ND on Willingham's Watch Now

Would you impatiently check your watch while in a meeting with your boss, in clear sight of everyone in the room? It was a clear message from Tyrone Willingham and the defining moment of his introductory press conference Sunday. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli comments.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

January 2, 2002


Time Is Right
For Willingham

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

The defining moment of Tyrone Willingham’s opening press conference came when he impatiently looked at his watch.

Here was a man that arrived in South Bend less than 24 hours earlier. Notre Dame President Monk Malloy introduced him to the media with the utmost respect. The Monogram Room was filled with reporters, former players and other senior members of the administration. ESPNews was airing every utterance live.

And, to Tyrone Willingham, time was wasting. Press conferences – no matter who is in attendance – are a nuisance. They have nothing to do with winning football games.

We learned a few things about Notre Dame’s new football coach on Sunday. And all of us in the media would be best to continually remind ourselves of this list:

  • You want to find social significance in this hire? You better go through a better source than Willingham. He is comfortable enough in his own skin to not care what color it is.
  • His priorities are "the students entrusted to me, Notre Dame and my family."
  • He’ll have little patience for those who are not perfectly prepared.

Midway through the press conference, an Indiana reporter threw Willingham a fastball down the middle. "You’re from California, how did your kids react when they saw the snow here?"

It was likely meant just to be a friendly question, meant to establish an early bond between the scribe and coach. Most coaches would have engaged the question with a light touch.

The new head coach instead, professionally but unquestionably, told the reporter if he had researched it carefully he would have seen that Willingham and his family had previously lived in Minnesota.

It took Willingham less than 15 minutes to make all of us in the media realize we were going to have to raise our level of play if we are to be allowed in his circle. It should take even less time for the new head coach to convince his team.

When Willingham’s imminent hiring broke on Monday, virtually all reports had "Notre Dame’s first black head coach in any sport" in the opening paragraph. By the end of the day on Tuesday, after meeting Willingham for the first time, this conversation took place between two veteran reporters in a small media room in the Joyce Center.

"I’m in my final paragraph, I guess I should mention he’s the first black coach," said one.

"I just finished my story, and I didn’t even mention it," said the other.

Willingham had that type of affect on people. The only colors noticed were Blue and Gold.

"I'm not Jackie Robinson," was the most profound thing Willingham said on the issue.

Kevin White acknowledged to IrishEyes Tuesday that Willingham was on the short list when the coaching search began. After the two men talked, White instead committed first to a man who "Seemed like he came out of Central Casting." Fittingly, he was given a Hollywood-esque press conference in South Bend, complete with cheerleaders, the band and tee-shirts. But George O’Leary did not have the same attention to detail as Tyrone Willingham, and it cost him his dream job.

One can see how White turned to O’Leary. Focused, driven men like Willingham take some getting use to. There will be rough moments. There will be hurt feelings. If (more likely when) he doesn’t win right away, there will be tension.

None of that will matter to Willingham. He made it clear when it comes to Notre Dame football, everyone is now on his time.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)



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