Notre Dame outgoing president Rev. Edward Malloy said yesterday that he is embarrassed that the school fired coach Tyrone Willingham with two years remaining on his contract, the Sports Business Daily reported.
"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, because I felt we had not abided by our precedent," Malloy said at Street & Smith's Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York.
He later added: "Notre Dame will get a coach. I hope that that person does well, but I think the philosophical shift we have taken is a significant one. I'm not happy about it, and I do not assume responsibility for it. I think it was the wrong move."
Notre Dame traditionally does not fire a football coach before his initial five-year contract has expired. Willingham was fired after three seasons.
"Kevin White, who I think is an extraordinarily effective athletic director, and I have a very good relationship," Malloy said. "It was our expectation that we would live by our precedent, which was a five-year window for a coach to display the capacity to be successful within our system. Both of us have a very high regard for [Willingham].
"Having lost to Southern Cal, we had a meeting called by my successor [the Rev. John Jenkins] with a strong presence of the Board of Trustees, which led to a result."
A 41-10 loss to USC in the Irish's last regular-season game left them with a 6-5 record. In three seasons at Notre Dame, Willingham's record was 21-15.
Malloy wouldn't name anyone who supported Willingham's firing. But he did say that he didn't believe the firing was racially motivated.
"I'm a good soldier, and, in times of transition, people can disagree," Malloy said. "I don't think there is a lack of goodwill or that anybody is to be blamed for a racist decision or anything else. I just think there was a lot of pressure in the works."
The Black Alumni of Notre Dame, which represents about 2,000 former students, expressed support Tuesday for Willingham, the university's first African-American coach.
Notre Dame is preparing to meet with Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator and ex-Irish quarterback Tom Clements about its vacancy. Clements will meet with Notre Dame officials tomorrow morning, a football source said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.