Kevin White informs the media of the University's decision to not retain Tyrone Willingham as the head football coach.

Kevin White Teleconference Transcript

Nov. 30, 2004

KEVIN WHITE: We are releasing the following statement. The University has determined that Tyrone Willingham will not be retained as the Notre Dame head football coach, and I informed Tyrone of that decision this morning.

All of us had great expectations when we sat here three years ago, and in a number of ways Tyrone has been an excellent fit and a great representative of our program. He personally has displayed impeccable integrity and tremendous character, and his players have represented themselves off the field in a first-class manner.

In addition, our football program under his watch has never been stronger in terms of academic performance. We simply have not made the progress on the field that we need to make. Nor have we been able to create the positive momentum necessary in our efforts to return the Notre Dame program to the elite level of the college football world.

We will immediately begin a national search for a new football coach. I don’t have any particular parameters in mind, other than identifying an individual who can lead Notre Dame football back to the sustained level of excellence that everyone associated with the university and the program wants and desires.

Q. Who will coach the Bowl game and is Notre Dame still going to the Bowl game?

KEVIN WHITE: The Bowl game decision has not yet been made. I would suspect we will have a response to that question later this evening, to both of those questions, actually.

Q. What was it about the situation — three years, if it’s only been three years, did you feel like three years was enough time to get him to see where this program was headed?

KEVIN WHITE: I think the best way I can respond to that is – there’s very high expectations, competitive expectations relative to Notre Dame football. I think everyone in the room realizes that and we just were not meeting those programmatic or competitive expectations on Saturday.

But I think I need to say, as I was thinking about it this morning, from Sunday through Friday, our football program has exceeded all expectations in every way. As I just indicated in the statement, the academic performance is at a fever pitch; it’s never been better. Tyrone has done some wonderful things.

But again, on Saturday, we struggled. We’ve been up and down and sideways a little bit, a little bit inconsistent. I think the program is closer than when he arrived, and I think we were making progress, by my view and view of the University, just doesn’t make enough progress.

Q. You obviously have some sort of a Plan B when it comes to the coach for whatever circumstance, even if the coach was successful; have you talked to anybody on that list from Plan B? And No. 2, who specifically makes the decision, was it your call alone or the board of trustees?

KEVIN WHITE: Let me respond to question one. We haven’t done a thing in terms of the search at this point. And I think that’s what you’re referring to, no, we haven’t begun, haven’t lifted the phone up at this point. I’ve been really focused on our team and our coaches, and obviously conversations with Coach Willingham. So that will happen here shortly.

The decision was made by the University senior leadership, and in concert with the University senior leadership. I participated in a round of discussions and Coach Willingham was aware of those conversations as we proceeded.

Q. Would that senior leadership be the board of trustees or does it go as high as Father Malloy?

KEVIN WHITE: I think it’s fair to say, I report to the president and at the end of the day, I serve at the will of the president at the University of Notre Dame. Father Malloy and select officers tend to make most of the policy decisions relating to all the different entities at the University of Notre Dame.

I had an opportunity to fully participate, as well as some participation with some participation of select leadership trustees, as well.

Q. When Bob Davie was fired, I think you said that you warned him early in the season that his job was this jeopardy. Was Coach Willingham ever warned that his job was in jeopardy?

KEVIN WHITE: I would say that Coach Willingham and I had not had those specific conversations and really waited till the end of the season to sit down and have kind of a program evaluation conversation. We began that conversation on Sunday.

Q. How big of a factor was the fact that Notre Dame was not only losing games, but had a number of blowouts that had never seen in the history of the program, was that a factor?

KEVIN WHITE: I don’t know that I can point to anything in particular. I think as we put it all together, as I said pretty carefully in this statement or this release, we just weren’t, I don’t think, manufacturing the momentum, the progress that we felt we needed to have to move this program back to the elite. That’s not a negotiable position at Notre Dame. Football is very important to this institution. I think everybody in the room realizes that and understands that, and competing at the highest level is of the utmost importance.

Q. I talked to you about three weeks ago or so in Knoxville, and you basically told me that Tyrone Willingham you were behind him 100%. What specifically changed in the last three weeks?

KEVIN WHITE: I anticipated that question and I really anticipated it from you, and I understand that. (Laughter). Let me just say that, and it is a sobering moment, but let me just say this, that I’m going to be behind every one of our coaches until they are no longer our coaches; and that’s the way I think it need to be done; and I think that’s what our coaches expect and deserve; and that’s what our student athletes expect and deserve.

And I do feel we’ve made some progress, as I’ve tried to articulate that in a statement. Just haven’t made enough on game day. Have made great progress everywhere else around this program. In a lot of ways, this program has not been — has not been as healthy in a long time. We’ve got to find a way to get back to the elite, and that needs to happen on game day.

Q. Can you confirm or deny the reports that Tyrone Willingham may have talked to a school, maybe a Washington school, can you confirm or deny?

KEVIN WHITE: I really can’t. Coach Willingham is an outstanding football coach. He’s got, as I said, an impeccable reputation. My sense is there will be many suitors looking for Coach Willingham here in the near term.

I don’t know what his intentions are at this point. You’ll need to ask him those questions. But he’ll have plenty of opportunity. He’s a heck of a football coach and I think he’s an even better person, and I think everybody in this room would agree with that.

Q. Most recruiting analysts declared Notre Dame’s recruiting class last year as substandard and it’s been depicted as substandard to this point heading into the next recruiting campaign. Was recruiting a factor in this decision?

KEVIN WHITE: I would say recruiting is always a factor. It’s very important. But it isn’t the factor. It is just an important part of having an elite college football program. You’ve got to be successful in terms of recruiting. I think you mentioned last year, the previous year, that some of the prognosticators suggested I think our class was fourth or fifth in the country.

As subjective as that is, when I talk about recruiting being important, I think it’s important from our advantage point. I’m not sure I’m relying on everybody’s advantage point. I think it’s terribly subjective and I think the assistant coaches that we have across all of our programs are relied on heavily to go out and evaluate talent and to find the best young people to represent our program.

Q. Can you give us an idea of the reaction of the players when you and Coach Willingham met?

KEVIN WHITE: I really don’t want to speak for them. I know you’ll find them and they anticipate you finding them as a group. But I will say a word or two.

I think they were stunned, and I think they have great respect and affection for Coach Willingham, and that was apparent to me as I spoke to them.

Q. In the process of making this decision, did you discuss with Coach Willingham or suggest to Coach Willingham that changes need to be made in the assistant coaching staff?

KEVIN WHITE: We never really got to that conversation, and I think I have a history of not being a micromanager. And I don’t think Father Malloy has spent a whole lot of time spending a lot of associates athletic directors to hire and I haven’t spent a whole lot of time telling our coaches who they need to hire to serve as their assistants.

At the end of the day, the end game is we really have to do a good job on Saturday, and we have to get back to the elite. Coach Willingham knows how to hire a staff and put together a staff, and he’s a professional. And so no, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time having those conversations.

Q. You mentioned the Bowl game decision will be made later today. Will the players have or have the players had any input into that decision?


Q. And also, between now and when you do name a new coach, will you keep certain assistants on staff to put some continuity into recruiting?

KEVIN WHITE: Everybody will be retained until we have a new football, head football coach.

Q. Heading into the football banquet, will that be on the recruiting schedule or is it subject to change?

KEVIN WHITE: The football banquet will proceed. We are in conversation about making the banquet a players, family and coaches banquet only. We’ll have an announcement about that here shortly.

Q. So it would not be a recruiting event?

KEVIN WHITE: It may not be. At this point we haven’t really figured that one out.

Q. Will it be similar in terms of how it will be conducted to three years ago?

KEVIN WHITE: I would like to think it would be very similar. You can’t negotiate these things in the public domain in any effective way.

I think the next time you’ll hear from me formally is when I’m introducing the head football coach, the new head football coach at the University. There’s really just no other way to do it.

Q. What do you think your time line will be for making that?

KEVIN WHITE: Haven’t even looked at it at this point. Been so consumed with the players and our current staff and haven’t even looked to the future. I think when I come in tomorrow morning, that’s when I’ll start to bring the staff together and figure out, where do we go from here. Have not done a thing to this point.

Q. Given that you had not talked to Tyrone in any kind of warning conversation about what was coming up, what was his reaction when you broke the news to him?

KEVIN WHITE: Well, you know, he’s a professional. He knows what the expectations are; he knows them as well as anybody in this room. He’s a class guy, as you know. He’s never tried to downwardly negotiate the expectations. He fully accepted them when he came.

So I can’t speak for him, but he’s a heck of a man and he’s a pro, and my sense is he knew what needed to be accomplished on Saturday. Although, you can save that question for Tyrone.

Q. What will it take here for someone to be successful?

KEVIN WHITE: I don’t know that I’m prepared to dissect the team at this point and get into that. I would have to say that I think we’ve got a fair amount of talent. Do we have enough talent? I can’t speak to that, but I do know that we need to win more consistently on Saturday; I do know that.

Q. Is that enough time to judge that — inaudible?

KEVIN WHITE: Obviously the University and the administration of the University felt that it was and we made that decision.

Q. In the process of making the decision, was it a matter where everyone quickly came in and had the same consensus, or was there a great deal of give and take?

KEVIN WHITE: There was a fair amount of give and take. People tend to not be objective when it relates to maybe Irish football, Tyrone Willingham, to a lot of different things. People have such great respect for Tyrone that it’s really — that made it a very difficult conversation for a group of university senior administrators.

Q. Is this the sign of a new era at Notre Dame? It was always assumed the Notre Dame, once you got the first contract, first five years — inaudible — now I’m not sure there has been a coach who has only been three years, is it a sign that there’s no patience anymore?

KEVIN WHITE: I don’t know that I would characterize it in that way. I think if it says anything, it’s an underscore of the notion that football is very important at Notre Dame, and the competitive expectations, again, are not downwardly negotiable and I think it does underscore that. Whether it speaks to any new era or not, I would say — I would say not. I think that we’re all committed to the reality that I’ve already talked about.

Q. You mentioned earlier that the players would have an opportunity to have some say about the Bowl game?

KEVIN WHITE: I met with a core group of the seniors at two o’clock, and I know our seniors are meeting early this evening, and I’ll converse with them again. But I did want their input for obvious reasons.

Q. So as of this time, the players haven’t indicated one way or another whether they would like to proceed with the Bowl game?

KEVIN WHITE: I don’t know they have had a lot of time to think about it. I think they are putting all of that together and will have a conversation with that larger group here probably early in evening, and I suspect we’ll have an announcement shortly thereafter one way or the other.

Q. How much did the pressures of the outside, from the alumni, from the fans, from the students, and the report there was going to be a rally today at 5:30 where they were going to throw the shirts — how much pressure was that into making the decision?

KEVIN WHITE: I would like to say that, you know, all of the noise around the program has no impact. I’m not sure I can say that objectively. I think what makes Notre Dame Notre Dame is the fact that people care about it and are so passionate about it and so emotional about it; that’s what makes Notre Dame football what it is, and something very special.

At the same time, I’d like to think we tend to distance ourselves from making knee-jerk decisions and look at things over some reasonable time horizon; as Terrence suggested, if it’s three years; if that’s not enough, is four years too long; is five years. I think for us at this point, the University administration felt they needed to make a call, that was a very tough call, but everything matters and everybody matters.

I don’t want to discount that or shy away from that response, but at the end of the day, I think we do put ourselves in a position to take somewhat of a private reflective viewpoint and see if what we are doing, if it matches up, if it’s commensurate with our expectations, and at this point we felt it was.

Q. You know how difficult a process you are going to embark on, will you try it to set a timetable or will be a process that will conclude when it concludes?

KEVIN WHITE: It will come to a conclusion when it comes to a conclusion, that’s exactly right. Thank you for that. That’s exactly right for answering your own question for me. (Laughter).

No, there will be no time frame. You know, the idea here is to get the very best person we can find that fits the place and has a reasonable chance to realize the expectations. The expectations aren’t going to change.

Q. How does that impact the Bowl decision in your mind with this process?

KEVIN WHITE: I think they are two different tracks to be honest with you. I don’t think they intersect at all. The young people in our program that have earned the right to play in a Bowl, if they want to go to Phoenix and play in the Bowl, we are going to support them in every way we can and they will have a tremendous Bowl experience. I really do want them to let me know that that’s what they want to do. I need to hear that from them. And if they do, then that’s what we will do.

Q. With the Bowl bid just having been accepted, why today, why not before that, why not after the banquet, why not after the Bowl game, what was today, why today? What was the precipitating —

KEVIN WHITE: I think we finished our discussion this morning, and I don’t think it makes any sense in the world to sit on it. I think when we knew what we were going to do, then we going to move. Again, I’m not going to misrepresent where I’m at with those players or those coaches or anybody else. So that’s where we were at as an institution. I needed to publicly kind of suggest to the world that that’s our position, and so that’s what we’ve done.

Q. Was there any thought of not accepting the Bowl bid right away or did the waive of this decision to move after the Bowl bid —

KEVIN WHITE: No, I think that — as I said to Jack a moment ago, I see them as separate tracks, I really do. Our kids have earned the right to play in a Bowl, and we talked about whether that made sense for us to play in this Bowl. We had a contractual obligation with the secondary Bowl package of the Big East Conference, and we felt we needed to participate in the way the contract suggested that we would and should.

Q. Now that a three-year precedent has been established at Notre Dame, do you think that will complicate the effort to bring in an elite-level coach; and in the course of the give and take that led to a decision, do you agree with it?

KEVIN WHITE: I would have to say that I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about our expectations, and I think they are realistic, and I think if I can find a professional that wants to be at the University of Notre Dame, they will embrace those expectations.

I really do believe that there are people out there who want to be here and want to coach at this place. We’ve got a special place. I’m not going to get into where I fell on either side of the ledger. The University senior administration made a decision and I am not prepared to break rank, nor would I.

I just think that everybody had an opportunity to participate in the process, and I think we came out at just the right place; and it’s appropriate; it’s timely, and I think that we’re going to be very candid and open about it and that’s what’s transpired here.

Q. The question has been asked, why only three years, you had a situation at Oklahoma that in the second year Bob Stoops they won a national title; how much of an impact or the success of coaches as those upper-echelon, tradition-rich schools have in making it after just three years?

KEVIN WHITE: I don’t think we looked to other institutions and tried to draw a comparison. I just don’t feel we did that at all. So I’d have to say kind of a short answer to that, I don’t think it had any impact.

Q. Even during this season, you talked about how the new coach and the new staff, there’s a transitional price to pay for that, particularly here with the change of the offensive system. At what point did you feel like that time had passed and it was for a question now of the program just not making enough progress?

KEVIN WHITE: I think we look at every one of our programs at the end of their competitive season, and at that point we take a good, hard look at: Have we met expectations and if we haven’t, why not? Is there some intervention that needs to take place at some level or in some way? And we got to the end of this season and felt obviously that we needed to take a good, hard look at it, which resulted in the separation and that’s just as simple as it is.

Q. Going through the process, will you interview and contact candidates whether they be preparing for their own Bowl game, or preparing for a game on Sunday?

KEVIN WHITE: Haven’t thought about it, haven’t made a decision and don’t have a response for that question at this point.