By Jim Caple
Page 2

Notre Dame fired football coach Tyrone Willingham on Tuesday and with this one craven move, the Fighting Irish officially changed a famous saying inscribed on a campus building from "God, Country, Notre Dame" to "Notre Dame: Just Like Everyone Else."

The dismissal marked the first time "The School That Is Above All That Stuff" fired a coach while he still had years remaining on his contract. What will be the school's next low move to appease the alumni and attract recruits? Hiring Nicollete Sheridan to leap naked into the arms of Touchdown Jesus?

The entire university should be ashamed. Willingham was 21-15 and had one losing season yet Notre Dame let him go just three years into his five-year contract. Three years! His predecessor, Bob Davie, had a worse record after three years but still got an extra two years to coach. Three years! Good lord, even Gerry Faust got five years.

"Coach Willingham is an outstanding football coach," Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said Tuesday. "He's got an impeccable reputation."

All About the Irish
Commentary:
  • Herbstreit: Ty needed more time
  • Forde: Notre Dame's cover blown
  • Gilmore: Irish rush to judgementInsider
  • Theismann: Irish firing about winningInsider

    From SportsNation:

  • Poll: Willingham to blame?
  • Mailbag: What do you think?

    From Page 2:

  • Caple: Shame on Notre Dame
  • Grant: Admit the truth, ND
  • Lapchick: Sad in South Bend

    From ESPN Motion:

  • AD explains move ESPN Motion
  • So naturally, he fired him.

    Somehow, you get the feeling they're probably not going make an inspirational movie about what happened in South Bend this week.

    "Tyrone Willingham, All-American"

    [As the scene opens, Notre Dame Athletic Director KEVIN WHITE steps into the department's conference room for an emergency meeting of the school's board of trustees. The gloomy board members are draped in blankets that read "Return to Glory" they recently purchased for half-off at the school bookstore.]

    WHITE: Well, boys, I haven't a thing to say. We had a disappointing season, a lousy season. Guess we can't win them all, though it would have been nice to cover the point spread against USC.

    I'm going to tell you something I've kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was here long before the BCS system. But you know how much money we make off merchandising his likeness here at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me --"K-Dub," he said, "sometime, when the breaks are beating the boys and the alumni are up in arms and you have to accept an invitation to a crappy game like the Insight Bowl, tell the board of directors to go out there with all the lawyers they got and fire the coach for the Gipper so that we can go hire an undefeated coach at Utah before some other school else gets him first."

    [WHITE grows misty and his voice cracks.]

    "I don't know where I'll be then, K-Dub," Gipp said, "but I'll know about it -- and I'll be happy. And more importantly, the alumni will be happy and they'll keep donating piles of money."

    All right. That's all I have to say, except that you guys know the right thing to do.

    [His speech finished, WHITE leaves the room. Board of Trustees member No. 7 leaps up.]

    NO. 7: What are we waiting for? Let's call the press conference before Willingham can recruit anyone else!

    * * * * *
    It's bad enough White and the board of directors forgot the school's former high standards and caved into the lowest temptations -- you expect that sort of thing from the people who run athletic departments at major universities. More disturbing was the student group that planned a protest if Willingham wasn't fired.

    Notre Dame is a Catholic school with a proud tradition of academic excellence and the highest standards of liberal arts education, yet apparently the only thing some students have learned is how to determine a point spread. Here's a real e-mail that made the rounds, calling students to arms:

    "STUDENTS ARE GATHERING FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

    "Students still care about the football team and care that it plays championship football.

    "The Administration is not ensuring that the football team plays up to the historical standards that made Notre Dame great. Notre Dame would be nothing today if not for the past achievements of the football team.

    "Football is what unites the Notre Dame family.

    "Our classmates on the football team deserve much better than the 'leadership' they are currently getting. ...

    "Therefore ... we are returning all reminders of unfulfilled promises such as 'Return to Glory' shirts and things such as that to the Administration building tomorrow at 5.30."

    Nice, huh? And to think that college students used to protest against the war in Vietnam, women's rights, segregation in the south and apartheid in South Africa. Now, they're reduced to helping run a minority coach and a man of integrity off the campus.

    Wham, Bam, Ty Winningham!

    Your coaching's been our personal Viet Nam!

    If this is what campus life is all about in South Bend these days, you wonder what a sequel to the quintessential Notre Dame movie, "Rudy," would be like.

    "Rudy II"

    [The scene opens on Notre Dame Stadium where the Irish are tied 38-38 with less than a minute to go against Pitt in their final home game of the 2004 season. As Pitt moves the ball steadily downfield in the closing seconds, the Notre Dame students begin chanting, though not loudly enough to hear what they're saying.]

    [Meanwhile, we see little RUDY RUETTIGER JR. pacing the sideline, eager to get into the game. This is his last game at Notre Dame and he's spent the past four years listening to students laugh behind his back and call him Sam Gamgee while assistant coach after assistant coach has told him to give up and go back to the Shire. RUDY remains determined to get into the game.]

    [The chanting grows louder and RUDY JR. finally hears it. His eyes light up. This is it. This is the moment. Just as the students did for his father, he realizes they are chanting his name and that coach TYRONE WILLINGHAM will be forced to put him into the game.]

    [The chanting grows still louder and as Pitt moves into field-goal range, we can make out what is being said.]

    STUDENTS: Fire Ty! Fire Ty! Fire Ty!

    [RUDY JR. watches helplessly as Pitt's Josh Cummings kicks a 32-yard field goal with one second left to give Pitt a 41-38 victory. The chanting grows louder still as time expires and RUDY JR.'s career ends.]

    STUDENTS: FIRE TY! FIRE TY! FIRE TY!

    [With the game over, the students rush onto the field, pushing over RUDY JR. and stomping him under their feet.]

    STUDENT: Get out of my way, you miserable little Hobbit!

    [The students grab WILLINGHAM, hoist him onto their shoulders and then, as the screen fades, we see them ride him out of town on a rail.]

    STUDENTS: HIRE URBAN! HIRE URBAN! HIRE URBAN!

    * * * * *

    Despite the dismissal, Willingham will do just fine. He's a good coach with a great reputation and a strong résumé and he'll be re-hired quickly (rumor has it that he's going to Washington, much to the joy of beleaguered Husky fans everywhere). The big loser is Notre Dame. The next coach may win or he may not but the school's reputation will never recover from this.

    The tag line to "Rudy" was "Sometimes a winner is a dreamer who just won't quit." And now, sometimes a loser is just an athletic department that forgets what made it great.

    Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com




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    WHERE'S RUDY?