SOUTH BEND, Ind., Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Notre Dame introduced Tyrone Willingham as its new football coach Tuesday, bringing an end to an embarrassing chapter in the history of one of the most tradition-bound teams in American sport.
"This is one of the great universities in the country but as a football coach, it is one of the great opportunities," said Willingham, who left Stanford to take the job and who became the first black coach in any sport at the school.
"So to say that this is a dream come true is true."
Notre Dame released former coach Bob Davie at the end of the 2001 season, one that saw the Fighting Irish go 5-6. The school then hired George O'Leary away from Georgia Tech, but he resigned less than a week later when it was learned that he had falsified various aspects of his resume.
Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White said he spoke to several people concerning Willingham, including Southeastern Conference Commissioner Ray Kramer, Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo, Cleveland Browns General Manager Carmen Policy and Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick.
"Everyone regards Tyrone as one of the top coaches in the game today at the college and professional level and they regard the job he's done at Stanford as simply amazing," White said.
Willingham compiled a 44-36-1 record in seven seasons at Stanford. The Cardinal won the Pac-10 Conference championship in 1999 and tied for second this year.
Stanford went 9-3 and concluded the season with a 24-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the inaugural Seattle Bowl. The school made four bowl appearances under Willingham, but his only win was a 38-0 victory over Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl.
Willingham reportedly received a six-year contract worth between $2 million and $3 million per season.
"For the last seven years, Tyrone has led the program with the highest academic profile in all of major college football, and over that time he's won two conference coach of the year awards and taken his teams to four bowl games," White said.
As the first African-American coach at the high-profile school, Willingham said he understood the social significance of his appointment. But he tried to downplay that aspect of it.
"I am first and foremost the football coach at the University of Notre Dame," he said. "The young men will expect me be to the leaders they expect their fathers to be."
Notre Dame fired Davie on Dec. 2, one day after the season ended. Davie had a five-year record of 35-25, mediocre by the school's lofty standards. Expectations remain high at Notre Dame, which has won eight national titles but none since 1988 under Lou Holtz.
Willingham said he hopes to return Notre Dame to top-10 status.
"That is my goal," he said. "That is why I am here, to reach that level of excellence this university has always had. I believe it can be accomplished and that is why I am here."
Willingham could help Notre Dame recruit more African-American players, especially in the Los Angeles area, where the school's image has taken a major hit. As a coach well-versed in the "West Coast" offense, he also could modernize Notre Dame's attack.
One of the criticisms directed at Davie was that his offense was too predictable.
"The Notre Dame tradition is about winning, so my offense is about winning, my defense is about winning, my special teams is about winning," Willingham said. "Everything we do is about winning."
Willingham, who turned 48 last Sunday, was running backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 1992-94. He also was an assistant at Central Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Rice before becoming running backs coach at Stanford in 1989.
Willingham spent six years as an assistant under Vikings coach Green, three at Stanford and three with the Vikings. He also worked as an assistant under Bill Walsh when he coached at Stanford.
Several prominent names, including Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Oregon's Mike Bellotti and NFL coaches Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders and Steve Mariucci of the San Francisco 49ers, had been mentioned as candidates to replace Davie.
But after Gruden and others removed their names from consideration, Notre Dame settled on O'Leary on Dec. 9.
Four days after he was hired, however, O'Leary resigned in the wake of inaccuracies in his biography that White said, "constituted a breach of trust that makes it impossible for us to go forward with our relationship."
The biography stated that O'Leary earned three letters while playing football at the University of New Hampshire, but he attended the school only two years and never played in a game.
O'Leary, also claimed to have a masters' degree in education from New York University in 1972. He was a student there but did not receive a degree.
O'Leary told Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler he was unaware of the error and admitted to attending New Hampshire for just two years -- 1967-68.