Bye, Ty: Notre Dame Fires Willingham

In a move that could hardly be called unexpected after Saturday’s third consecutive beating by USC, Notre Dame fired its football coach, Ty Willingham. Willingham amassed a record of 21-15, but couldn’t break .500 over the past two seasons:

Coach Tyrone Willingham was fired by Notre Dame on Tuesday after three seasons in which he failed to return one of the nation’s most storied football programs to prominence.
Willingham went 21-15, including 6-5 this season. The Fighting Irish lost 41-10 to No. 1 Southern California on Saturday.
“We simply have not made the progress on the field that we need to make,” athletic director Kevin White said. “Nor have we been able to create the positive momentum necessary in our efforts to return the Notre Dame program to the elite level of the college football world.”

The university took action just before students planned demonstrations calling for the removal of Willingham, a spectacle that everyone should be glad to have avoided. Willingham managed to spark the Irish in his first season to a 10-3 record, including an eight-game winning streak at the beginning that had everyone hoping for a national championship. Unfortunately, the Irish went 13-15 from that point forward.
Willingham has been successful at all levels of football. He was one of Denny Green’s staff with the Minnesota Vikings before going back to Stanford as the head coach. He has the talent to succeed in most areas — but Notre Dame has elevated expectations. One expectation is that the traditional rivalries will generate wins. After getting blown out by 31 points three successive times against the Trojans, well, the handwriting was on the Dome.
Who’s next? The AP report mentions a former Lou Holtz protege, Urban Meyer, currently leading Utah to an unbeaten season. I think that the Irish may want to look for someone who has run a high-profile program before, rather than go after a good coach making his first big stab at the brass ring. I would expect them to approach NFL head coaches who may be looking to return to the college level, someone with proven success but who may no longer fit into their current position. The only problem would be that the Irish need someone in place before January, when recruiting gets into full swing, and the best NFL coaches will be in the playoffs.
Of course, Lou Holtz is now available ….
Note: I got a lot of e-mail on this, but James was the first to let me know about it. Managed to do it without any of that California triumphalism coming through, too …