Can you talk about the challenge of getting ready for a bowl game right now, with all of this going on around you?"We'll figure it out in the next few days because I know it's a tremendous challenge. I just got back late last night. The phone's really grown out of my ear the next two days. I know there are a lot of challenges ahead. We've addressed a lot of them in a staff meeting today. I'm sure there are a lot of things we haven't even thought about yet. I know that I haven't had a chance to talk to many of the players. I've talked to a handful of them on the phone. I plan on (talking to all of the players) tomorrow and will talk to the staff more over the next couple of days and we'll continue to move forward."
Can you describe the feelings you had when you heard about the decision (not to retain Coach Willingham?"I don't know how to describe it. This business is sometimes a tough business. I don't know if people really understand how many people's lives it affects, and that's the thing that you deal with the most. As a coach, you've been through it before and you expect and know that's the kind of business you're in, but we're dealing with personal issues more than anything else with the entire coaching staff. So, I don't know if anyone can ever really imagine what it's like to go through something like this."
What's your feeling about coaching this team in light of what's happened?"I have loyalties to Tyrone Willingham. I've been with Tyrone for 10 years. He still certainly has loyalties to this team and this staff and Notre Dame, so that's the reason we're doing it. We want to do it as an entire group, united as an entire group. We'll move forward and I think it's going to work out for the best."
How strange is it to be in meetings without Coach Willingham being present?"Real strange. When we walked into that staff room today and somebody said, 'Sit up at the head of the table.' I'm not even going to approach that seat. I have talked to Coach Willingham a handful of times and I'm going to continue to do that, but it's very, very strange. I mean, Coach has been so good. He's been tremendous to work for. He's the best. There have been other times when we meet as a defense, we meet alone, and he's never in those meetings, so you have some kind of idea how to handle a meeting. But when you're with the entire staff and you have to approach issues that involve the whole football team that's Š it was a little bit different and, frankly, a little weird."
What's it like trying to focus on this game when you also have a career of your own to be concerned about?"It's difficult. There are a lot of things that are going on with the entire staff. Everybody's out of a job after, basically, the 28th. You certainly have to take care of yourself and your families and move forward. So, you have to kind of balance all this. I've never gone through it quite like this before so I'm not quite sure how that balancing act will work, but we've just got to work through it and, hopefully, this will all work out. There's a lot of closed doors around here today on coaches' offices and I can understand that. My voicemail box has filled up seven or eight times today and I didn't know my cell phone could fill up. I had to answer that twice today, so you're just dealing with a lot of things right now. A lot of phone calls, a lot of people."
(Inaudible question concerning the team's upcoming practice schedule)"We just went through the schedule today and I think we've come up with a pretty solid schedule for practices. We will practice approximately eight times between now and the 18th of December. I think, maybe, the 17th is the last day we'll practice, and then we'll get four practices at the bowl site. So, we'll end up with a total of 12 practices for the game. I'm not sure, I think there's a limit of 15 imposed by the NCAA, but we've got to work it around finals and a lot of other things going on but I think we've got a pretty solid schedule. We'll finalize it tomorrow."
Have you begun to get a sense of how the team will approach this game?"When we agreed to do this, myself and the staff, we wanted to do this as a united front and make sure the team wants to do it together. I think there was concern whether the staff would do it with them. We certainly agreed to do that. We have loyalty to these guys and we're going to do everything we can to go and win the football game, believe me. Also, I'd like those guys to have some fun and treat it like it's a reward. That's what bowl games are all about."
One of the concerns about going to the bowl game was whether the players would have their hearts in it. Is it hard to judge whether the kids will be into this game?"Part of that's human nature, anyway. There's probably a handful (of players) that doesn't. In fact, I know what the vote was. I'm not gonna tell you what it was, but I do know what the numbers were. How many wanted to go and how many didn't. But I think the team has such good senior leadership on that football team that they're going to pull that group together and get everyone on the same page and we're gonna go down and give everything we've got. I see practices as pretty much the same. I think our preparation will be very much the same. Again, hopefully it will be all positive. Again, we won't know the answer to all of those questions until we see the team tomorrow."
Was the vote close?"No comment. I just know what the vote was. It wasn't close, by the way. Other than that, I'm not gonna tell you the numbers."
What has the players' reaction to playing in the game been?"They've been very positive, the ones that I've talked to. I've talked with six or seven. I don't care to mention names, but every one of them has been very, very positive. The six or seven I talked to all were very adamant about playing the game. They did express some concern about whether the coaching staff would be willing to do it. I told them I couldn't answer for the entire staff when I did talk to them because I was on the road on a cell phone, but I said I would definitely get an answer to you. But we are united and we are gonna go."
Notre Dame sports information contributed to this story.