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Notre Dame fires its No. 2 coach

by Jeffery Armstrong

People, especially people of color, are upset that Tyrone Willingham was fired by the University of Notre Dame on Tuesday. Willingham, an African-American, had been one of only five such coaches of color in Division I-A football. One other has been fired recently and another resigned, so now there are only two black D-1 head football coaches in all 117 major colleges in America.

Willingham went 21-15 in his three years at Notre Dame; his predecessor Bob Davie went 35-25 in five seasons.

Everyone points to the fact that Willingham's recruiting was mediocre and that spilled out to the field. I personally think Willingham was on the right track with recruiting - he did manage to land former Buford High running back Darius Walker, a three-time state champion who has played well as a freshman and could do major things at Notre Dame if he stays healthy.

I don't like the fact that Willingham was fired after only three seasons because that's not enough time to turn a team around, in my opinion. And of course it doesn't matter that the players were doing well academically, graduating on time and things like that. What matters is winning on the field, bottom line, plain and simple.

The one thing that people seem to overlook is this: Willingham wasn't Notre Dame's first choice to replace Davie as head coach. Please remember that the popular football program wanted to hire former Georgia Tech head coach George "Fudge" O'Leary, he of the inaccurate resum?, at first.

But since the resum? scandal surfaced, they had to go with choice No. 2, Willingham.

So in my humble opinion, it was no problem for the University of Notre Dame to let Willingham go after only three seasons since he wasn't the administration's main guy in the first place. Sure, he did well off the field, but the school couldn't have the No. 2 guy get blown out by the likes of USC and others.

What it all boils down to is that coaching past the high school level is about the most thankless job you can ever have. I couldn't do it.

You can do everything right off the field - make the players study hard every night, graduate them on time and make sure they represent the University to the best of their ability - but if the school isn't in the AP Top 10 or competing for a national championship every year, then you're likely out of a job.

Now, I'm not crying for Willingham. He's a millionaire, making more money than I may ever see in my lifetime and he'll still get paid for the remainder of his contract.

But Willingham said in his farewell press conference that there's no security in coaching. Just recently, the head football coach at Mississippi was fired for having a 4-7 season, one year removed from some guy named Eli Manning leading them to a bowl bid in his senior year. The fired coach doesn't get a chance to try to get Ole Miss back to some sort of prominence at all.

It's a thankless job, but I guess somebody's got to do it. So there'll be more coaches lined up to try to get Notre Dame back to where it was when Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail and Joe Montana put on their golden helmets many years ago. Good luck.

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com .