Huskies coach to take on former team in his new home

Sept. 20, 2005

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SEATTLE (AP) - Let the hype begin.

Tyrone Willingham is embracing the sizzle in the matchup Saturday between his Washington Huskies and his former team, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, now led by Charlie Weis.

Weis can call the clash of coaches past and present a "distraction" and insist that neither he nor his players will talk about it. Willingham isn't so naive to think that ignoring the obvious will make it go away.

Yet when asked if it's fair that some Notre Dame fans may use the game as a referendum on whether it was right or wrong to fire him last season, three years into his six-year contract, Willingham said that was out of his control.

"Is there anything I can do that will change that?" Willingham said.

What about winning, upsetting the hugely favored No. 16 Irish?

"They'll still have the same referendum," Willingham said. "What will I do to change that thought? It's a great question, but honestly, there's nothing I'm going to do to change any of this around or any detractors. They're there. They're great. That's fantastic. It adds something to life, it makes it exciting, it makes the week exciting, it makes the ballgame exciting.

"But with all of that, you can't lose your focus, you've got to play the football game."

Ah, the football game. That's the subplot this week when Notre Dame players prepare to visit Seattle and look across the sideline to the man who recruited many of them, coached them, befriended them. Some of them were shocked and saddened to see Willingham fired. Now they have to put aside those emotions and try to stomp on his new team - players who are barely emerging from years of their own coaching turmoil.

For Weis' part, he says his players "won't be talking about it, and neither will I."

Yet the players on both teams already have talked about it among themselves.

"We want to win this for the coach and for ourselves," Washington center Brad Vanneman said. "This game means a lot to him, and he's part of our family now. If we win, he wins."

Washington, 1-2, is coming off a victory over Idaho, while Notre Dame, 2-1, will be trying to bounce back from an overtime loss to Michigan State.

Willingham watched the Irish on television, and was impressed by their potent offense and Weis' aggressive play-calling. The question is whether Willingham's familiarity with the team will give him enough of an advantage to overcome Notre Dame's deeper talent.

"It's much more difficult to determine from the film the speed, the size and all those kind of things," Willingham said. "If you have that in hand, it's a real plus for you. It helps your men just a little bit if you know more about the personnel. The team, you can get that from the film.

"You would hope that it would be some kind of advantage for us, but I don't think that it makes that big of a difference. I think they have a great team and right now they are a top-20 type of team. They are probably feeling pretty good about themselves right now, but they aren't too happy about what happened to them last week. I think they are going to be ready for us."