It's a business. A big, big business. High stakes, high pay and high pressure.
And sometimes it isn't pretty.
If you take the head coaching job at a place such as Notre Dame, which comes with a multi-million dollar contract and the grandest of expectations, you'd better deliver.
Tyrone Willingham didn't – not in the business sense, which is why he was fired Tuesday after three up-and-down seasons under the Golden Dome.
Notre Dame spends tens of millions on its athletic department, and football is expected to produce a return on that investment. That means: The Bowl Championship Series. Because of its independent status, Notre Dame would not have to share the associated $14 million payout with anyone.
Get to a BCS game and life is good, budgets flush. Wind up in the Gator Bowl, no bowl and now the Insight Bowl during your three seasons and you're in trouble.
It's the bottom line or your job is on the line.
We can complain about what's fair, what's reasonable, what really is being valued in college sports. But it's a philosophical discussion that bears no weight in the real world.
If things were perfect, graduation rates and NCAA compliance would count for more. In a better day Willingham would have been given more time.
But those days are gone.
"In a number of ways Tyrone has been an excellent fit and a great representative of our program," Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said. "He personally has displayed impeccable integrity and tremendous character.
"At the end of the day, we simply have not made the progress on the field that we need to make. Nor have we been able to create the positive momentum necessary in our efforts to return the Notre Dame program to the elite level of the college football world."
And the way coaches are paid now – like high-priced CEO's – results are expected quickly. There just aren't many seven-figure jobs that you get to keep when bottom-line expectations aren't met. In business, Willingham probably wouldn't have lasted this long.
You wish college athletics were better than that. But they aren't. Not anymore.
Just like when he was hired, much will be made of Willingham's race in the wake of his dismissal. His predecessor, Bob Davie, who is white, was given five seasons to muddle the program along. Moreover, Willingham's firing, along with the departures of Fitz Hill at San Jose State and Tony Samuel at New Mexico State, leaves college football with just two black head coaches.
It's a sad number.
But White is a good man. The lack of minority hirings at other schools should have no bearing on Notre Dame's personnel decisions.
This isn't about black and white as much as it is about green.
The bottom line is that a good man and a good coach is out, crushed by the immense pressure of a hyper-competitive business. He won 21, lost 15 and, after a magical 8-0 start to his tenure, never was able to reassure Irish fans that he had the program pointed in the right direction.
Saturday's 41-10 loss to Southern California (the third consecutive beat-down by the Trojans) was just mud in the Irish's eye.
In will come a new hotshot leader – most likely Utah coach Urban Meyer, an ex-Irish assistant who has coached the Utes to a perfect season and (not to be overlooked) one of those $14 million BCS paydays.
He is said to covet the job. He is a skilled recruiter, a gifted offensive mind and a class act.
That's nice. But if he takes the job, he'd better deliver the BCS.
Because three years ago they said all the same things about Tyrone Willingham.
- Tyrone Willingham