Report: Willingham’s Ouster Initiated By Jenkins

By Avani Patel
Updated: December 20, 2004

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Tyrone Willingham

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The incoming president of Notre Dame has provided both an explanation and a defense of his part in the school’s decision to dismiss football coach Tyrone Willingham last month.

In remarks last week to the Faculty Board on Athletics, Rev. John I. Jenkins confirmed he had called the meeting that led to Willingham’s firing. But he rebutted the notion he had done so at the urging of Patrick McCartan, chairman of the board of trustees.

“Because this was a decision about such a high-profile issue, we included McCartan and Philip Purcell (chairman of the board’s athletic committee),” Jenkins said.

But Jenkins made it a point to say he had initiated the contact with McCartan, not the other way around.

“It has been said there was inappropriate trustee involvement in this decision,” Jenkins said. “I was not pressured into any action I took. Senior university administrators did contact me to express concern, but neither [McCartan nor Purcell] took the initiative to contact me about this situation. I took the initiative to ask their opinions.”

Jenkins said he had acted because of an agreement with the outgoing school president, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, allowing Jenkins to take the lead on any decisions that would extend into his tenure.

“Any power I have comes from Father Malloy granting it to me for decisions which will influence the future,” Jenkins said. “It is under this arrangement that I was involved in the decision about the termination of coach Willingham.”

Malloy, whose term ends in June, publicly distanced himself from the firing Dec. 8 when he said: “In my 18 years, there have been only two days that I have been embarrassed to be president of Notre Dame: Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. I felt we had not abided by our precedent.”

Malloy also made clear the impetus to fire Willingham had come from Jenkins.