Skip to content

PTI Timeline: Notre Dame — History not kind to Wilbon

Dec 21, 2012, 5:39 PM EDT

PTI guys

There are numerous reasons I find HBO’s The Newsroom grating. Skipping past the one-dimensional female characters, melodramatic plot cheats, and overly political agenda, the biggest issue I have with Aaron Sorkin‘s one-hour drama is the omnipotence of Will McAvoy and his news team. The ACN News Night team never gets a story wrong, a product of Sorkin and a writing staff building a show set in the very recent past, and equipping their altruistic journalism staff with a time machine that feels like it’s at their disposal.

If you were to believe Sorkin, Jeff Daniels’ McAvoy — the savvy, battle-tested evening anchor that’s ready to cut through the B.S. and give America the straight story — is the only reporter willing to cut out bias and tell you the truth. But that truth is mighty easy to find when you’ve got the benefit of time and history.

I suppose that’s a very long introduction for something that only tangentially applies to the point of this post. But after being asked a few dozen times what I thought about the PTI Timeline on Notre Dame, I wanted to make sure that any reaction wasn’t simply the product of being able to look back at history and use that as a determining factor of right and wrong.

Of the past decade, Pardon the Interruption — PTI as it’s more commonly known — made household names out of sportswriters Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon. The debate show between two friends and Washington Post colleagues was a game-changer for sports television programming, an instant hit that spawned dozens of imitators.

The crew at PTI put together a very interesting look at Notre Dame football over the past eleven years, starting with 2001, when PTI went on the air. Of course, anyone that followed the Irish over that time period knows there was plenty to talk about, and most of it pretty bad.

Here’s a look at Part One, a segment that looks at the firing of Bob Davie, the hiring and resignation of George O’Leary, and the selection of Ty Willingham as head coach, who was fired after three seasons:

***

***

It’s not hard to watch this segment and think that Mike Wilbon didn’t have many nice things to say about Notre Dame. Whether it was his Chicago upbringing, his Northwestern degree, or anything else, from the very first frame of this video, you get the feeling that Wilbon dislikes Notre Dame and doesn’t have a problem saying it.

Another thing that’s quite interesting to follow is the PTI crew’s building of a narrative that lasted the better part of a decade. First, it’s the firing of Bob Davie.

In retrospect, the decision to fire Davie — even after a mind-boggling five-year extension — seems like an easy one. Yet instead of looking at the regression in the program over Davie’s tenure, Kornheiser, who presented himself as a Notre Dame fan, positioned the move as one that was hypocritical.

“He has a 100 percent graduation rate, which is something that every school would strive for,” Kornheiser said. “But they didn’t reward him for that. They fired him, because he doesn’t have a 100 percent win rate.”

One of the brilliant parts of PTI is the use of a running clock to push the pace of the show. Yet that seems to be to the detriment of this discussion because in the 90 seconds the two hosts had to discuss the firing, Kornheiser selects Davie’s inability to win 100 percent of his games as the reason he’s fired.

From there, Notre Dame’s most high profile coaching search dominates the discussion. Most pointedly, will Notre Dame hire Stanford’s Tyrone Willingham? Wilbon, who advocated Notre Dame tabbing Willingham as their coach, had this to say at the time.

“I don’t think Notre Dame is going to give serious consideration to Ty Willingham,” Wilbon. “They’re scared of hiring a black candidate. That’s why… Is his resume not impeccable? Give me another reason.”

Again, looking back there were plenty of reasons why Willingham might not have been the ideal candidate. While he did have the experience of coaching at an academically elite university, his on-field results were far from a slam dunk. In Palo Alto, Willingham had only one more winning season than he did losing. He won eight games or more only twice. Yet Wilbon, with perhaps one of the loudest microphones in the media at the time as a part of a sky-rocketing TV show, tabbed this decision as one that was largely based on race, leading him to crow after George O’Leary, whose Georgia Tech team beat Willingham’s in the Seattle Bowl that year, was hired.

“They seriously considered him?” Wilbon crowed at the time. “I told you Notre Dame wouldn’t seriously consider a black coach. This time around, even in 2001. And I told you they wouldn’t seriously consider Ty Willingham. Did I stammer? Did I stutter? No.

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t hire George O’Leary. I don’t believe they seriously considered Tyrone Willingham. And I don’t believe they were going to seriously consider him. And I’ve got a lot of history on my side.”

“History on his side,” hangs there, with what Wilbon isn’t saying feeling far more incriminating than anything he is. And with just a few seconds remaining in the segment, that’s how the PTI crew is willing to leave it that afternoon, though Jason Whitlock, who guest hosted for Kornheiser later that December, crystallizes Wilbon’s stance on Willingham’s chances of getting the job in South Bend.

“Before there’s a Tyrone as the head coach at Notre Dame there’ll be a Shaniqua as the first lady in the White House,” Whitlock cracked, getting a laugh out of Wilbon.

Of course, after a second search, athletic director Kevin White tabbed Willingham as the head coach of the Irish. But that didn’t satisfy Wilbon.

“I’m not going to admit I was wrong. You can make Notre Dame into Branch Rickey now if you want, but the fact is they didn’t consider Ty Willingham the first time, they didn’t even interview him,” Wilbon said. “They called, they got permission. They didn’t interview him. They wanted Tom Coughlin. They wanted Mariucci, they wanted Shanahan, they wanted and didn’t get six different coaches before finally they got desperate and turned to Ty Willingham.”

Let’s take a look at the candidates that Notre Dame had in front of Willingham, according to Wilbon:

Tom Coughlin – NFL head coach (with Jacksonville at the time)
Steve Mariucci – NFL head coach (with the San Francisco 49ers at the time)
Mike Shanahan – NFL head coach (with the Denver Broncos at the time)
Jon Gruden – NFL head coach (with the Oakland Radiers at the time)
George O’Leary – Georgia Tech head coach

It’s hard to know who Wilbon thought the sixth coach was, but if that’s the list in front of Willingham, who could have a problem with that? While it may have been unrealistic at the time and was the basis for two more very unhappy coaching searches, Wilbon wasn’t satisfied, though he was willing to give Notre Dame a bit of credit.

“Here’s the credit I’ll give to Notre Dame: They got it right,” Wilbon said. “But don’t expect me to sit here and tell you that this is some great movement in progress for the hiring of black coaches. You know you aren’t going to get me to go in that direction.

Of course, after three seasons, Willingham was on rocky ground, bringing back to a boil the emotion Wilbon had for the hire and Willingham’s chances for survivial at Notre Dame.

“I think they are quick on the trigger with Ty Willingham,” Wilbon shouted. “What’s my position on Notre Dame and Ty Willingham?”

“They never fired somebody before the end of their first contract,” Kornheiser responded.

“How many of those people that they didn’t fire were people of color?” Wilbon asked.

“Let me think,” Kornheiser said, knowing the answer, and knowing that the segment was already over.

And with that the bell rung, signaling a chance of topics, and the audience likely frothing for more. Yet as we look back on Willingham’s era, and his subsequent years in Washington, it paints a more complete picture of Willingham’s inability to survive as a head coach in the modern era. His four seasons in Washington had the Huskies at rock bottom, opening with a two-win season and ending with an 0-12 thud.

Of course, that’s what we know now. And while it’s too easy to shout that from the rooftops, Wilbon even acknowledging how the story ends shouldn’t be too much to ask.

But then again — that doesn’t make good TV.

 

Latest Posts
  1. Can spring stars deliver in the fall?

    May 22, 2015, 1:36 PM EDT

    C. J. Prosise C. J. Prosise

    Just like spring marks the end of winter, it also begins another unofficial season on the gridiron. The emergence of spring stars. These breakout stars sometimes burnout before fall rolls around, but it doesn’t make their emergence any less interesting.

  2. After high-profile academic mistakes, Notre Dame wisely examining new options

    May 20, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT

    Monday, Notre Dame announced that 16 student-athletes would be spending three weeks in South Africa, earning credits in a new study abroad program examining the cultural, historical and social effects racism has had on South Africa. Five more will be going to Greece, learning about archaeological sites and museums in Ancient Corinth.

  3. Kelly comments on Golson’s transfer

    May 20, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Everett Golson AP

    If you were looking for anything official out of Notre Dame after Everett Golson announced his intention to play next season at Florida State, think again. But yesterday, Brian Kelly was the head speaker at the ninth annual West Michigan Sports Commission Luncheon in Grand Rapids, and he shared a few comments about the move.

  4. Everett Golson transferring to Florida State

    May 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    After graduating from Notre Dame over the weekend, Everett Golson has decided to play out his eligibility at Florida State. The former Irish quarterback visited Tallahassee last week before coming to a decision on Tuesday morning, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

  5. Russell talks to SI about suspension, return

    May 19, 2015, 12:37 PM EDT

    Oklahoma v Notre Dame Oklahoma v Notre Dame

    In a profile with Sports Illustrated, KeiVarae Russell spoke on the record about his departure from Notre Dame, his impending return, and the motivations that push him.

  6. Mailbag: All about the defense

    May 18, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt

    In a one-question, part-two of the mailbag, a reader points out one of the most important factors entering the 2015 season: Brian VanGorder’s defense.

  7. Mailbag: All about the quarterbacks

    May 15, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    For as much as we’re ready to move on from the quarterback talk… we’re not really ready to move on from the quarterback talk.

  8. Post-spring depth chart: Defensive line

    May 14, 2015, 11:41 AM EDT

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    We close out our post-spring stock reports with a look at the defensive line.

  9. KeiVarae Russell’s Return (or the greatest story we’re not talking about)

    May 13, 2015, 2:47 PM EDT

    Jackson Russell

    For all the attention paid to Everett Golson’s decision to leave Notre Dame, the Irish might be welcoming back an even better football player when KeiVarae Russell returns this June.

  10. Mailbag: Life after Golson (and an update on comments)

    May 13, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    The mailbag is open. Also, a quick bit of housekeeping as we address some problems in the comments.

  11. Swarbrick denies blocking Golson’s transfer options as rumors swirl

    May 12, 2015, 2:03 AM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    First came the news that Everett Golson was leaving. Now comes the circus, as we take to the rumor mill to speculate where Golson ends up.

  12. Post-spring stock report: Linebackers

    May 11, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT

    Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt

    We continue our look at the post-spring depth charts with the linebackers. A talented group of athletes might provide one of the most misleading depth charts in recent memory.

  13. Mailbag: Anything but the QBs

    May 9, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Just to get our mind off the big quarterback news. Let’s tackle a few mailbag questions… that don’t talk about the guys playing behind center.

  14. Five things we’ve learned: Analyzing Everett Golson’s departure

    May 8, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT

    Discover BCS National Championship - Notre Dame v Alabama Getty Images

    The dust has settled. Everett Golson is leaving Notre Dame. So while the rest of the story will take chase—the wheres and the whys eventually coming out—the only thing that’s important for the Irish is looking at what remains, and how the program moves on from here.

  15. Recruit Bo Wallace announces he’s not coming to Notre Dame

    May 7, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT

    Rivals.com Rivals.com

    Incoming freshman defensive end Bo Wallace tweeted that he’s no longer going to attend Notre Dame.

  16. It’s official: Everett Golson will transfer (UPDATED)

    May 7, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    It’s official: Everett Golson is transferring.

  17. ESPN Report: Golson plans to transfer

    May 7, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With finals nearly finished and Everett Golson on track to earn his degree in the coming weeks, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy broke the news that Irish fans had to be dreading.

  18. Former Irish TE John Carlson retires from NFL

    May 6, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT

    North Carolina Tar Heels v Notre Dame Fighting Irish Getty Images

    One of the branches on Notre Dame’s NFL tight end tree is retiring. Former Irish star John Carlson, a former second-round pick who spent seven seasons as a professional, is stepping away from football. Carlson played for the Irish from 2003-07 and spent time with the Seahawks, Vikings and the Cardinals.

  19. Mailbag: Now Open

    May 6, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    The mailbag is open. Drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  20. Post-spring stock report: Secondary

    May 5, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With the majority of Notre Dame’s starting lineup returning for 2015, the Irish spent spring practice knowing what their team would look like. But for Brian VanGorder and new secondary coach Todd Lyght, getting improvement out of the returning depth chart was critical.