Rambo fires back at Mitch
By Mike Kennedy
DETROIT, MICHIGAN DECEMBER 9, 2004
[Editor’s note: This is a letter to Detroit Press sports writer and author Mitch Albom in response to Albom’s December 1, 2004 column criticizing Notre Dame for firing coach Tyrone Willingham. You can read Albom’s column Here]
I read with great interest your column in the Free Press with regard to the Tyrone Willingham firing. While I commend you for not playing the obligatory race card like most other pundits, I must take issue with the general premise of your article.
You call the move coldhearted, but if you have followed the Notre Dame Football program closely during this tenure, you would notice some glaring problems that resulted in Notre Dame’s program slipping to mediocrity, with no tangible evidence of recovering. Sub-par recruiting efforts, horrible overall technique exhibited by the players, lack of player development, a general lack of game preparedness, and non-existent game day adjustments are but a few of the problems that have led to the regression of this program and the subsequent firing. Further, a multimillion dollar buyout is hardly the coldhearted equivalent of Joe Six Pack getting a pink slip from the mill. If the acceptance of mediocrity at a program as storied as Notre Dame is your idea of normal, then I suppose you have made an accurate appraisal. For those of us who follow this program closely, the move was warranted.
Dr. White was correct in his assessment of the scholastic values Ty brought to the table, and there is no doubting the integrity of this man. The fact is the university administration demands this from any coach for all varsity sports, as it always has been and always should be. These are, after all, student-athletes. But that being said, Saturdays do matter, as they always have and always should. This football program is in the very fabric of this institution. Striving for excellence on the playing field had always been important at Notre Dame. What set it apart from the norm was that excellence on the field was matched in the classroom. That will not change. Until very recently, Notre Dame had the highest winning percentage of any major college football program. If you didn’t notice, it has been relinquished to your beloved University of Michigan.
I’m not sure what you are implying regarding the Colorado and Ohio State recruiting and violation issues. Do you believe that no one but Ty is capable of running a clean program? Please. And, call me an ignoramus, but what the heck is your point regarding TV coverage? You go on to mention there were “some” blowout losses? Some? Try this on for size: He lost eight games by 31 or more points in points in just 25 games. His team is getting crushed every three games; Davie and Faust combined for seven such losses over their ten years. This is simply unacceptable, unless Notre Dame would like to join the Ivy League.
This one really got me: “The same school that kept a miscast Gerry Faust for five tough years because it believed in honoring contracts, now fires a perfectly capable Willingham before he has a chance to see one recruiting class complete its cycle.” Perfectly capable of what, exactly? Perfectly capable of staggering losing and winning records around a .500 winning percentage, so every other year we get to play on December 26 in the Weedwacker Classic? No offense to the young men he’s gathered in the fold, but his recruiting classes will not yield too many guys playing on Sundays. His kids are not being developed, and it’s clearly evident to those who closely follow the program.
Further, Willingham was not “fired” despite the news reports. The university had a buyout clause that could be executed after the third year, which they chose to exercise. And please, don’t compare the Willingham era to the Faust era. Faust was hired on the heels of a successful Dan Devine, who followed a legendary Ara Parseghian. The misery index was nowhere near where it is today. We’re now 11 years removed from winning a major bowl. We’ve been embarrassed in the last two bowls to a wolf pack and beavers (granted, the beaver loss was under Davie, and unfair as it may be, it contributes to the overall mood). This is hardly the stuff of Notre Dame Lore.
Finally, would this performance be tolerated at Michigan? I hate using a hypothetical in an argument, but hear me out. Following the legendary Bo, Gary Moeller averages four to five losses per season, and misses a couple bowls along the way. Much to the chagrin of the suffering UofM alumni and fans, the university honors his five year contract before letting him go. Coach Carr comes in, and despite a promising start in his first year, the Wolverines stumble, let a sub-rival (MSU) ruin their run, get embarrassed by their main rival (OSU) to close the season, and get blown out of a BCS Bowl (oh wait, that’s not hypothetical, Rocky Top comes to mind…). They finish 5-7 his second year, including another loss to MSU and blow-out to OSU. They show life his third year, despite opening the season with a loss against BYU, lose once more to MSU, and yet again get blown out by OSU, ultimately finishing at 6-5, and gain a bid to the coveted Microprocessor Bowl. Now, under that scenario, wouldn’t UofM cut bait and hire a new coach while several top candidates are available? I’m sure you would agree that Michigan would not accept this type of mediocrity with their football program. That’s guaranteed. You sir, are a hypocrite.