Dec. 13, 2004
SEATTLE -- Washington's search for its 25th head football coach resulted in the return of Tyrone Willingham to the Pac-10 Conference. While he brings an impressive resume with him to resurrect the Husky program, Willingham has acquitted himself well among his peers for much more than just fielding winning teams.
Over the past 28 years Willingham has developed a coaching style that emphasizes toughness, enthusiasm, intelligence, discipline, commitment and unselfish play. The result has provided his players with more than just the opportunity to enjoy victories on the field. His guiding principles have prepared his players to be successful in life.
Willingham, who turns 51 on Dec. 30, served as the head coach at Stanford (1995-2001) and Notre Dame (2002-2004) over the past decade. His Stanford teams enjoyed a 44-36-1 record while he was 21-15 with the Fighting Irish, including a 38-3 victory against Washington earlier this year at Notre Dame Stadium.
Willingham's annual base salary is $425,000 with additional guaranteed media, marketing and representation rights and deferred compensation totaling 1,005,000. Willingham can earn up to an additional $600,000 in incentives. The term of his contract is five years.
In his inaugural season with the Irish in 2002, he wasted no time reversing the tide of the Irish program, leading Notre Dame to a 10-2 regular-season record and a trip to the 2003 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
In the process, Willingham became the only first-year coach in Notre Dame history to win 10 games in his initial campaign. He was recognized for his efforts when he was named the ESPN/Home Depot College Coach of the Year, the Scripps College Coach of the Year, the Black Coaches Association Male Coach of the Year and the George Munger Award College Coach of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club. Willingham also made history when he became the first college football coach to earn The Sporting News Sportsman of the Year award in 2002. Willingham joined the likes of such sporting greats as Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling (2001), Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards basketball star Michael Jordan (1991), former Irish and NFL great Joe Montana (1989), hockey's all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky (1981) and NCAA basketball and UCLA coaching legend John Wooden (1970). The accolades did not stop there for Willingham as the Irish coach was named the sixth most influential minority in sports by Sports Illustrated.
Willingham's team started fast out of the gate in 2002 as the Irish won their first eight games, including defeating ranked opponents Maryland, Michigan, Air Force and Florida State. Notre Dame's four wins over ranked opponents tied them for the most victories over top 25 teams in the nation (along with Miami) during the regular season. Notre Dame also achieved its first top-10 ranking since 1999, topping out at No. 4 after the Florida State game.
Individually, the players responded to Willingham's coaching as he mentored four All-Americans in 2002. Cornerback Shane Walton was Notre Dame's first consensus All-America selection since 1993, and was one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award given to the nation's top defensive player. Center Jeff Faine was also a first-team All-American by The Sporting News and ESPN.com. Faine was the runner-up for the 2002 Rimington Award given to the nation's top center and was the first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns (21st overall) in the 2003 National Football League Draft. Linebacker Courtney Watson was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and was one of three finalists for the Butkus Award given to the nation's outstanding linebacker, while Vontez Duff earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press for his efforts as a cornerback and kick returner.
Then, in 2003, the Irish started the year in grand style (an overtime comeback victory over defending Pacific-10 Conference champion Washington State), punctuated the year with a midseason road triumph over 15th-ranked Pittsburgh, then claimed wins in three of their last four games. Playing against a schedule ranked third toughest in the country by the NCAA (a schedule that included nine teams that played in bowl games), Notre Dame's headliners included veteran running back Julius Jones (who set the Irish single-game rushing record with 262 yards vs. Pittsburgh and finished the season with 1,268 yards), defensive end Justin Tuck (who set the Notre Dame single-season record for quarterback sacks with 13.5), and rookie quarterback Brady Quinn (who set Irish freshman records for passing yards, completions and attempts).
In 2004, Willingham led the Irish to a 6-5 overall record and a berth in the Insight Bowl, in which Notre Dame will face Oregon State Dec. 28 in Phoenix, Ariz. The Notre Dame season included several big wins including two over top-10 ranked teams. The Irish knocked off then-No. 8 Michigan, 28-20, Sept. 11, at Notre Dame Stadium and beat then-No. 9 Tennessee, 17-13, in Knoxville on Nov. 6. The season also included wins over a bowl-bound Navy squad, Michigan State and Pac-10 teams Washington and Stanford.
Willingham's coaching prowess is also respected at the next level as Notre Dame has had 12 players selected in the past two NFL Drafts. Joining Faine as 2003 picks were offensive linemen Jordan Black and Sean Mahan, each selected in the fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. Walton was also a fifth-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, while safety Gerome Sapp (Baltimore Ravens), wide receiver Arnaz Battle (San Francisco 49ers) and offensive lineman Brennan Curtin (Green Bay Packers) were taken in the sixth round. Duff (sixth round, Houston Texans) and Watson (second round, New Orleans Saints) joined teammates Glenn Earl, (fourth round, Houston Texans), Julius Jones (second round, Dallas Cowboys) and Jim Molinaro (seventh round, Washington Redskins) as selections in the 2004 NFL Draft.
The Irish also got it done in the classroom in Willingham's first two seasons. In 2002, fifth-year senior John Crowther became the 42nd Irish football player to earn Academic All-America honors, garnering second-team accolades. Defensive lineman Kyle Budinscak and linebacker Brandon Hoyte were named academic all-district selections in 2002 and 2003. As a team, the Irish finished with a record high grade-point average of 2.911 in the spring semester of 2002, and posted a 2.835 grade-point average in the fall of 2002, followed by a 2.79 in the spring of 2003 and a 2.853 in the fall of 2003. Eight players made the Dean's List and 43 players had a "B" average or higher during the fall of 2002, while eight players earned Dean's List recognition and 50 achieved at least a "B" average in the spring of 2003. Ten players were Dean's List honorees in the fall of 2003.
The running backs coach at Stanford from 1989-91 under head coach Dennis Green, Willingham returned to Stanford as head coach Nov. 28, 1994, replacing legendary professional and college coach Bill Walsh. In seven years in Palo Alto, Willingham took the Cardinal to four bowl games, the 1999 Pacific-10 Conference championship and the school's first Rose Bowl appearance in 28 years. Willingham twice was honored by his peers as the Pac-10 Coach of the Year (1995 and 1999) and ranks as the only Stanford coach to earn that honor more than once.
His 2001 Stanford team produced the best record of his seven seasons, with a 9-3 overall mark, a berth in the Seattle Bowl and final regular-season rankings of ninth in the Bowl Championship Series poll and 11th in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
The 2001 Cardinal went 6-2 in Pac-10 play, good for a three-way tie for second place. It marked only the second time in 50 years a Stanford team won nine regular-season games, as three Cardinal players won first-team All-America honors for the first time since 1973. Stanford led the Pac-10 in 2001 in scoring (37.1 per game), total offense (451.5 yards per game), rushing offense (201 yards per game) and rushing defense (109.6 yards per game). The Cardinal finished 17-7 in Pac-10 action from 1999 through 2001.
In the 2001 NCAA Graduation Rate Report, Stanford recorded an 83 percent football graduation rate, good for fourth in the nation among Division I institutions, based on football student-athletes who enrolled between 1991 and 1994 (allowing six years for graduation). In other recent NCAA reports involving football, Stanford ranked second in 2000 (83 percent) and fourth in 1999 (81). Stanford and Notre Dame historically rank among the national leaders annually in all the major categories, including all student-athletes, football players, plus male, female and African-American student-athletes. Notre Dame won Academic Achievement Awards from the NCAA and USA Today in both 2002 and 2003 for having the highest overall student-athlete graduation rates.
In 1999, Willingham led the Cardinal to an 8-4 overall record, a 7-1 mark in conference play, the first Pac-10 championship for Stanford since 1971 and Stanford's first Rose Bowl appearance since January 1, 1972. He was a finalist for national coach of the year honors and was named the American Football Coaches Association Region 5 Coach of the Year.
He led the Cardinal to consecutive bowl games in his first two seasons (1995 Liberty, 1996 Sun) at Stanford, becoming only the third Stanford football coach to accomplish that feat (Walsh was one of the other two, in 1977-78). Willingham also became the first coach since Walsh to have back-to-back winning seasons in his first two years at Stanford. He is the only coach in school history to guide Stanford to four bowl game appearances. His first Cardinal team went 7-4-1 in 1995 en route to earning a berth in the Liberty Bowl, while his second team in 1996 finished 7-5 after beating Michigan State 38-0 in the Sun Bowl.
In 1996, Willingham and Stanford wound up winning their final four games of the regular season to finish 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Pac-10, good for third place. A 38-0 win over Michigan State in the Sun Bowl, Stanford's first shutout since 1974, gave Willingham's team a 7-5 final record.
In his first season as the Cardinal head coach, Willingham turned a 3-7-1 team in 1994 into a 7-4-1 bowl team in 1995. Prior to the 1995 season, Stanford had been picked to finish last in the Pac-10. But, after the Cardinal's fourth-place league finish, conference coaches voted Willingham their 1995 Pac-10 Coach of the Year. It was the first time a Cardinal head coach had been selected for that honor since Walsh in 1977. Willingham also was selected the National Coach of the Year by the Black Coaches Association in 1995 and 1996. Willingham, a finalist for national coach of the year honors in 1995, began his career by going 4-0-1 in his first five games, marking the best Stanford start in 44 years (the 1951 team won its first five games). His career record of 65-51-1 includes a 44-36-1 mark at Stanford.
Like his two Stanford predecessors - Walsh and Green - Willingham had previously served as a Cardinal assistant coach before being named head coach. He was Stanford's running backs coach under Green from 1989-91 before moving with Green to the Minnesota Vikings, where he again coached running backs from 1992-94. Willingham was an assistant coach on the collegiate and professional levels for 18 years prior to his appointment as Stanford's head coach. During his career as an assistant, he coached on offense, defense and special teams.
A 1977 graduate of Michigan State University, Willingham coached under Green for six seasons, three at Stanford and three with the Vikings. In Minnesota, Willingham helped the Vikings return to prominence as one of the top teams in the National Football League. The Vikings finished 8-8 in 1991, the year before Willingham arrived with Green in Minnesota. In his three seasons in Minnesota, Willingham helped the Vikings win two NFC Central Division championships and advance to the playoffs all three seasons.
In 1992, the Vikings finished 11-5 and won the NFC Central championship. Willingham's top running back pupil that season, Terry Allen, set a club record by rushing for 1,201 yards. In 1993, Minnesota finished 9-7 and earned a wild card playoff berth. The Vikings won the division title again in '94 and earned another playoff berth with a 10-6 record. While at Stanford (1989-91), Willingham was part of Green's staff that helped turn the program around. The Cardinal went from 3-8 in 1989, to 8-4 in 1991. The 1991 season culminated with a berth in the Aloha Bowl, Stanford's first post-season appearance in five seasons. The 1991 squad won its final seven regular-season games to finish 8-3 overall, 6-2 in the Pac-10. It was Stanford's best season in five years and first bowl appearance since the 1986 Gator Bowl.
Willingham coached two of the top running backs in Stanford football history during his brief tenure as a Cardinal assistant: Glyn Milburn and Tommy Vardell. Vardell was a first-round NFL pick following the 1991 campaign. Milburn is the fifth leading all-time rusher in Stanford history with 2,178 yards and he is second in the Cardinal record book in all-purpose running with a three-year total of 5,857 yards. Vardell, meanwhile, is sixth all-time at Stanford in rushing with 1,789 yards and first in touchdowns with 37.
In 1991, Vardell set a Stanford single-season record for rushing (1,084 yards) and touchdowns (20) while being named the Academic All-American of the Year. Milburn, who set a Stanford record for all-purpose running in 1990 with Willingham as his coach (2,222 yards), went on to earn first-team All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 1992.
After graduating from Michigan State in 1977, Willingham continued with the Spartan program as a graduate assistant under head coach Darryl Rogers. In 1978-79, Willingham was the defensive secondary coach at Central Michigan University, with those teams finishing 9-2 and 10-0-1, respectively.
From 1980-82, Willingham was the defensive secondary and special teams coach at Michigan State under head coach Muddy Waters. He moved to North Carolina State University for three seasons (1983-85), where he again coached special teams and the defensive secondary under head coach Tom Reed. Prior to accepting the position as running backs coach at Stanford under Green, Willingham coached receivers and special teams at Rice University from 1986-88.
Upon his arrival at Stanford in 1995, Willingham took an active role in both campus and community activities. He was a board member for OICW (Opportunities Industrialization Center West) and is a former National Advisory Board Member for the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford. He is a member of the American Football Coaches Association rules committee and a speaker for American Football Quarterly, and other coaching clinics. He's also a spokesman for the AFCA child identification program.
For his commitment to community service, Willingham was honored with the 2000 Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Award. The award is presented to a college football coach nationwide for career achievement and his outstanding service as a role model.
A walk-on in both football and baseball at Michigan State, Willingham went on to earn three letters in each sport. As a quarterback and flanker in football, he was named the team's most inspirational player in 1976. In 1977, Willingham was awarded the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor as the outstanding scholar-athlete in the league. In baseball, where he played center field, he received the sportsmanship award in 1975 and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 1977. After his first season on the football team, he earned a scholarship.
Born Lionel Tyrone Willingham on Dec. 30, 1953, in Kinston, N.C., he graduated from Jacksonville High School in Jacksonville, N.C. Willingham earned his degree in physical education with a minor in health education from Michigan State. He and his wife, Kim, have three children: Cassidy (20), a junior gymnast at the University of Denver, Kelsey (16) and Nathaniel (14).
Tyrone Willingham Coaching History Year School/Team Record Assignment Note 1977 Michigan State Graduate Assistant 1978 Central Michigan Secondary 1979 Central Michigan Secondary 1980 Michigan State Secondary, Special Teams 1981 Michigan State Secondary, Special Teams 1982 Michigan State Secondary, Special Teams 1983 North Carolina State Secondary, Special Teams 1984 North Carolina State Secondary, Special Teams 1985 North Carolina State Secondary, Special Teams 1986 Rice Receivers, Special Teams 1987 Rice Receivers, Special Teams 1988 Rice Receivers, Special Teams 1989 Stanford Running Backs 1990 Stanford Running Backs 1991 Stanford (Aloha Bowl) Running Backs 1992 Minnesota Vikings Running Backs NFC Central Champions 1993 Minnesota Vikings Running Backs Wild-card Playoff Team 1994 Minnesota Vikings Running Backs NFC Central Champions 1995 Stanford (Liberty Bowl) 7-4-1 Head Coach Pac-10 Coach of the Year 1996 Stanford (Sun Bowl) 7-5 Head Coach 1997 Stanford 5-6 Head Coach 1998 Stanford 3-8 Head Coach 1999 Stanford (Rose Bowl) 8-4 Head Coach Pac-10 Coach of the Year 2000 Stanford 5-6 Head Coach 2001 Stanford (Seattle Bowl) 9-3 Head Coach 2002 Notre Dame (Gator Bowl) 10-3 Head Coach National Coach of the Year 2003 Notre Dame 5-7 Head Coach 2004 Notre Dame (Insight Bowl) 6-5 Head Coach Total Record as Head Coach - 65-51-1 in 10 seasons