Tyrone Willingham has agreed to become Washington's third head coach in four seasons, the University of Washington confirmed Sunday...
SEATTLE – Tyrone Willingham has agreed to become Washington’s third head coach in four seasons, just two weeks after being fired from Notre Dame.
“I am excited about being here,” Willingham told reporters Sunday evening before meeting with players at the Bank of America Arena on University of Washington campus.
He refrained from answering questions including what he would say to the team until the announcement scheduled for Monday.
“As you know with me, it always stays within the locker room,” he said with a grin. “What you say to the team is really important so I’ll make sure it’s their ears and my ears.”
The hiring was confirmed Sunday afternoon in an e-mail statement from Washington’s athletic department spokesman Jim Daves. The new coach was to be introduced to the public Monday morning at a press conference with UW President Mark Emmert and Athletic Director Todd Turner.
The decision makes Washington the only Division I-A school with black head coaches in the two major sports. Men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar is in his third season leading the Huskies.
Willingham was 21-15 in three seasons at Notre Dame, but his Nov. 30 firing was controversial. He had the shortest non-interim tenure of any Fighting Irish coach in 70 years, raising questions about whether he was given enough time to succeed.
After an 8-0 start in 2002, his teams went 13-15 over two-plus seasons.
His firing also drew criticism because Willingham was one of only five black head coaches in I-A last season. That number dropped to two after Tony Samuel was fired at New Mexico State and Fitz Hill resigned at San Jose State.
Last week, outgoing Notre Dame president Rev. Edward Malloy criticized Willingham’s firing and expressed concern over a growing trend of schools that are searching for “messiah coaches.”
Turner and the university president met last week with Boston College coach Tom O’Brien. He and Willingham were the only known candidates interviewed for the position, but O’Brien withdrew late Friday.
Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. confirmed he was approached by Washington officials but declined to be interviewed, saying he’s happy with the job he has. He is a former Washington player and alum.
Willingham is known as a law-and-order coach who emphasizes discipline. He’s also familiar with the Pac-10, compiling a 44-36-1 record and reaching the 1999 Rose Bowl in seven seasons at Stanford from 1995-2001.
He was 0-5 against Washington as Stanford’s coach.
His connections on the West Coast should be an asset to a Washington program coming off a 1-10 season, the school’s worst ever. He replaces Keith Gilbertson, who resigned after two turmoil-filled seasons.
Turner, hired last summer, and new university president Emmert hope to restore national prominence to Washington’s football program, which shared a national championship in 1991 but has fallen to the cellar of the Pac-10.
That would mean gaining some distance from the turmoil that surrounded the dismissal of coach Rick Neuheisel in summer 2003 for gambling on NCAA basketball.
Neuheisel spent four seasons at Washington, going 33-16, including an 11-1 record in 2000, when the Huskies beat Purdue in their first trip to the Rose Bowl since the 1992 season.
Neuheisel has sued Washington and the NCAA over his firing. The NCAA imposed no sanctions against him, saying a former school compliance officer had written erroneous memos that said such gambling was allowed.
Gilbertson was Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator and stepped in after Neuheisel’s midsummer firing, just weeks before the 2003 opener. Former athletic director Barbara Hedges didn’t have many options for finding a coach.
The Huskies went 6-6 in Gilbertson’s first season, then fell to 1-10 and 0-8 in the Pacific-10 this season. Turner announced Nov. 1 that Gilbertson would step down after the season ended.
Turner is also moving to initiate an ambitious stadium renovation that could cost up to $150 million by some preliminary estimates. Emmert knows the importance of a successful football program his last job was as president at national co-champion LSU.