Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Willingham says just `be yourself'

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Tyrone Willingham addresses the media at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington on Monday after being hired as the new head football coach at the University of Washington. Willingham was fired two weeks ago by Notre Dame.

PHOTO: AP

At his news conference after he was fired at Notre Dame two weeks ago, Tyrone Willingham was asked what advice he would give his successor.

He paused for about 15 seconds, smiling as the thoughts rolled through his head.

He finally settled on an answer: "Be yourself."

Charlie Weis, the Irish's new coach, may not have heard Willingham's advice, but he heeded it. Notre Dame introduced Weis Monday, a few hours before Willingham was introduced as the new coach at Washington.

Weis, a New Jersey native, was truly himself, delivering an opening statement of more than 3,000 words, including a job-by-job description of his unlikely climb from a student in the stands at Notre Dame football games to the team's coach.

Willingham spoke to the news media in Seattle in his typical pragmatic and measured tones; his opening statement was fewer than 500 words.

The two coaches will meet on the field early next season; Notre Dame plays at Washington on Sept. 24.

"Am I aware Notre Dame is on the schedule?" Willingham said. "I am, but that will not be the focus. With the years of experience I have in this game, I know the most important game is the next game. We open with Air Force."

The announcement of Weis ended Notre Dame's two-week search for a new coach, which included a failed run at Utah coach Urban Meyer, who instead went to Florida, and several other college coaches declaring they were not interested in the job.

In Weis, Notre Dame found someone who seems excited about the task of trying to restore the program's past glories. He signed a six-year deal reportedly worth US$12 million.

Weis relayed stories of attending every Notre Dame home game in his four years and taking a road trip to Dallas in 1978 to watch the Irish knock off top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

He also stressed that he did not view the Notre Dame job as a stepping stone to the NFL.

"This is an end-all for our family," Weis said. "We come to Notre Dame, it's with the intent of retiring here."

Weis has 15 years of experience as an NFL assistant and three Super Bowl rings, but only one season as a head coach; he led Franklin Township High School to the 1989 New Jersey state title. Despite his lack of experience, Weis expressed confidence in his abilities as a coach, specifically after he has a chance to raise the talent level.

"Once you've done that and you've got a chance to establish that system, my job then becomes a simple one," he said. "It comes down to X's and Os. To be honest with you, when it gets to that point, I think that's when we have the greatest advantage."

Weis' excitement was unquestionable, but his immediate future is less certain. He will have to balance his current job as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots (12-1) with trying to put together his first recruiting class at Notre Dame.

He refused to discuss the details on how he expected to do that, though he did say that he would use some down time on trips to visit with recruits. In Foxboro, Massachusetts, Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the issue of Weis' two jobs by saying only, "It is what it is."

Belichick congratulated Weis on the job but would not discuss how the Patriots would handle the arrangement.

"Charlie and I have talked about it," Belichick said.

"We've had good communication and good thoughts on it. I've been through it before. We'll work through it."

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