Tyrone Willingham answered questions at his first Washington news conference with his trademark reserve, leavened with the right amount of wit. Once, he even turned to a fellow...

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Tyrone Willingham answered questions at his first Washington news conference with his trademark reserve, leavened with the right amount of wit. Once, he even turned to a fellow North Carolinian, 20th-century novelist Thomas Wolfe, for perspective.


Asked if, upon his firing at Notre Dame on Nov. 30, he had entertained the notion of returning to Stanford, Willingham shook his head and invoked the famous Wolfe title: “You can’t go home again.”


It is precisely that maxim that Bill Diedrick must now overcome.


Willingham is a recognized leader, but like any coach, he figures to be no better than his staff of assistants. For his past seven seasons at Stanford and Notre Dame, one of those lieutenants has been Bill Diedrick as offensive coordinator.


Asked last night if he is optimistic about returning, Diedrick said from South Bend, Ind., “Right now, I have no clue.”


For his part, Willingham will interview UW staff members first, likely today. Then he turns his attention to the remaining coaches at Notre Dame, including Diedrick and acting head man Kent Baer, who are helping prepare the Irish for the Insight Bowl on Dec. 30.


As for whether his mind’s eye has a shape of whom to bring from Notre Dame, Willingham said, “In a general sense, yes, I do.”


No figure will be of more interest here than Diedrick, 58, the diminutive Spokane native who elicits both bouquets and brickbats, depending on which college-football precinct you call home.


Diedrick, for the latecomers to our drizzle and gridlock, was offensive coordinator to Jim Lambright here on a sparkling October day at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium in 1994. Imbedded in the mind of every real Husky and Duck are these particulars: Oregon led 24-20 with just under a minute left, Washington was at the UO 8-yard line still holding a timeout. Future pros dotted the UW offense — Napoleon Kaufman at tailback, Mark Bruener at tight end, Eric Bjornson at wide receiver and Damon Huard at quarterback.


Go figure. Apparently at Diedrick’s behest, Huard tried to throw a deep “out” to a 5-foot-9 possession receiver, Dave Janoski. Oregon freshman cornerback Kenny Wheaton intercepted and went 97 yards for a clinching touchdown.


All it was, was the play that propelled Oregon to its first Rose Bowl in 37 years, and — judging by the number of times it’s projected on the Ducks’ stadium video board — the biggest happening to the south since Oregon gained statehood in 1859.


In his two years as coordinator, there were other times Diedrick came off looking bad, such as when Washington blew a 21-0 lead against USC in 1995 that cost a Rose Bowl trip, and the time Lambright groused publicly about the extra seconds Diedrick was taking to get plays called down from the press box.


Lambright demoted Diedrick, who stayed two more years, then joined Willingham at Stanford in 1998. Presto, salad days. Diedrick was almost beloved in his four years as coordinator there as Stanford set a school record for points (409) in the Rose Bowl season of 1999 and led the Pac-10 in total offense in 2001 with 451.5 yards a game.


But at Notre Dame, it was back to the Bad Billy. At least that’s what Diedrick’s detractors there said, when the Irish were 108th, 90th and 78th in NCAA total offense in Willingham’s tenure.


Two schools of thought have swelled in South Bend around the Willingham-Diedrick liaison: That Willingham’s firing was due to his refusal to replace Diedrick, which would seem to suggest Diedrick is a live choice here; or, that had Willingham stayed, he would have made staff changes anyway.


The hits Diedrick took here likely included some cheap shots; head coaches, after all, have the right of override. But, asked if the criticism would make it difficult to bring him back, Willingham said, “I have to consider all that. Those are things you have to look at.”


The candidates to help coach Willingham’s first Huskies team seem more obvious on defense. There are solid choices in UW veterans Chris Tormey (linebackers this year) and Randy Hart (line). At Notre Dame, meanwhile, it appears unlikely new coach Charlie Weis will retain Willingham’s coordinator, Baer.


Another familiar name to watch: Tom Williams, who played at Stanford during Willingham’s assistant’s stint there (1989-91) and who coached linebackers from 1999-2001 on Rick Neuheisel’s staff here. Williams is friends with Willingham and is believed to have spoken to him recently.


One of Willingham’s targets at Notre Dame may be Mike Denbrock, 40, who assisted with the offensive line and whom many considered the recruiter who helped re-establish the Irish in the key areas of Ohio and Michigan.


UW athletic director Todd Turner says he placed no conditions on Willingham’s staff selections in hiring him.


“I will say this,” Turner added. “He wants to have some purple here, some people who have experience here as a player or coach. He wants some Huskies.”


Those will be the exceptions to the football doctrine of Thomas Wolfe.


Bud Withers: bwithers@seattletimes.com, or 206-464-8281.