Tyrone Willingham, introduced as the University of Washington's new football coach today, vowed to return the program to its glory days.

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Tyrone Willingham, introduced as the University of Washington’s new football coach today, vowed to return the program to its glory days.

“They know that when you say it is time for the University of Washington to return to being the dawgs, and when you talk about the dawgs in this program, that is a vicious animal. Our players are excited about that and living up to that kind of tradition.”

Athletic director Todd Turner said Willingham was the school’s No. 1 candidate all along, and that the job was never offered to anyone else. He contacted the former Notre Dame coach the day after he was fired.

“I was still stunned (by the firing),” Willingham said. “But I have a strong belief in God, which has always been a strength for me. It allows me to be amazingly positive when other people can’t envision being positive.”

Willingham, one of only three African-American head football coaches at NCAA Division 1A programs, said it was “significant” that he was given another opportunity at a major university.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “The numbers do not offer a great commentary on where we are today, but we must never give up the battle. We need to keep pressing forward because that it the only way change can be accomplished.

“Tyrone Willingham is a great fit for the University of Washington,” Willingham continued in speaking of himself in the third person. “It has been noted that he has integrity, is straightforward, intelligent, has the best interest of the players and university at heart, has been successful, developed young people, all that says he is a great fit for this university and I would hope a great fit at any university.”

Asked about facing Notre Dame next season, Willingham said, “That will not be my focus. I understand that the most important game is the next game we play, and that is our opener with Air Force.”

He also vowed to step up recruiting in the state, saying that he would begin by developing strong relationships with high school coaches.

“This is special area that has produced many fine players,” he said. “This state has a great many players we should have on this campus, and in some cases some have gotten away. We have got to get the state of Washington back to being about the University of Washington. If we do that I’ll be pleased.”

He said while meeting with some players on Sunday that he told them he would stress “winning, being a great student, about being great person, but also to allow young people at a precious age to have fun and enjoy experience. That is my target.”

He said he will meet with former coach Keith Gilbertson’s staff this week before making any decisions on who he might bring in to fill out his coaching staff.