Should he stay or should he go? Coach quandary at ND

With every embarrassing Notre Dame loss (aren’t they all embarrassing in South Bend?) and every University of Washington win, the topic is going to come up.

It’s Charlie Weis’ third year, people like to point out, and Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham after three seasons. The Irish are 0-3 this season, and plenty more potential losses loom on the schedule.

How, the critics ask, can Notre Dame justify keeping Weis if his team goes, say, 5-7 (and that might be pushing it), after firing Willingham for going 6-5 during his final season?

Even worse, you could argue, is the fact that Weis was given a 10-year extension after starting his first season 5-2, while Willingham got little more than a “nice job, coach” for his 8-0 start in his first season.

Weis’ teams aren’t just losing, they’re getting blown out — which was interestingly one of big knocks on Willingham during his tenure at Notre Dame. Through three games, the Irish have yet to score an offensive touchdown. In a string of defeats that began last season, Notre Dame has lost five consecutive games by a total of 136 points.

So what is Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White to do when the criticism keeps coming at him and his program from all over the country? How can he keep Charlie Weis vs. Tyrone Willingham from becoming a weekly story this year and in the future?

Simple. Say you screwed up. Just admit you fired Willingham too early. Say it was a mistake, that you overreacted. It’s the best way for the school to justify not firing Weis without looking like hypocrites at best and racists at worst.

Weis might or might not be the long-term answer for Notre Dame, but firing him now will just set the program back again.

It’s Willingham, of all people, that seems to have the solution figured out.

“There’s an old saying that says, two wrongs don’t make a right,” Willingham said when asked about the situation at Notre Dame. “If there was a wrong, and that’s debatable, but if there was, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Weis’ contract means he is probably safe for the near future, but barring a miraculous turnaround of the program this season, Notre Dame will be under fire all season long. Just say you acted too quickly, Notre Dame, and a lot of this pressure will go away. Right now, your credibility is hurting, and admitting a little bit of fault would go a long way towards restoring it.

In the win-now world of college football, Willingham knew what he was getting into, which is why he won’t criticize his former employers for letting him go.

“College coaches don’t have three years,” he said. “You’ve got today. That’s it, that’s all. That’s what you walk in the door planning on, you have today. Anything else as a bonus is gravy.”

Willingham is a man of too much character to be enjoying Notre Dame’s misery. He’s not the petty grudge type.

“Why would one get a kick out of someone else’s misery?” he said.

And whether some part of him is still angry about the way things played out at his last coaching stop, Willingham and his seven-figure salary are getting along just fine in Seattle, which is why Notre Dame doesn’t need to apologize to Willingham or anyone else. Just say a mistake was made and move forward.

It’s that easy, Notre Dame. Admit a mistake, the pressure will subside — well at least a little anyway. This is still Notre Dame we’re talking about. Then you can get back to figuring out how to get that first win.

If only that were so easy.

Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at For more on University of Washington Sports, check out the Huskies blog at /huskiesblog

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