Jan. 1, 2002
An Interview With:
COACH TYRONE WILLINGHAM
JOHN HEISLER: At this time I’d like to introduce the President of the University of Notre Dame, Father Edward Malloy. (APPLAUSE)
FATHER MALLOY: Happy New Year to you all. What a great way to start. I am very excited about this day and I’d like to offer a few comments if I could before inviting our Athletic Director Kevin White to come up to introduce our new football coach.
Yesterday I spent some quality time with Coach Tyrone Willingham, his wife Kim, and his three wonderful children and I can tell you this is a great family and we are just delighted to be able to welcome them into the Notre Dame family.
Coach Willingham and I had a chance to talk about all those fundamental things that have been an integral part of the history of Notre Dame as an institution of its athletic programs and of its football program.
We talked about what it takes to win consistently in this kind of academic environment. We talked about the things that we expect of our coaches and of our student athletes, whether it is with regard to academic performance or behavior, or the way in which they represent the University of Notre Dame.
This is a kind of occasion which has the potential to be described entirely as a kind of social statement and surely there’s an element of that to it.
What I want to say very straightforwardly that the reason that Coach Willingham was chosen after a very exhaustive search was because he was the very best coach who was appropriate for Notre Dame and all it represents.
We heard over and over again from very knowledgeable people, about college and professional football, that he was one of the most highly regarded coaches out there. That he had done an outstanding job in circumstances where very few had achieved the same level of success. That he ran a program that was exemplary in terms of the success rate of his student athletes moving on not simply to graduation, but to meaningful lives, including lives of leadership in every walk of life.
That he held his student athletes to the same standards that he held himself. And if there’s anything that you hear over and over again about this man, is that he is a person of integrity who lives by the highest standards and really tries to live an example to those he’s instructing.
He’s not only a good family man, but he’s tried to induce a sense of family among his players to be firm but understanding, to try to hold them to high standards without embarrassing them in the process.
This is a very difficult job, maybe one of the most difficult jobs in the sporting area and yet there’s a lot of rewards that go along with it as well. It’s a high?profiled position. It takes a person who knows himself well, who is not acceptably sensitive, who can speak straightforwardly, who is not trying to impress the masses, but simply do a good job.
We talked about all of that. I felt a great rapport and a great sense of confidence. I really believe, despite all the speculation, much of which was idle and uninformed, this process has resulted in the selection of an outstanding coach for Notre Dame, who knows that we have a high bar of excellence here, that he recognizes what it means to work within an outstanding academic institution, for a meaningful education is our first priority, that he’s comfortable and excited about working in a religiously affiliated school, where we use God language regularly and meaningfully and in which we expect that one of the things that will happen to the young people entrusted to our care, is that they will grow in the life of faith as well.
So I can say once again, it’s a great new year. I am happy to be able on this occasion to welcome into our midst, our new football coach, who I think will do an outstanding job and I pledge that we will do everything we can to support him and to give him the resources necessary to succeed.
He knows what our standards are. He embraces them. He’s excited about being at Notre Dame and we’re so excited about him agreeing to be our new football coach.
So let me invite now Kevin White, our Athletic Director, to say a few more words before we invite Coach Willingham to the podium.
Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE).
KEVIN WHITE: Once again, good afternoon, folks.
As you heard from Father Malloy just a few moments ago, you’ve heard from Father Malloy and me time and time again talk about Notre Dame’s commitment to excellence and everything that we do.
As I think everybody in this room has heard, we share a rock solid belief that Notre Dame can play National Championship?caliber football, without, in the least, sacrificing our high academic standards or the integrity of this program.
The man I’m about to introduce understands that challenge better than anyone in his chosen profession.
For the last seven years he’s led the program with the highest academic profile in all of major college football. And over that time, he’s won two Conference Coach of the Year Awards and has taken his team to four Bowl games including a Rose Bowl.
We have spoken to a great many people about this man – people including the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference Roy Kramer, the general manager of the Chicago Bears, Jerry Angelo, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, Carmen Policy, Baltimore Raven head coach Brian Billick and former Stanford and SanFrancisco 49ers’ head coach Bill Walsh. Every one of them regards Tyrone as one of the very top coaches in the game today at the college or pro level. And they regard the job he’s done at Stanford as simply amazing.
I couldn’t help but notice that his record beginning this season at Stanford was virtually identical to another record, another coach brought here from a academic institution some 38 years ago. That coach’s name was Ara Parseghian.
Of course the man seated over here to my left, to your right, added a 9?3 mark and a Top?10 BCS ranking to his record this season and along the way he managed to beat the Irish for the third time in five tries.
As a coach he’s been quoted as saying: I should never lose sight of winning football games, and expanding on that, he says he wants his program to be known as one that produces winners — winners on the field, in the classroom, and in their social and spiritual development. That sounds to me and to all of us who have had the opportunity to spend considerable amount of time with Tyrone to be a real fit here at Notre Dame.
To the people at the NCAA he’s a man of impeccable integrity, to the recruiting gurus, he’s among the very best in attracting talent even while maintaining the highest SAT scores in the nation he’s a disciplinarian whose players love him. He’s left one of the great universities and one of the great athletic programs in this country to be part of Notre Dame.
For us, I am delighted to be able to say this:
He’s the new head football coach at the University of Notre Dame and his name is Tyrone Willingham. Before I bring Tyrone forward please, let me just take a moment and introduce his wife Kim. Would you please stand.
(APPLAUSE) And their children, Cassidy, she’s 17 years old. Please stand and also Kelsey, thirteen years old and Nathaniel, 11 years old. (APPLAUSE)
KEVIN WHITE: Without further adieu, Coach Willingham, welcome to Notre Dame. (APPLAUSE)
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, first of all, Father Malloy, thank you. Kevin, thank you. And to all of you this morning and to the Notre Dame family I first say I hope this is as good a new year for you as it is for me.
This is an exciting moment. It is a moment that you often go back in your life and you try to figure out what has brought you to this moment. And sometimes to find that trail of those things that have motivated you or driven you is very difficult. But this morning I think for me it is quite easy.
I am a young man that grew up with parents that loved raising people the right way. They believed that a church was important. Such mornings we started with Sunday school, followed by church, and of course, if you understand anything about the time schedule of a Methodist church you know that sometimes it can go past 12?noon. And when you understand that and you go back into the day that I was a youngster, you understand that Notre Dame highlights and college football highlights started somewhere around 12?noon.
So it was part of my responsibility to myself to slip out of church (laughter) and watch those highlights. So those things, somewhere were laced in the back of my mind, and I think have brought me to an understanding that this university is one of the great universities in this country, but as a football coach is one of the great opportunities in this country. So to say it is a dream come true, is true.
So again I say to all of you and to the Notre Dame family, I am excited. I am eager to begin the work, not just of the football program, but of this university. I think Father Malloy has said it far more eloquently than I can that it is about, yes, great football excellence, but also about the mind and spiritual development of young people. I think that fits very well with Tyrone Willingham.
So Father, again, thank you. I am excited about being this university’s football coach. So I think at this time I open the door, if I am correct, to questions.
I will alert most of you in the media that I am very much to the point. (APPLAUSE)
Q. Coach, what was the difference between the initial contact by Notre Dame prior to the Bowl Game and the contact afterwards, what characterized the depth, how were you able to come to an agreement at this time and not initially?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think it needs to be noted that there was and I think you bring that forward, that there was some preliminary discussions and I think that’s exactly what they were. If I were Director White I would have had preliminary discussions with a lot of people to ascertain what is the right person and the right fit for this great university. So there were preliminary talks and I think Director White went about doing that and I was very comfortable with that. Now, what is the difference today for me? Absolutely zero. This is and has been, before and today, a great opportunity.
Q. Father Malloy mentioned about the social significance of today. I wondered how you would interpret both the significance of today and where you stand?
COACH WILLINGHAM: First of all, obviously I will have no control over the way you interpret it. (Laughter). But let me say this because I do believe and it has been important to me because part of my philosophy is that there’s a greater good, that we’re out there to benefit not just yourself, that’s important, but to benefit others. So is this significant? Yes. I say it is significant. But I am first and foremost a football coach at the University of Notre Dame. The young men will expect me to to be that, to be the kind of leader that they expect their fathers to be and that’s the role that I will try to go for.
Q. They talk about Stanford not having a high?profile on the west coast. I remember talking a couple of weeks ago to Randy Fasani and he said that people out there don’t really get excited about Stanford football in the general area. Now you are at Notre Dame where it is going to be a lot more visible nationally. Is that something that you are ready to adjust to, the pressure that comes along with it?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would say yes. And I say that unequivocally. But I also add this: There is no question that this is the most high?profiled university in this country and with that it brings bright light. But I have always said to my wife that if you are doing the right thing it does not matter how bright the lights are or how many lights, but if you are doing the wrong thing, it only takes a flashlight.
Q. Notre Dame this year, what was your assessment of their team as you prepared to face them? ?? ?
COACH WILLINGHAM: First of all, I think it is a fair question and you need to know that. But I would not comment on that because what we have or what we don’t have right now is not important to me. What is important to me is that whatever we have, we take and make that absolutely the very best, that would be the goal. So to me it’s not important what we don’t or do have. It is making whatever it is absolutely the best and that will be my focus.
Q. Some of us have seen what you accomplished at Stanford. What does Tyrone Willingham bring to Notre Dame? ?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would like to believe that what I bring ?? first of all, let me ackknowledge that usually when a new coach arrives there’s always old coach?bashing, okay, none of that will exist. I respect what Coach (Bob) Davie has done and there are many great things that he’s done for and with this program. What we will be about, what I will hope to bring is consistency in everything that I do. From the manner that I walk, to the manner I talk, my actions with our football team and within the structure of this university.
Q. I am sure a lot of people are curious, you had a wide?open offense at Stanford. Are you going to bring that same philosophy here or are you going to have more of an offensive attack that’s more like the Notre Dame running game tradition?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, you know what, I am trying for this one, I want you to know that. Because as I understand the Notre Dame tradition, the focus is: “Win.” (Laughter). So my offense, and I can save some of you from asking this question, my offense is about winning. My defense, before the next person gets the mike, is about winning. Special teams, about winning. Everything that we do is about winning. Now, quite naturally, the focus has always been when a football coach says that, oh, gosh, he’s only focused on football. I have described this many times, we’re about winning on the field, yes. Winning in the classroom, yes. But also winning in terms of young man’s social and spiritual development. That’s “Win” for Tyrone Willingham.
Q. When you walk out here and see the trophy cases and all the nice things, I am wondering … what is it in terms of the school tradition that sticks out for you?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, there are so many things and I guess I am lucky to have seen it, in a sense, up close, when you play this university and coached against this university, sometimes you become very envious of all the little things, so I think it’s not just one particular thing, but all the things that go into making the University of Notre Dame a very special place.
Q. Tyrone, you mentioned in your opening remarks about things that drive you to this point in your life. Can you talk about some of the influences in coaching that you have had?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think it would be incorrect for me to speak on coaches first. The influence in my life have been my mother and father. That has been my foundation. There are no lessons that I haven’t been reminded of through coaching that they didn’t give me in my formative years. I am blessed that I absolutely had the best parents a young person could have. But from a coaching standpoint, obviously the most time I have spent around anyone is Denny Green because I’ve been with him three years at Stanford University, then also three years at the Minnesota Vikings and if you will remember Denny’s progression through his coaching career, it also touched on Bill Walsh who is probably, as I call it, one of the finest innovators and also one of the finest teachers that I have had an opportunity to be around. So those would be the primary influences but I hopefully learned and gathered a great deal from everyone, not just Denny Green and Bill Walsh but hopefully there’s something that I have learned and picked up from every coach that I have been around.
Q. A lot of people have made a major issue of this as you being an African?American coach, coaching football at University of Notre Dame. Is that a major issue … ?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, it is not.
Q. A lot of talk around Notre Dame over the years has been about the academic standards and with the schedule may be tough to win here. Do you think that Notre Dame can be a school that finishes in the top 10 year in and year out on a consistent basis?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That’s my goal. That’s why I am here: To reach that level of excellence that this university has always had. I believe it can be accomplished and that’s why I am here.
Q. I am wondering if ?? water?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You need some also?(Laughter).
Q. No. No, I am just trying to help you out.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I hope you’ll always have that philosophy. (Laughter).
Q. I was going to ask you to tell a joke ???
COACH WILLINGHAM: First of all, I won’t be telling many jokes. This is probably as good as it gets.
Q. That’s what I was wondering about, have you always been so to the point, no?nonsense? Did that come from Dad or somebody else that said just stick to the point and don’t get off the path, so to speak?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think it comes from my entire environment because I am a father more than just in my home. I grew up in a neighborhood where you knew your neighbors. If a child at that stage of my life did something wrong you got your spanking first by your neighbor, then you went home and got a spanking. And so it’s a little different time. But I have been taught certain lessons that I believe hold true. I think you want to be honest and straightforward with people but I will tell you right now there are some things that I cannot address with you and you will know that. But I will deal straightforward and honest with you and the business of University of Notre Dame football program, those things that need to be kept within the program, will be done in that manner.
Q. Do you know at this time about your coaching staff?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I do not. What I will look to do first of all, in terms of trying to schedule myself, is try to get back to California at some point and wrap things up with what I think is a fine outstanding athletic department that has been very generous to Tyrone Willingham and the football program there. And then during that process I will be formulating my thoughts on what the staff should be and what that formation should be, and at the same time, working on what is always the most critical element of college football, the recruiting process.
Q. Timetable on recruiting?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The thing I always say about recruiting is if you don’t recruit every day, you’ve missed the boat.
Q. Go over the chronology that led to this moment, the final contacts, what sticking points there were, how the negotiations were ???
COACH WILLINGHAM: How pointed would you want me to be on my reply?
Q. It’s your stage.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Since you will allow me some liberty here, I prefer not to go over those things because I think those things right now, at this time, are not really important. What is important now is what we do from this moment, where we take this program, the goals and the things that we put in place to make this the greatest program that it has been and that it should be in the future.
Q. I am wondering if being in California, whether any of your children complained about that snow out there today?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, they haven’t, but if you will I think quietly follow our background as a family, Kim and I have lived in Michigan so we did get a few drops of snow there. And then at some point in our lives we lived in a place that you get a lot of snow which was Minnesota. I think I can comfortably say that our kids loved that environment. So I think they will adapt to be very comfortable in this environment because this is an area that stresses something that is very important to me which is family. I am blessed to have a great wife and I can say that we have been married now 21 years, working on year No. 22, and I have a great group of kids that have done all the things that a parent would love them to do to.
Q. I wondered if you could talk about the time when you first knew coaching was something that you wanted to do?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, again, for me, it has been one of those things that’s kind of set in the back of your mind and you’re not sure what is pushing or driving you, but there’s some force there. I had a marvelous experience growing up as a kid. My mother was a career teacher for 31 years. She worked in my early years at 1 through 12 high school, Georgetown High School and they had what I thought was a marvelous coach named Gideon Johnson. That really was the person that I kind of watched and I began to love football and that team amazingly wore these colors, blue and gold. So I would crawl under the bleachers and watch and listen and try to learn because, one, my mother was there, she worked taking tickets as all the teachers there did (inaudible), but that started my love internally for coaching. I didn’t know that it would manifest to this point that it is today, but in the back of my mind that’s when it really started.
Q. What are your thoughts on being Notre Dame’s second choice … ?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I have a very simple formula for addressing those issues. And it really can’t be addressed today. The way that I will address it, is to win.
Q. How do you go into a house and sell a university that you have been at a week? How are you going to go about saying how special Notre Dame is, you know, without having a background here?
COACH WILLINGHAM: To some degree you are absolutely correct because my active background in life with Notre Dame is very limited, probably now maybe 24 hours, but really my background goes much deeper than that because initially I developed a longing, some type of desire, some type of motivation to be at this place when I watched those highlights on Sunday, that something ticks, something special was there. I can’t say it was all the words of Lindsey Nelson but there was something there and something that just stayed with me. So I think I will first of all, work on those feelings and those emotions that have been there for quite some time and then at some point I will get a thorough education as to all that’s important and special about this university. Now you will notice that I am looking at my watch because that probably means it extended me more than I am normally extended in this situation. So we can kind of move a little closer to a couple of final questions then.
Q. Here’s one that comes up every week or two: The schedule. You start off next year with Maryland, Michigan and Purdue. There’s been a lot of talk about the schedule. What is your opinion of the schedule?
COACH WILLINGHAM: When I talk to our football team I will talk to them at some point about being what I consider a professional, but more along the lines of being what I call a “Road warrior” and we usually describe that as a business person that regardless of the circumstances that to go out there and get their job done, to complete the deal, had to finish what has to take place, that’s the way that I will approach our schedule and anything else in our program. It is what we have and if that is it, we must prevail, we must win, we must go out out and get that job done. That would be my approach to the schedule, to any other issue that pertains to our program.
Q. With two weekly press conferences, the pep rallies … is that an issue, is that a concern looking at the job? Is that part of what you are used to dealing with?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think there are two issues that you have there. No. 1, is providing you with the information that you need to do your job and at the same time providing me with the time that I need to do my job, so what I will try to do during the process of this is balance the two. Because my first responsibility is to the young men on this football team. That will be No. 1. Then No. 2 is to the University. And No. 3 will be to my family. And at some point, okay ?? (laughter).
Q. As a walk-on at Michigan State, you went on to receive accolades on the college level. Are you interested really in athletes that maybe think they have a “ceiling” Are you the kind of coach that does appreciate what a player can achieve when he’s willing to work hard?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I will whole?heartedly endorse that. I don’t think that I am good enough or talented enough or skilled enough to know what lies in the heart and mind of every young man. So therefore, if I can just provide him the opportunity, and to me, that’s what this university has been about. It has been about providing those kind of opportunities, those kind of great stories and I think everybody reflects back to the movie “Rudy” as being that kind of experience, that kind of university. Though I share that, I share that belief that you can accomplish anything and if I might even say so, I think my presence here today will speak to that issue in some regards.
Q. You talked about your desire to come here. Was it ever a concern following the events over the last several weeks?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, you always are — how shall I say this and make sure it is everything that you feel? You always want to make sure it is everything that you do is right, okay, so you must think about it. You must pause. You must give yourself that time to let the emotional side go through its course and then make sure that you are making the right decision. So only for a moment, if there was, I don’t think any reservation, but only to make sure that you were clear on what you’re thinking, what you’re doing.
Q. Was this decision solely yours? Did you consult your wife about coming to the Midwest? Did you talk about it at all?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I did and as being a smart husband I thought that was a wise thing to do. (Laughter). So yes, my wife definitely was consulted and we also took the time because it’s an important time for my young kids also and so therefore they need and deserve I think some say in what has to take place because this not only affects Coach Willingham but it affects them also. So yes, we did consult my wife, okay, and I can only say that only once in my professional career have I not consulted with my wife on a move but I knew this one, if I had decided to go in that direction, would have been absolutely perfect for her also.
JOHN HEISLER: Thank you very much.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Thank you. (APPLAUSE)
Transcript by FastScripts, ASAP Sports