- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) When he learned three weeks ago that Notre Dame had hired George O'Leary as its football coach, Tyrone Willingham told Irish athletic director Kevin White he had made a mistake.
"Kevin, you're hiring the wrong guy," White recalled Willingham had told him. "You need to hire me. You know you have to hire me."
White finally took the Stanford coach's advice and signed him to a six-year deal Monday night.
White recounted the conversation yesterday as he introduced Willingham, the first black head coach in any sport at Notre Dame, and just one of four black coaches at Division I-A.
Willingham's hiring ends an embarrassing chapter for one of the nation's most prestigious football programs. O'Leary resigned five days after being hired because of lies on his resume about his academic and athletic background.
Asked if Notre Dame had done anything different to investigate Willingham's background, White said he had not. White said the school used an executive search company for both men and university personnel spent extensive time conducting database searches.
"This is a slippery slope between confidentiality and due diligence when you're involved with a high-profile person," he said.
Willingham was the first coach White had contacted after Bob Davie was fired Dec. 2. He didn't contact him during the second search until Sunday, 17 days after O'Leary resigned.
The university declined to disclose financial terms. Willingham's agent, Ray Anderson, also would not reveal financial terms, but said a $1.5 million a year salary cited by the South Bend Tribune was much more credible than an earlier report of $2 million to $3 million.
White said he was impressed by Willingham's response when he told him the first time he hadn't been hired and again when he contacted him a second time.
"He's a strong and determined guy, a very capable guy, a very skilled guy," he said.
Willingham displayed the same confidence at yesterday's news conference, saying he has no doubt he can help lead Notre Dame back to being a dominant team.
"That's why I'm here. To reach that level of excellence that this university has always had. I believe it can be accomplished," he said.
Willingham said he has a simple plan to answer questions boosters and recruits might have about the fact he wasn't Notre Dame's first choice.


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