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Originally published December 12, 2004 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 13, 2004 at 4:56 PM

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Looks like it's Willingham for Huskies' football coach

Intent on resurfacing as a national football power, the University of Washington is expected to announce the hiring of former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham early this week...

Seattle Times staff reporters

Intent on resurfacing as a national football power, the University of Washington is expected to announce the hiring of former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham early this week, a source told The Seattle Times yesterday.

Willingham, who led Stanford to a Rose Bowl in 1999 before coaching three years at Notre Dame, would replace Keith Gilbertson and become Washington's third head football coach in four years.

In landing Willingham, the Huskies would hire a coach known to have an impeccable reputation with the NCAA, a strong approach to discipline and a hands-off attitude in allowing his assistant coaches leeway.

Details of the hire, such as length of contract and salary, were unavailable.

Late Friday, Boston College coach Tom O'Brien withdrew his candidacy after Washington failed to make him an offer within 48 hours of his interview. UW officials also had made overtures to California coach Jeff Tedford as well as meeting with Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. and Utah coach Urban Meyer, now with Florida.

Asked about the hire of Willingham, Todd Turner, the UW athletic director, said only, "I can't confirm that."

Willingham, 50, who was fired two weeks ago from Notre Dame, would be entering a program marred by chaos and controversy. The trial surrounding the dismissal of former coach Rick Neuheisel begins next month. Neuheisel is suing the UW for wrongful termination.

This season, Washington won only one of 11 games — none of its Pac-10 Conference games — for the worst record in school history. Gilbertson agreed in November to step aside after his second year as the Huskies' head coach.

Willingham would be Washington's first black head football coach, and the third currently in major college football. The UW would become the only Division I-A university to have both men's major sports headed by black coaches. Lorenzo Romar is in his third season as coach of the UW basketball team, ranked 16th in the country.

Willingham has an overall 65-51-1 record in his 10 seasons as the head coach at Stanford and Notre Dame.

Willingham would go to the program against which he has had the least success; he was 0-5 versus the Huskies in his seven-year Stanford tenure.

Willingham was hired by Notre Dame after Stanford's loss to Georgia Tech in the 2001 Seattle Bowl. He started 8-0 with the Irish in 2002, but skidded to a 13-15 record in his remaining two-plus years at the school.


He was fired Nov. 30 in a move said to have stunned him and his assistant coaches. The dismissal was led by a couple of key members of Notre Dame's board of trustees, and has caused significant backlash.

Last week, the Rev. Edward Malloy, departing president at Notre Dame, who was not a part of the firing, decried the move and scoffed at the growing national tide in trying to hire "messiah coaches." Willingham, who had a five-year contract with the Irish, was the first coach at Notre Dame dismissed before his pact was fulfilled.

Chandra Johnson, an assistant to Notre Dame's president, shaved her head to protest Willingham's firing, saying she will remain bald until the Irish win a national championship. Johnson, 50, is the school's highest-profile black administrator.

"He's a great man to work for," said Bill Diedrick, Willingham's offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. "As far as an assistant coach, he's an ideal dream. He's tremendously prepared and really allows his coaches to coach.

"He's as much of a players' coach as ever," Diedrick said, "but with that, there comes a great deal of discipline and a great deal of organization and structure — always with what's best for the players and the program in mind."

One immediate challenge for Willingham would be to assemble his staff. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer is acting head coach for Notre Dame against Oregon State in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28, and most of the remaining staff, including Diedrick, are helping with that. Defensive line coach Greg Mattison just accepted a job at Florida as co-defensive coordinator.

Willingham is a North Carolina native who became a walk-on at Michigan State in both football and baseball, winning the Big Ten Conference's 1977 Medal of Honor as the outstanding scholar-athlete.

He was an assistant coach for 18 years on the college and pro levels before landing the Stanford head coaching job in 1995. He had winning seasons his first two years there, lost the next two seasons, and then in 1999 took Stanford to its first Rose Bowl in 28 years. His five-year record at Stanford was 30-27-1.

Willingham is not widely regarded as a dynamic recruiter, yet on his watch at Stanford, the Cardinal lured some top athletes, including Randy Fasani, Kerry Carter (now a Seahawks reserve running back), Teyo Johnson, Amon Gordon, Michael Craven, Tank Williams and Kwame Harris.

It appears the Huskies chose substance over style in settling on Willingham, who is not known for his wit or delivering a memorable quote. But Willingham had a prior association with Turner, the UW athletic director, who tried to hire Willingham at Vanderbilt after his final season at Stanford.

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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