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November 30, 2004

Notre Dame’s move rocks college football

With one simple sentence, the college football world has been turned upside down. The University of Notre Dame announced today that Tyrone Willingham will not be retained as its head football coach. And with that, nothing the rest of this offseason and recruiting season will be the same.

Notre Dame hasn't been the same the past few seasons both under Bob Davie and under Willingham. Gone are the days when Notre Dame would automatically be at the top of every national recruit's list, and the transition to a West Coast offense played in the Midwest has been a difficult one.

Yet, Willingham finished 21-15 in his three seasons as the Irish coach and was starting to make some strides with more and more national recruits in South Bend. For most schools and programs, that record would be enough to save the job of a coach that was making a monster transformation to a new style and a renewed sense of winning.

Then again, Notre Dame is not your normal school.

The initial reaction to Willingham's departure has already started to filter in from the Irish's recruits. One of the top recruits in Notre Dame's class is three-star quarterback Evan Sharpley. Willingham's firing was a shocker to the entire family, especially since they all had built a big emotional bond with the entire coaching staff.

"I'm so disappointed, it's just horrible," Nancy Sharpley, Evan's mother said. "I think he's a great coach and a great individual. The media has done this to him, and it really ticks me off. I just talked with my brother who lives in Chicago, and he told me about this.

"I didn't know what to say. The tears just kept coming."

What's even more disappointing according to several recruits' family members, is that the Irish coaches had been working hard on the recruiting front and beginning to make in-home visits. Sharpley was schedule to play host to Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill Diedrick on Thursday night for dinner.

"Evan talked to coach Willingham last week," he said.

"And the quarterback coach was coming over for dinner on Thursday. I don't know how we're going to tell Evan. My husband is out of town on business, but he's going to rush home so he can be the one to tell Evan about it. I don't even know what to tell him."

It looks like Sharpley isn't the only one that has some questions to answer and some things to worry about now.

"We've got a monster playoff game coming up, but there is no question that this is something that shocks everybody around here," Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider coach Scott Ponder, who coaches Irish star receiver commitment David Nelson. "I think the best thing to do now is to not really comment on the situation since we're just now hearing about it on TV, too.

"We're trying to sort through what's going on."

The entire college football world will follow suit. When something big happens at Notre Dame, it affects everybody.

Countless recruits potentially could re-open their commitment, there are already lists of head coaching names being draw up, and when there is a new coach named, you can count a huge sense of excitement to swell the Irish program with new blood involved.

The biggest question remains, though, can a new coach buff the gold polish on the Irish's helmets and make it shine like never before? Whoever it is, the new coach must start by rebuilding the Irish name in the national recruiting scene.


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