2004-12-01

Willingham Out: Not Surprised, Not Outraged


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Whether or not universities in general have too high expectations for their coaches is a discussion for another day. This is about Notre Dame, Ty Willingham and the past three seasons.

I'm hearing the cries of, "What? Do they expect a championship every season?!" and I'm baffled. To listen to some people, you'd think the coach has been kicking butt, and his firing is a mystery. The fact that the Irish faithful have chronic championship aspirations is irrelevant. Notre Dame hasn't even been close to that level under Willingham, and they didn't appear to be moving in the right direction.

On the surface, Willingham's performance seems reasonable: a 21-15 record highlighted by wins over Michigan (twice), Florida State in 2002, and Tennessee this year. Plus, after a down season the Irish have once again been invited to a Bowl.

The catch is, Willingham won his first eight games at the helm of a team he inherited, which has helped to mask a truly mediocre run. Since then, Notre Dame has been a paltry 13-15, and they've failed on a number of fronts.

One can look at losses in games the Irish should have won; Boston College 3 yrs in a row, Syracuse, BYU, and Pittsburgh. Perhaps the Irish are reluctant to join the Big East in football because they are tired of making that league look better than they are.

Even more painful for fans, there were the embarrasing blowouts; Purdue by nearly 2 TD's a year ago and by 25 this year, Michigan by 38 last year, Florida State by 37 last year, and USC by 30+ points for three years running. You're living on borrowed time at Notre Dame if you can't even be competitive in games such as these.

Many like to look at Bowls; the Irish lost by 22 to NC State in the Gator Bowl two years ago, weren't eligible last year, and have been invited to the Insight Bowl, a pre-New Year's Day tilt this year. Let me add, that the one area where Notre Dame will always have a clear advantage is Bowl Selection. In an era where teams are fighting for spots in the prime bowls, the Irish have the distinction of having been the least deserving at-large team in the short history of the BCS. Notre Dame can always count on an invite to a higher bowl than their performance merits, simply because they draw a crowd wherever they go. This probably accounts for their recent run of poor bowl showings.

Overall, the USC games stand out. Many would argue that the Trojans have been the best team in the country for the last two years. So, those contests stand out as annual, season-ending reminders that not only are the Irish not competing for a national championship, they aren't even close.

Finally, whether or not they are justified, the Irish powers that be have high expectations for their football team. You know this. I know this. And, Ty Willingham knew this when he took the job. Sure, there is a lot of pressure. But there is also a long line of coaches that would give their right arm to work in South Bend. It was a great opportuity and now Coach Willingham is paying the price for that opportunity. He need not be ashamed of the job he did, but he also should not be surprised that he is unemployed right now.

So ... who's next?

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