Coach Tyrone Willingham Press Conference Quotes

Dec. 13, 2004

Washington Athletic Director Todd Turner
General Comments:
'Let me welcome everyone here this afternoon, this is a wonderful occasion, and it is great to see so many of our fans and staff here, as well as the media. Welcome to the University of Washington. This has been a tremendous couple of weeks, where we validated a lot of what we already knew about Washington football: highly respected, highly regarded, a tradition of excellence. We embarked on this challenge to find a new leader with that in our pocket. The only thing we lost along the way was my voice. If you will pardon me for that, we will move right ahead with what we are doing today, I'd like to call on our President Mark Emmert, to make a few remarks about our new coach.'

On Tyrone Willingham: 'When we began our search, if you had told me, that we would be at this point today; announcing a coach that had in ten years taken his team to six bowl games, including a Rose Bowl, had been named Pac-10 Coach of the Year twice, had been named National Coach of the Year once, had been recognized by the 'Sporting News' as the Sportsman of the Year , the first college football coach ever to achieve that award, a man who had graduated virtually all of his players, who had never had a slip up with the NCAA, who is a dynamic leader, who cared about young men more for their character and their development as a person than about them as simply a football player; then I would have been absolutely ecstatic. And here we are, today it gives me great pleasure to introduce the man that fits all of those qualities, the new head football coach of the University of Washington: Tyrone Willingham.'

President Mark Emmert
General Comments:
'I've been spending so much time with Todd Turner, that we've shared everything including a cold. So, I apologize for my raspy voice. When we began this process a few weeks ago, we had chatted with many people across the campus. We talked to faculty, students, student-athletes, the board of regents, leaders on the campus, and people from outside the university who are alumni and friends and supporters of the university and our football program; and asked them to help us put together a profile of the kind of person that we wanted to have as the next coach of the University of Washington. Everyone kept coming back to the same handful of words: integrity, discipline, excellence, someone who would always make us proud, someone who would win at the highest levels, someone who knew the University of Washington, someone who knew the west coast, someone who would be here for a good long time, someone who would rebuild the tradition of Husky football that we all know and love. With those kind of descriptors in hand, Todd and I started talking to people all around the country. We talked to many, many people, dozens of people. We had an opportunity to chat with lots of great coaches, lots of good people. We had the chance to go around the country and sit down with a number of really fine folks. And again, and again we kept returning to one name and was the name of Tyrone Willingham. When Tyrone became available a few weeks ago, we were absolutely stunned and elated. Because we knew we had a chance to bring the University of Washington, someone who exemplified all of those characteristics we were looking for. Someone of extraordinary character, someone of integrity, a great winning tradition, someone who understood the discipline and toughness that has always been the hallmark of the University of Washington. So for me, this was a very, very easy choice. When we sat down and talked with Tyrone, it couldn't have been clearer in my mind that this was the man that we wanted to lead the University of Washington back to its former glory days. I'm absolutely delighted that Coach Willingham is with us, we couldn't be more lucky. We are proud to have you with us Tyrone, thank you so much for willing to be our football coach.'

Tyrone Willingham
General Comments:
'For me to stand before you as the head coach of the University of Washington, is a special opportunity and a special honor. I have watched this program for many a year, and the things that President Emmert, Todd (Turner) have said, are the things that have rung true in my mind, my vision of what this football program is all about. It is tradition-laden, when you think about that tradition you think of a great deal of success, you think about great players, you think of Rose Bowls. I couldn't be prouder at this moment to be head coach What I would hope to do in my time here is to go back to all those great things and great accomplishments that this program has achieved. That will be my focus to get back to the toughness. I remember walking in to this stadium on numerous occasions, and walking out saddened, because not only had we been defeated, we had also been beaten. There is a difference there. This program has done that continually over the years, and what I'm looking forward to is getting back to that kind of football. I believe that this is a special area, that has been noted, and has produced many fine players. This state, this part of the country, has a great many players that we should have on this campus that in some cases, have gotten away. We have got to get the state of Washington back to being the University of Washington. If we can do that I will be pleased. I am eager, to bring my family to what I believe will be a great city. My wife is excited, and if I would let him, my son would probably have walked here! His wallpaper and everything else on his computer was changed probably a week ago, even before I knew that change was taking place. It is an exciting moment for me, and I am eager to be here. Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit with the football team, and the things that I tried to stress to them were the things that I believe all of college football should be about. Yes, it should be about winning, yes it should be about being a great student, yes it should be about being a great person, but it also should allow young people at that very precious age to have fun and enjoy the experience. That will be my target for this football team, our young men and the program. For those of you that have followed me before, you know that probably I have spoken more than I will ever speak before a group like this. I usually don't make that the center of my attention, but I am eager to entertain, as much as I can, any questions you may have about me being the head football coach of the University of Washington.'

On jumping quickly back into coaching a high profile program: 'If you are going to be involved with a truly great program, that program brings the attention of not only that region, but the attention of the country. I view this as one of those programs. My desire was to become a part of a great program. Even though I was not unemployed for a very long period of time, there were other programs that did display some interest, but there are only a few that I think are special, and provide the kind of opportunity that I would like to be involved with, and this university provides that kind of opportunity.'

On how he differs from former head coach Rick Neuheisel: 'That one I'm not sure of. I'm not sure of all the qualities that Rick displayed, so I don't know what the contrast will truly be. I do know Tyrone Willingham. He is a person that believes in doing what's right. He believes in family. He believes in hard work. He believes in being intelligent in that work, and as I mentioned for all players I think it's important that also coaches, even at my tender age, have fun also. So those are the things that I know about Tyrone Willingham, and hopefully some of the things that I'll bring to this program, and how that contrasts with Rick, I'm not sure.'

Mark Emmert
On comparing Willingham to Neuheisel:
'We weren't interested in anyone else's character except Tyrone Willingham's, and we picked him because of those attributes. Not because he was, or wasn't anything compared to anyone else. This is the man we wanted as our coach.'

Tyrone Willingham
On his coaching staff:
'The first thing I wanted to do, before I made any decisions--it would be very easy to select some names around the country because after 27 years I've got a pretty good group of names to come up with--but the first thing I wanted to do is sit down with the coaches that were here, and as of yet I have not done that. So I'm looking forward to doing that. Sitting down with them and then plugging in the pieces from there.'

On what he saw from Washington when they played Notre Dame this season: 'My look was a partial look. And that partial look was about the third or fourth game, somewhere in that area, so you're looking not with the totality of the season at hand. What I saw at that time was not the Husky teams that I had seen before. So that will be my goal. One, to go back and identify all those key ingredients that made those teams great and then see if we can bring that forth. And in bringing that forward, I think it has to have a twist on it because today the game is more sophisticated than it's ever been. Years ago I don't think you would've thought of saying the word option and put somebody in the shotgun. So the game is changing, how you spread the field and do all of those things is changing. So we have to get back to many of the principles that made the program strong, but also we've got to add some enhances, if I might say that.'

On establishing himself in the region: 'Well the first thing I will do is try to make sure that I get to as many high school coaches, because it's not just for today, it's the long term that I think you're trying to build a program with. So I want to get to, and have an opportunity to visit with a lot of the coaches in the area, in the state, and then see if those players that are available--and some that might be listed as unavailable--see if we can contact them. Because there are great things that can happen at this university. There are very few universities that have the true support that this university has within this football program. And I say that because I was on the west coast and I can know how sometimes casual football can be on the west coast, and this is not one of those places.'

On benefiting from less stringent recruiting limitations: 'I don't think there's any question about that. But you still, regardless of where you're at, have to be able to fulfill the mission of the university, and that is important to me. The mission of the university is to educate our young people so you want young people at all ends of that spectrum so that you can do that. The character of the individual more so than his actual grade point average or SAT score or ACT score will be important to him being included in that process. So I think there may be some liberties a little greater than at the other institutions but I still think you're working toward the mission of the university.'

On the nature of the Huskies team: 'I think the root of the team, they will better tell you that than I. But I think they understand very clearly when you speak to them along these terms, when you say that it is time for the University of Washington to return to being 'the Dawgs', in this program, that is a vicious animal. Okay? And I think our players are excited about that. They are excited about hearing that kind of conversation about envisioning themselves playing and living up to that kind of tradition.'

On being first African-American head coach to be rehired at a major institution: 'That is honestly significant. Because I think when you're on a landscape where there have been truly limited opportunities, for one to be able to be back in the system is a very positive step.'

On if he gets tired of having to be a spokesman for African-American head coaches: 'It is honestly a mixed blessing. I tell anyone, I think we as individuals should be extremely proud of our ethnic backgrounds. Whether it's Italian, whether it's African-American, we should be proud of that. That is something we should rejoice in. So I am proud to be African-American. But at the same time we want to get to the point in our culture where that is not the focus. Where it's really the body of work that a man does, and I'm looking forward to increasing my body of work. Because I think there have been some good things in that body. Mention the six bowl games. Two out of the three years at Notre Dame bowl games. So those are some very positive, very strong things that I'd like to build on. But at no point will I be satisfied with my body of work because life to me is about perfection. You know that it is unattainable in most cases, but it is a joy and a pleasure to seek it every day.'

On if he looks back and thinks `What if?': 'Yes. I honesty won't publicly reflect on all of those but there are some things that you say this will make me better, this will make me stronger, this will better allow me to do my job. So yes, I do that, but that is just part of my daily evaluation to try to improve myself to be the best I can be. But the other aspect of that is I don't spend a lot of time looking back. I think it was Satchel Paige that said, `You don't look back because it might be gaining on you.' So I like to spend most of my time going forward. I like to be focused on tomorrow, and I think our young men will see that. That the words that I use, and I think I borrowed them from Lou Holtz, it's `Win' and it's an acronym for `What's important now?' That will be our focus. To be able to charge forward and make the most of every moment we have right now.'

On when Washington entered his mind as a potential next stop: 'If I am correct I think it was the day after. I think President Emmert used the word `stunned' and I think that was correct. It was the day after that that I think Todd and I spoke and I think the message that I had right then was I need to take a break, a breath, just to kind of look and assess at really where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. But it was not at any moment, missed from my consciousness, all of the strong things about the University of Washington.'

On how he got over the shock: 'By simply having a strong belief in God and that has always been a sense of strength for me in how I approach every day. I think it is why it allows me to be amazingly positive when other people can't envision being positive. I once had a situation at a university that I coached at that we lost the season opener in a dreadful manner, and yet we came back and won the Pac-10. And I told our football team at that time that even our parents didn't believe we can win after that game. That's tough when even your parents don't think you can win. But you gain more in life by being positive. So I'm positive and I have a strong belief there.'

Mark Emmert
On hiring a football coach who will make more money than himself:
'It's not the first time I've done it. The salaries of coaches in America are a function of the marketplace. We knew that we were going to have to be competitive in the marketplace, particularly when we went after someone with the kind of resume that we wanted to bring to the university. Someone who was a very experienced and successful coach at the highest levels of competition. So you look at what you have to do in the marketplace, whether it's hiring a professor, a dean, or a football coach. You go into the market and you pay what you need to bring the kind of people that you want to the University of Washington.'

Tyrone Willingham
On coaching philosophy:
'My coaching philosophy has simply been that whatever is available, you take it and make the best out of it. I've always kind of described it this way, that I imagined when I was a senior in college and we had a new coach come in, how would I want that coach to approach me as a senior? Would I want him to say that young man, we appreciate what you've done but our future is down the road? Or would I want him to come in and say young man, let's get busy, let's be absolutely the best we can be right now? And that has always been my approach and that's what I'll do. Regardless of what's here or not here, my expectation will be for these young men to be absolutely the best they can be in everything they touch and to be the best we can be on the football field at this time.'

On the schedule next season: 'If you're asking am I aware that Notre Dame is on the schedule? I am, but that will not be my focus. With the years of experience that I have at this game, I understand that the most important game we play will be the next game we play and we open the season with Air Force if I am correct. I will always instruct our football team that to my knowledge it is impossible to win two football games in the same weekend. So therefore we need to focus on one, and it will be that first one that we play against Air Force. Then somewhere down the line we will play the other teams and Notre Dame will be included in that.'

Todd Turner
On if the length of time since UW's head coach position became vacant implies that other candidates were higher on their list:
'It may imply that, but that's not true. We were very diligent in respecting the positions of coaches around the country who were still in their season. So in order to make sure we knew the levels of interest of people in different places, we waited until the December 4 games were completed. Honestly, from that point forward, Tyrone Willingham was at the top of our list. He's the only person to whom we offered the job and we were ecstatic that it worked out the way that it did.'

Tyrone Willingham
On how he fits at Washington and the fact that Washington is the first institution with African-American head football and basketball coaches (Lorenzo Romar):
'There is no question that from an African-American perspective, the numbers speak for themselves. I do not think they offer a great commentary for where we are today. But at the same time, I would say to those that aspire to be head coaches that are of ethnic backgrounds, never give up the battle. Keep pressing forward because that is the only way that change will be accomplished. I think the latter part of that may have been that the make-up of what this University was looking for. I think Tyrone Willingham is a great fit for the University of Washington. I think it's been noted and it went be by my notation, that they say integrity. That they say he is straightforward. That they say he is intelligent, that he has the best interest of the players, and the program, and the university at heart. That he has been successful at the programs that he's taken. That he's done good things there, he's developed young people. When you mention those things I believe they are a great fit for this university and to be very honest, I hope and believe they would be a great fit for any university.'

Mark Emmert
On how Willingham fits at Washington:
'First of all, the reasons we hired Tyrone Willingham are precisely the reasons that the coach just enumerated. This is a wonderful person who's a perfect fit for the University of Washington in every aspect I can think of. The fact that he happens to be African-American is just a little bit extra. We're delighted that we have in Lorenzo Romar and Coach Willingham, two first-rate coaches who are wonderful people of great character who put their players' concerns and needs as young men first and foremost, and that they're going to be competitive and win on the field. The fact that they happen to be African-American is just a wonderful thing that demonstrates that this is the kind of a place that lots of people want to be at.'

Tyrone Willingham
On reaction to various protests to his firing at Notre Dame:
'I think I was a little surprised by Chandra Johnson's shaving of her head, but I know Chandra and one of the things I did as the head football coach at Notre Dame was that when I did speaking engagements, I would bring my fee or whatever they paid me back and donate it to programs to help the students there at the university. But you have a great many people who have a high regard for principle, so that doesn't surprise me. It's hopefully been a part of my background that I do things right and I think in this country there's still a huge segment of our population that believe in doing things right.'

On the role he will play in Washington reinvesting in the football program: 'I believe that Todd has clearly stated there will be a reinvestment in facilities in the program and trying to develop them to be as fine as any programs in this country. But the number one role I can play will be one to win football games. That is the thing that gets most fans excited about their program is seeing their team being successful. Walking in that stadium and knowing that their chance of winning is great, that's what gets them excited. But at the same time, the other aspects of the program I think add a great deal of stature to the program. What you do with the young people, are they graduating? Are they the kind of young people that you're proud to have come from your university? I think all of those things are equally important as to our success on the field and in most cases will probably dictate the success you have on the field. Because at some point it all revolves around character, and the stronger and the better the character of your young men, I believe the more success you'll have on the field.'

On changes in the Pac-10 since he was at Stanford: 'There has been a constant ebb and flow within the conference. One team is up at one time, one of the Arizona schools was pretty strong with `desert storm', then all of a sudden that's changed a little bit. Then you've got Cal that's risen up, so you're going to have that normal changing of the guard at some point. USC was down at one point so they're back. So you have that ebb and flow and what I'm hopeful of is we can get to the top of all the flows.'

On looking at the opening at Stanford: 'I did not have any direct conversations with Stanford. There were alums and other people that I did have some contact with and it just stayed in a very indirect manner. The why not is I think there's one writer that says `you can't go home again.' So sometimes it's better to move forward and that was probably my thoughts in looking at Stanford.'

Todd Turner
On how many candidates were interviewed:
'Four. The President and I met three together and I met one alone.'

Tyrone Willingham
On his timetable now:
'The schedule will be day-to-day. The first thing, as I said earlier, that I will focus on will be speaking with the coaches that are here. I want to sit down and have an opportunity to visit with them, get some of their insights, analyze how they might or might not fit in at that time, and then I will begin to make my decisions from there.'

On familiarizing himself with Washington: 'Well it won't be the first thing I'd like to improve but the first thing I'd like to have great understanding of will be first of all the university itself. To get deeper into that so I truly understand all the facets of it and how I can better sell this university to our young people. The second aspect will be departments that directly relate to football. Getting a better and more comprehensive look at our training room, our strength and conditioning areas, our academic areas, so I know how to better assist and manage those in our program.'

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