Willingham to step down as Huskies coach at season's end

Updated: October 28, 2008, 12:52 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SEATTLE -- Tyrone Willingham was fired Monday as Washington's coach after failing to restore the Huskies to national prominence.

Two days after Washington fell to 0-7, athletic director Scott Woodward said Willingham will step down at the end of the season. When asked Monday if this was his decision, Willingham said flatly, "no."

Willingham, appearing at his weekly news conference, added he never considered resigning.

"No, it's just not in my makeup," he said.

The decision comes after Saturday's embarrassing 33-7 loss to Notre Dame on national television and after eight days of discussions with Woodward, who has said he did not want to change coaches during the season.

University president Dr. Mark Emmert said Willingham was told a change would be made after the Huskies lost 34-13 to Oregon State on Oct. 18.

"Scott and Tyrone were talking about the best ways to handle it, what the timing could be or should be and just working on details of the transition," Emmert said. "There wasn't anything particularly strategic about it."

Willingham coached Notre Dame for three seasons until being fired in 2004.

Just Didn't Work

Tyrone Willingham was never a good fit in Washington, ESPN.com's Ted Miller writes. Blog

• Miller: What's next?

"We didn't win enough football games. That's it," Willingham said. "Hopefully, we've done all the other things right, [and] it's a good strong program for someone to jump into and do things."

One "someone," former Oakland Raiders head coach and USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, said Monday he is interested in the opening. A person familiar with Washington's plans told ESPN's Joe Schad that Kiffin would be among the coaches considered and added the program will begin its search immediately.

"The University of Washington is a great job," Kiffin told Schad. "And it's one I'm sure a lot of people will be interested in."

A few of Kiffin's selling points would include his familiarity with the Pac-10 and the fact he helped build USC into a national champion.

The Numbers Add Up

Based on some of Washington's statistical rankings within the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, the Huskies pretty much have nowhere to go but up under their next coach.

Rank based on 119 FBS teams
    FBS rank
Total YPG 291.0 108th
PPG 16.1 117th
Total YPG allowed 479.6 116th
PPG allowed 39.6 115th

Other Washington candidates could include Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christiansen, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Boise State coach Chris Petersen and Seattle Seahawks assistant Jim Mora Jr.

Woodward said he would likely begin the search for Willingham's replacement soon.

When asked if he might name a new coach before this season ends, Woodward said, "I would not rule that out."

Naming a successor before Washington's season finale at California on Dec. 6 would be a large step toward salvaging what is potentially a lost recruiting class this winter for the Huskies.

Willingham, who will leave with a year left on his contract, will receive a $1 million buyout, Woodward said.

Word was slow to leak to the team, which hosts No. 5 USC on Saturday.

Quarterback Ronnie Fouch said Willingham pulled him aside just minutes before the announcement.

"It's tough. He's the reason I came here," Fouch said. "It's going to be tough to see him gone after this year."

Quarterback Jake Locker, out since Sept. 27 with a broken thumb, had a different take.

"Change can be a good thing. Change can be a bad thing," he said. "It depends on how we approach it."

Willingham has been under fire for not turning around the Washington program. He is 11-32 overall in his four seasons, losing at least six consecutive games in each of those seasons. Washington currently has a nine-game losing streak; the Huskies and North Texas are the only winless teams in FBS this season.

After a stint at Stanford that included a Rose Bowl appearance, Willingham began his Notre Dame coaching career with an 8-0 start in 2002. But the glory under the Golden Dome was short-lived; since his unbeaten Irish were upset by Boston College on Nov. 2, 2002, his teams are just 24-47, a .338 winning percentage.

When he arrived at Washington, Willingham was charged with restoring the integrity of the program after a messy divorce with former coach Rick Neuheisel and two lost seasons with Keith Gilbertson.

Willingham brought stability and order to the program but that didn't add up to wins.

Since beating Boise State and starting out 2-0 in 2007, Washington is just 2-16 under Willingham. Including the win over Boise State, the Huskies have lost 13 of their past 15 home games.

"It became quite obvious with the performance on the football field it wasn't up to what we talked about at the beginning of the season and previous to the season," Woodward said. "It became more obvious as time went on this season."

Willingham never won more than five games in his first three seasons. The Huskies seemed on their way to a bowl game in 2006 at 4-1, then lost six consecutive games. Last year, Washington started 2-0, then dropped six straight in a series of painful second-half collapses.

With a team full of freshmen and sophomores and Locker's injury, this season is on pace to be one of the worst in school history.

Still, Willingham didn't dismiss the idea of coaching next season.

"I will not rule out anything," he said.

Information from The Associated Press, ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad, and ESPN's research department was used in this report.