<
>

Duerson is second official to speak out

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame mishandled the firing Tyrone
Willingham as football coach and is not doing a good job in its
search for his replacement well, board of trustees member Dave
Duerson said Friday.

Duerson, a former defensive back for the Irish and the Chicago
Bears, told Chicago radio station WSCR-AM there are bigger problems
at Notre Dame than the football team's struggles.

"With all the other things going on at the university, the
least of the problems was wins and losses," he said. "There's
greater dissension in some other things at the university that need
to be corrected and dealt with."

Duerson said he could not be more specific because of his
obligations as a trustee. The Associated Press left a message
seeking comment Friday at Duerson's home in Lincolnshire, Ill.

Duerson said trustees were not consulted -- but should have been -- before Willingham was fired Nov. 30 after the Irish went 21-15 in
his three years as coach.

"As we all see, it's left quite a black eye on the
university," Duerson said. "It should have involved the entire
board. We should have at least been involved in the discussion
instead of the blind-sided nature in which it was handled."

Duerson's son, Tregg, is a freshman attending Notre Dame on a
football scholarship.

Duerson is the second high-profile university official to speak
out against the firing. The Rev. Edward Malloy, retiring as
university president on June 30, said he not only was opposed to
the firing but was embarrassed by the school's decision to depart
from its normal practice of giving a coach five years.

University spokesman Matt Storin said Friday there was
disagreement over the decision to fire Willingham.

"But I can tell you that the university administration is
strongly united in the search for a new coach and we're nearing the
conclusion of that process," he said.

He declined comment on other remarks by Duerson, saying he had
not heard them.

Duerson said he did not think race was a factor in the firing of
Willingham, the first black head coach in any sport at Notre Dame.

"But let me put it this way, it was more difficult to get Ty
hired," said Duerson, who also is black. "That was where race was
an issue."

Duerson also questioned those in charge of the search for a new
coach, saying they are the same group responsible for hiring George
O'Leary three years ago. O'Leary was fired after five days, when
the school learned he lied on his biographical background, and
Willingham was hired.

Duerson said O'Leary was not on the school's A-list. He said the
school had targeted then-Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, then-San
Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, Oregon coach Mike Belotti and
Willingham.

"O'Leary was not on our hit list. Ty was. I got a phone call,
we all got a phone call, meet us in Atlanta, we're making a hire.
That's how that occurred," Duerson said.

He also questioned the direction of this year's search. Athletic
director Kevin White and incoming university president, the Rev.
John Jenkins, flew to Utah last week to meet with Utes coach Urban
Meyer, but he accepted the Florida job.

The school reportedly has met this week with former Irish
quarterback Tom Clements, now the Buffalo Bills' offensive
coordinator, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie
Weis, a Notre Dame alumni who did not play college football, and
Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache, a former
Irish assistant.