Willingham Takes Time Out for Hall of Fame

Notre Dame Head football coach Tyrone Willingham was the quest speaker Tuesday at the Gridiron Legends Luncheon Series. The event is a kick off to the 2003 Enshrinement Festival for the College Football Hall of Fame. Willingham gave his speech to 925 attendees and offered the audience some advice and thoughts on the 2003 season.

Tyrone Willingham was in good spirits on Tuesday as he addressed the crowd of mostly Irish fans. Willingham opened the speech with his thoughts on life. "Every day, you should ask yourself ‘what have I done to help someone else be better today?' You should wake up every day and start the day with that question."

Willingham also added that when he talks to his players, he always says the same thing. "I tell them that I've never had a bad day. As a team, we strive for perfection and the thought and idea that we can be a perfect team. I've never had a bad day. I've had a bad three hours before but I've never had a bad day."

The guest speaker also said that a champion can overcome bad plays and what determines a champion is how he reacts to bad plays. "As a competitor, as a champion, with each play, each step in life, you can change the circumstances of what just occurred. A champion will respond in the manner of a champion and put the play behind him and move on to the next play."

Willingham was greeted with a huge response at the conclusion of the luncheon and signed autographs for children afterwards.

The media also got a chance to speak with Willingham and ask some questions about the 2003 season.

The first topic addressed by Willingham was the status of Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija was recently arrested for underage drinking. "I am familiar with that as always. Any problems that our young people have we work first through the University and then in addition to that, our football program makes decisions after that. The University to my knowledge has not moved on it and we'll wait to see what happens there." When asked if Samardzija was in any danger of losing his scholarship, Willingham did not comment. "I'm not allowed to say at this point."

Freshmen were allowed to report early in years past but the NCAA has amended the rule and now freshmen will report with the rest of the team. Willingham was asked how he thinks this will impact the development and adaptation of the freshmen to his program. "You're reluctant (to comment) because you're unfamiliar with the system. Until you have the opportunity to work through it and become familiar and see what you really can do, you're just somewhat leery of the new legislation. At the same time, if we're doing t things to help protect the young people that are the right things then it's the right move for us to make."

Willingham does think that this legislation will put the freshmen behind compared to years past. "I think in most cases freshmen start at the back of the line regardless of what program they jump into--whether they've had three days to get acclimated or five days to get acclimated. Under this current structure, they're going to be a little less informed. Now everyone is jumping in from day one. I haven't heard of any programs that are going to bring the freshmen in separate because you still have to complete that five day acclimation process. So I think most people will bring them in together and that means the freshmen are starting out at the same time without being able to be informed and hopefully gain the advantage of at least hearing the information one or two times before they jump in with the veteran players."

The team has been in the system for a year now and this summer the team has had time to work on perfecting the system versus learning it. Willingham was asked to comment on what that means for his team this fall. "We hope that puts us further ahead. With the current rules we are not able to monitor what takes place during the summer. Therefore you are not sure exactly how much advancement has taken place from the time you left in spring until we start practices."

Willingham is in his second year of being the head coach at Notre Dame. He said the second year is always more difficult. "The second year is more difficult strictly from the standpoint of human nature. The second time around everyone believes they know. It all kind of fits and when you have that opportunity, unfortunately it breeds a certain amount of complacency and that's when coaching comes in. We can't let our football team get overly comfortable with the fact that yes, they've learned more, they know some more of the system. We've got to have that edge to us if we're going to be a good football team."

The team has been working out all summer and Willingham was asked if it is difficult to sit back knowing that he can't monitor everything that happens during the summer. "It is (difficult)," said Willingham. "I keep mentioning human nature. We know that human nature; everyone is motivated at a different level. We know that coaches are very active sometimes in motivation of certain individuals. Without that presence, that individual could be lacking coming into camp. Not being able to have that relationship in many cases can kind of hurt what has to take place for certain individuals."

ESPN will be following the team this season for their program "The Season." Willingham said the cameras shouldn't be intrusive to his team. "Anytime you have a camera around obviously it has to make some changes or some adjustments but for the most part, it's going to be what we do. I've always said in our program we're pretty solid in what we do, how we communicate. An additional camera shouldn't make a great deal of difference."

The Irish will lose some leaders from the 2002 squad. Shane Walton, Gerome Sapp and Jeff Faine have all moved on to the NFL. Willingham is hopeful some seniors will step up and become leaders for his 2003 squad but he says he can't make them leaders. "A coach cannot appoint a leader. I kind of compare that to when our country has kind of helped assist certain foreign countries. When you put certain leaders in place and they are not respected by the populace it usually has the tendency to fall and the same thing is true for our football team or any organization. If I try to prop somebody up to a leadership position and it's not accepted and respected by the players then that leadership has no value. You like to have leadership emerge; you'd like to have the consensus come from the team and not from the head coach."

The Irish report to camp on August 10th. Media day is August 15th. Irish Eyes will be there all through fall camp finding out the latest on the 2003 Irish.

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