybe he has a twin out there he doesn't know about."

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