Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website

Tyrone Willingham Named Notre Dame Football Coach

Dec. 31, 2001

Tyrone Willingham, head football coach at Stanford University the past seven seasons and a veteran of 25 seasons of coaching experience at the collegiate and professional levels, will be named head football coach at the University of Notre Dame.

Willingham, who has signed a six-year contract, will be introduced to the media at a noon EST press conference Tuesday in the Monogram Room of the Joyce Center on the Notre Dame campus. His appointment is effective Jan. 2, 2002.

Stanford running backs coach from 1989-91 under head coach Dennis Green, Willingham returned to Stanford as head coach Nov. 28, 1994, replacing legendary professional and college coach Bill Walsh. In seven years in Palo Alto, Willingham took the Cardinal to four bowl games, the 1999 Pacific-10 Conference championship and the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance in 28 years. Willingham twice was honored by his peers as the Pac-10 Coach of the Year (1995 and 1999) – and ranks as the only Stanford coach to earn that honor more than once.

His 2001 Stanford team produced the best record of his seven seasons, with a 9-3 overall mark, a berth in the Seattle Bowl and final regular-season rankings of ninth in the Bowl Championship Series poll and 11th in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

The ’01 Cardinal went 6-2 in Pac-10 play, good for a three-way tie for second place. It marked only the second time in 50 years a Stanford team won nine regular-season games, as three Cardinal players won first-team All-America honors for the first time since 1973. Stanford led the Pac-10 in ’01 in scoring (37.1 per game), total offense (451.5 yards per game), rushing offense (201 yards per game) and rushing defense (109.6 yards per game). The Cardinal finished 17-7 in Pac-10 action from ’99 through ’01.

“For the last seven years, Tyrone has 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 taken his teams to four bowl games,” says Notre Dame director of athletics Kevin White.

“I’ve spoken to a great many people about Tyrone – and every one of them regards him as one of the very top coaches in the game today – at the college or pro levels. They regard the job he has done at Stanford as simply amazing.

“To the people at the NCAA, he’s a man of impeccable integrity, to the recruiting gurus, he’s among the very best at attracting talent even when 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.”

In the 2001 NCAA Graduation Rate Report issued last fall, Stanford recorded an 83 percent football graduation rate, good for fourth in the nation among Division I institutions, based on football student-athletes who enrolled between 1991 and 1994 (allowing six years for graduation). In other recent NCAA reports involving football, Stanford ranked second in 2000 (83 percent) and fourth in ’99 (81). Stanford and Notre Dame historically rank among the national leaders annually in all the major categories, including all student-athletes, football players, plus male, female and African-American student-athletes.

In 1999, Willingham led the Cardinal to an 8-4 overall record, a 7-1 mark in conference play, the first Pac-10 championship for Stanford since 1971 and Stanford’s first Rose Bowl appearance since January 1, 1972. He was a finalist for national-coach-of-the-year honors and was named the American Football Coaches Association Region 5 Coach of the Year.

He led the Cardinal to consecutive bowl games in his first two seasons (’95 Liberty, ’96 Sun) at Stanford, becoming only the third Stanford football coach to accomplish that feat (Walsh was one of the other two, in ’77 and ’78). Willingham also became the first coach since Walsh to have back-to-back winning seasons in his first two years at Stanford. He is the only coach in school history to guide Stanford to four bowl game appearances.

Willingham’s seven-year record stands at 44-36-1 overall and 32-24 in Pacific-10 play. His first. Cardinal team went 7-4-1 in ’95 en route to earning a berth in the Liberty Bowl, while his second team in 1996 finished 7-5 after beating Michigan State 38-0 in the Sun Bowl.

In 1996, Willingham and Stanford wound up winning their final four games of the regular season to finish 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Pac-10, good for third place. A 38-0 win over Michigan State in the Sun Bowl, Stanford’s first shutout since 1974, gave Willingham’s team a 7-5 final record.

In his first season as the Cardinal head coach, Willingham turned a 3-7-1 team in ’94 into a 7-4-1 bowl team in 1995. Prior to the ’95 season, Stanford had been picked to finish last in the Pac-10. But, after the Cardinal’s fourth-place league finish, conference coaches voted Willingham their 1995 Pac-10 Coach of the Year. It was the first time a Cardinal head coach had been selected for that honor since Walsh in 1977. Willingham also was selected the National Coach of the Year by the Black Coaches Association in 1995 and ’96.

Willingham, a finalist for national-coach-of-the-year honors in ’95, began his career by going 4-0-1 in his first five games, marking the best Stanford start in 44 years (the 1951 team won its first five games).

He is no stranger to Notre Dame football, thanks to a 3-2 record versus the Irish over the past five seasons. His teams also faced Notre Dame eight other times during his tenures as an assistant at Stanford, Michigan State and Rice. He has made six Notre Dame Stadium appearances as a coach (the ’90 Cardinal team for which he served as an assistant knocked off the Irish 36-31 when Notre Dame was ranked number one in the country), in addition to his appearances against Notre Dame from his playing days at Michigan State. Playing against the Irish as a senior in ’76, he carried three times for 37 yards, had two kickoff returns for 24 yards and two punt returns for 27 yards in the 24-6 Notre Dame victory.

Like his two Stanford predecessors – Walsh and Green – Willingham had previously served as a Cardinal assistant coach before being named head coach. He was Stanford’s running backs coach under Green from 1989-91 before moving with Green to the Minnesota Vikings, where he again coached running backs from 1992-94.

Willingham was an assistant coach on the collegiate and professional levels for 18 years prior to his appointment as Stanford’s head coach. During his career as an assistant, he coached on offense, defense and special teams.

A 1977 graduate of Michigan State University, Willingham coached under Green for six seasons, three at Stanford and three with the Vikings. In Minnesota, Willingham helped the Vikings return to prominence as one of the top teams in the National Football League. The Vikings finished 8-8 in 1991, the year before Willingham arrived with Green in Minnesota. In his three seasons in Minnesota, Willingham helped the Vikings win two National Football Conference Central Division championships and advance to the playoffs all three seasons.

In 1992, the Vikings finished 11-5 and won the NFC Central Division championship. Willingham’s top pupil that season, Terry Allen, set a club record by rushing for 1,201 yards. In 1993, Minnesota finished 9-7 and earned a wildcard playoff berth. The Vikings won the division title again in ’94 and earned another playoff berth with a 10-6 record.

While at Stanford (1989-91), Willingham was part of Green’s staff that helped turn the program around. The Cardinal went from 3-8 in ’89, to 8-4 in 1991. The ’91 season culminated with a berth in the Aloha Bowl, Stanford’s first post-season appearance in five seasons.

The ’91 squad won its final seven regular-season games to finish 8-3 overall, 6-2 in the Pac-10. It was Stanford’s best season in five years and first bowl appearance since the 1986 Gator Bowl.

Willingham coached two of the top running backs in Stanford football history during his brief tenure as a Cardinal assistant: Glyn Milburn and Tommy Vardell. Vardell was a first-round NFL pick following the ’91 campaign. Milburn is the fifth leading all-time rusher in Stanford history with 2,178 yards and he is second in the Cardinal record book in all-purpose running with a three-year total of 5,857 yards. Vardell, meanwhile, is sixth all-time at Stanford in rushing with 1,789 yards and first in touchdowns with 37.

Vardell in ’91 set a Stanford single-season record for rushing (1,084 yards) and TDs (20) while being named the Academic All-American of the Year. Milburn, who set a Stanford record for all-purpose running in 1990 with Willingham as his coach (2,222 yards), went on to earn first-team All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 1992.

After graduating from Michigan State in 1977, Willingham continued with the Spartan program as a graduate assistant in ’77 under head coach Darryl Rodgers. In ’78-79, Willingham was the defensive secondary coach at Central Michigan University (current Notre Dame director of athletics Kevin White was the Chippewa track coach at that time), with those teams finishing 9-2 and 10-0-1, respectively.

From 1980-82, Willingham was the defensive secondary and special teams coach at Michigan State University under head coach Muddy Waters. He moved to North Carolina State University for three seasons (1983-85), where he again coached special teams and the defensive secondary under head coach Tom Reed.

Prior to accepting the position as running backs coach at Stanford under Green, Willingham coached receivers and special teams at Rice University from 1986-88.

Upon his arrival at Stanford in 1995, Willingham took an active role in both campus and community activities. He was a board member for OICW (Opportunities Industrialization Center West) and is a former National Advisory Board Member for the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford. He is a member of the American Football Coaches Association rules committee and a speaker for American Football Quarterly University, and other coaching clinics.

For his commitment to community service, Willingham was honored with the 2000 Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Award. The award is presented to a college football coach nationwide for career achievement and his outstanding service as a role model.

A walk-on in both football and baseball at Michigan State, Willingham went on to earn three letters in each sport. As a quarterback and flanker in football, he was named the team’s most inspirational player in 1976. In 1977, Willingham was awarded the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor as the outstanding scholar-athlete in the league. In baseball, he received the sportsmanship award in 1975 and was an all-Big Ten selection in ’77.

Born Lionel Tyrone Willingham on Dec. 30, 1953, in Kinston, N.C. ( he graduated from Jacksonville High School in Jacksonville, N.C.), Willingham earned his degree in physical education with a minor in health education from Michigan State. He and his wife, Kim, have three children: Cassidy (born 1/10/84), Kelsey (born 5/9/88) and Nathaniel (born 7/9/90).

The Tyrone Willingham Coaching File
Year – School/Team … Assignment
1977 – Michigan State (7-3-1) … Graduate Assistant
1978 – Central Michigan (9-2) … Secondary
1979 – Central Michigan (10-0-1) … Secondary
1980 – Michigan State … Secondary, Special Teams
1981 – Michigan State … Secondary, Special Teams
1982 – Michigan State … Secondary, Special Teams
1983 – North Carolina State … Secondary, Special Teams
1984 – North Carolina State … Secondary, Special Teams
1985 – North Carolina State … Secondary, Special Teams
1986 – Rice … Receivers, Special Teams
1987 – Rice … Receivers, Special Teams
1988 – Rice … Receivers, Special Teams
1989 – Stanford … Running Backs
1990 – Stanford … Running Backs
1991 – Stanford (8-4, Aloha Bowl) … Running Backs
1992 – Minnesota Vikings (11-5, NFC Central champ) … Running Backs
1993 – Minnesota Vikings (9-7, wild-card playoffs) … Running Backs
1994 – Minnesota Vikings (10-6, NFC Central champ) … Running Backs
1995 – Stanford (7-4-1, Liberty Bowl) … Head Coach
1996 – Stanford (7-5, Sun Bowl) … Head Coach
1997 – Stanford (5-6) … Head Coach
1998 – Stanford (3-8) … Head Coach
1999 – Stanford (8-4, Rose Bowl) … Head Coach
2000 – Stanford (5-6) … Head Coach
2001 – Stanford (9-3, Seattle Bowl) … Head Coach
Totals as Head Coach — 44-36-1 (.549) in seven seasons