NEW YORK -- Notre Dame president Rev. Edward Malloy said Wednesday he was upset that his university fired Irish football coach Tyrone Willingham last week.
"In my 18 years, there has only been two days that I've been embarrassed to be president of Notre Dame: Tuesday and Wednesday of last week," said Malloy, speaking during a panel discussion at the Sports Business Journal's Intercollegiate Athletics Forum.
In his three seasons as Notre Dame coach, Willingham compiled a 21-15 record. Malloy said he was not part of the decision-making process because he will retire in June.
"I thought we were going to abide by our precedent, which was a five-year window for a coach to display a capacity to be successful within our system and to fit," Malloy said. "Both [athletic director Kevin White] and I have a very high regard for [Tyrone Willingham]. Having lost to Southern Cal, we had a meeting called by my successor [John I. Jenkins] with a strong presence of the Board of Trustees, which led to a result."
University spokesman Matt Storin issued a statement Wednesday
saying there was "debate and disagreement" over the firing, and
that Malloy deferred because of his pending retirement on June 30.
A question from the panel moderator about Willingham prompted Malloy's three-minute, 30-second rant. When he finished, the crowd comprised mostly of sports marketers and fellow collegiate executives at the Westin Hotel in Times Square, applauded Malloy's public stand.
"That was one of the most extraordinary answers I've ever heard," said Vanderbilt president G. Gordon Gee, a fellow panelist. "For people who have not sat in these chairs you don't know how courageous of a statement that was."
Malloy said he didn't fault anyone in particular in the process, acknowledging that there was a lot of pressure to make a decision on Willingham's future, including the thought that the next great coach might have been available to the school.
"There was also the phenomenon of the messiah coach," Malloy said. "Everybody wants to be on the A-list. This year, I think there are 14 college football positions that have changed or are changing. There are probably three people that are on the messiah list, which means 11 programs have no messiah."
Utah coach Urban Meyer was a Notre Dame assistant, but chose to take the head coaching job at the University of Florida instead. Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci said he was contacted by the school, but chose to stay in the Motor City. Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino was also contacted by the Irish, but announced Tuesday that he is staying with the Cardinals.
"Notre Dame will get a coach," Malloy said. "I hope that person does well. But I think the philosophical hit that we have taken is a significant one. I am not happy about it. And I do not assume responsibility for it. I think it was the wrong move and the fact that other schools have made similar choices after three years suggests that they are feeling the same pressures that we are."
Notre Dame is preparing to meet with Buffalo Bills offensive
coordinator and former Irish quarterback Tom Clements about its
Clements will meet with Notre Dame officials Thursday, according to ESPN.com Len Pasquarelli reports.
Clements, 51, has connections to two of Notre Dame's most
successful coaches. He played under Ara Parseghian, leading the
1973 team to a national championship, and was an assistant under
Lou Holtz from 1992-95.
"He has a good football mind, he's a good, solid person, and
he's a Notre Dame alum," Holtz told The Associated Press on
Malloy, apparently, is not worried about Willingham's future.
"All the good coaches who get fired will get another job, in college or pro," Malloy said. "Their future is not at risk, but what happens in the transition is that the institutions get tarnished in ways that I think in the long run we pay a huge price."
White, who was scheduled to speak on a panel later in the day, had canceled his appearance prior to Malloy's comments.
Darren Rovell is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.