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Willingham Still In High Spirits Going Into Second Notre Dame Season

Aug. 6, 2003

AP Sports Writer

Tyrone Willingham has never had a bad day, and the Notre Dame coach tells his players they shouldn’t either.

“I quickly inform them that I’ve had a bad three hours – and occasionally those occur on Saturday afternoons. But I tell them that unless my math was incorrect, that three hours are never greater than the remaining portion of the day,” Willingham said at a College Football Hall of Fame luncheon Thursday.

It’s that philosophy that guides Willingham. He has bad moments, just the same as anyone else. The key, though, is to not let them lead to more bad moments. He compared it to a football player having a bad play.

“You have a conscious decision that you can make. You can let that one bad play overwhelm you, and one bad play turns into two, three, four,” he said. “Or, if you are a real competitor, if you are a real champion, then what you do is respond in the manner of a champion. You put that bad play behind you.”

Willingham showed what the power of positive thinking can do last season after taking over an Irish squad that went 5-6 the year before.

He led Notre Dame to a 10-3 finish, the third-best turnaround in school history and their most wins in nine years. The Irish got off to a surprising 8-0 start and rose to No. 4 in the rankings – their highest ranking in nine years – after beating Florida State on Oct. 26.

The season ended in disappointment, though, as the Irish lost three of their last five, including embarrassing loses to USC and North Carolina State.

The Irish return nine starters on a defense that keyed their turnaround, and return most of their skill players on offense.

Willingham said despite all the experience coming back, he’s trying to not become excited about expectations.

“You learn that you don’t get too excited or too depressed about what you expect the expectations to be. So I put myself on a very even keel as I approach every season,” he said. “I think that allows you have success every time out because you don’t forget the details and, No. 2, you are always very stable for the young men.”

Someone in the crowd of 925 people asked Willingham what Notre Dame’s famous football slogan, “Play like a champion today” means to him.

Willingham said the phrase doesn’t just apply to football.

“For me it has an application for life, that you’re blessed to have this opportunity,” Willingham said. “We have to really enjoy this life we have, and not in a reckless manner. I tell our players that all the time.

“You can’t be reckless with life. But you can be respectful to it, enjoy it, and really treat it like a championship every day.”