20 years from now, someone is going to ask Tyrone Willingham which team was his favorite to coach at Notre Dame. The politically correct statement will be to mention a team that won the National Championship or a team that challenged for it. I am going to guess that Tyrone will mention the 2002 Fighting Irish.
Like an orphan waiting for anyone to love him/her, this team grabbed on to the leg of Tyrone Willingham and he has never looked taller. He brought a discipline and a desire to win. He made this team believe in itself because he believed in them. He made them eat their veggies, work hard in school and walk with pride. He has shaped this team into a reflection of himself.
A coach has to teach and Tyrone Willingham and his staff have done plenty of teaching. He has taught this team focus, preparation and attention to the little things. He has preached winning, desire and never giving up. He has focused on winning. He knows this team will struggle and, most of the time, won't look pretty, so winning is all that matters. Just find a way to win now and they will work on winning pretty later.
Every good teacher also learns from their students. Tyrone is going to learn about trust. Sooner or later he is going to have to take the training wheels off this bike and let his quarterback ride with reckless abandon. Like every good parent, he is being cautious. He doesn't want to put this orphaned kid into a position of failure. It's a slow process of building confidence and trust. Sooner or later, the child will have to ride without the training wheels. He will fall but Tyrone will be there to pick this child up and start the confidence building all over again. Sooner or later, the quarterback will be riding this bike with the precission of Lance Armstrong. The foundation has been built, the belief and the heart is there and oh what desire to win.
A special bond is made between teacher and student. There is no greater feeling for a teacher than to reach someone who didn't believe in themselves. Tyrone has reached this team and he will remember that for a lifetime as will the players on this team. Tyrone will continue to win and he will do it with "his" guys. I am going to guess he will take more pride in what he has done with "the other guys' players." The reason he has been successful is these are "his" guys and they know that.
20 years from now, you will remember this team. You will remember this coach and you will remember the season the magic was restored. The names will become fuzzy, the facts distorted but you will never forget this team and Ty and this team wouldn't want it any other way. Bigger games, bigger names and certainly more at stake will surely follow but the 2002 team will be the reason. This 2002 team has brought back the pride in Notre Dame football. They will likely lose a game this year, everyone knows that except this team. They honestly believe they will win the National Championship and I, or anyone else, can't tell them any different. The teacher has reached the student, here comes the Irish.