In Akron, Ohio, standout defensive end prospect Lawrence Wilson, who committed to the Fighting Irish several weeks ago, was stunned to hear the news.
"The first I heard it, I was shocked," said Wilson, a standout at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. "I was shocked and angry about how they did him."
The 6-6, 230-pound Wilson is rated as Ohio's 12th-best prospect by Ohio High magazine. He had made official visits to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Pittsburgh before verbaling to the Irish.
But with Willingham out of the picture, Wilson said he would reconsider all of his options.
"My dad talked to Coach Willingham earlier," Wilson said. "Coach Willingham told him he would call me later on.
"I am definitely going to look around. I can't be committed to a school that doesn't have a coach."
Wilson said he would listen to overtures from OSU and Pittsburgh. It is believed an OSU assistant did contact Wilson Tuesday night.
"I want to keep things open right now," Wilson said.
Earlier in the evening, Wilson's father, Eugene, discussed the turn of events. He said he called Lawrence at school when he found out at about 1:30 p.m.
Eugene Wilson then called Coach Willingham. "He's disappointed," he said. "He didn't sound like the guy I've been talking to the last few months."
On his son's college choice, Eugene Wilson said, "It's too bad because we're back to the whole process of looking for a school again. He verbaled and that verbal is done. We liked Coach Willingham. The first question I had -- and I asked him and the AD both -- was would he be there to coach my son through. They both said he would be around.
"We don't know where he's going to college. We liked Willingham, but Willingham is not there so we are basically starting over. That's life, but that's a good lesson to learn when you're 17, I guess."
With official visits already spent to his top three schools, Eugene Wilson said his son would not be doing a lot of traveling – especially during basketball season.
"We ain't going back (to South Bend)," he said. "If they want to talk to us, they can come here. There is no reason for us to go back over there."
Eugene Wilson said his phone had been ringing quite a bit since Willingham's firing.
"We've had several calls today," he said. "Michigan State has called and several reporters have called as well. They're calling."
Here's what Ohio High recruiting editor Duane Long wrote about Wilson for the January edition of the magazine:
"Talk about going about business quietly," Long wrote. "Wilson was the best pass rusher in Ohio last year, but nobody knew about him. He had 15 sacks last year but somehow managed to avoid the spotlight. He transferred to St. Vincent-St. Mary, and transfers often leave players in limbo as the former coach really doesn't have anything to say about the player and the new coach knows nothing. In this case, there was also a coaching change, so Wilson ended up being the best player that nobody was talking about until this summer. Wilson camped at several schools, including Ohio State and Notre Dame. He ran a 4.6 at both camps, and both offered scholarships.
"If you were building the perfect defensive end prospect, he would look like Wilson. He has very long arms and a long, lean frame to add weight to. He is a super athlete as he also plays basketball, switching back and forth between the small forward spot and the off guard. That is a pretty remarkable feat for a 230-pound athlete, especially playing against the level of competition Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary plays against. Wilson played so well this year at tight end that Ohio State gave him his option as to which side of the ball he plays on. Pitt was also in the race, but Wilson surprised many by choosing the Fighting Irish over the Buckeyes and Panthers in November."
Click the link below to check out some special videotape of Wilson taken by Columbus' WSYX-TV (Ch. 6) before and during Wilson's game with SVSM against Columbus St. Charles.