SEATTLE (AP) -Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham four years ago. Now, the Fighting Irish can help get him fired again.
Saturday's matchup between the rested Irish (4-2) and the woeful Washington Huskies will be the second time Notre Dame will face one of its former, non-interim head coaches. The other was in 2005, when the Irish routed Willingham and Washington months after terminating his contract after just three seasons and a record of 21-15.
``A dog-and-pony show,'' is what Charlie Weis, Willingham's successor, called that circus in Seattle three years ago.
Now, it's just a horror show for Willingham.
(with North Texas) among the 119 squads in the Bowl Subdivision. He has lost his dynamic sophomore quarterback, Jake Locker, to a broken thumb. And his defense is among the nation's worst, allowing almost 41 points per game.
Scott Woodward, Washington's new athletic director, has said repeatedly he will wait until this season ends before he decides whether Willingham will return for the final season of his contract. The situation makes his former Irish players sad.
``I know their record is not really too good right now. But sometimes you struggle, man,'' said Julius Jones, who played two seasons for Willingham at Notre Dame and is now the lead running back for the Seattle Seahawks. ``Hopefully people aren't being too hard on him. I know he's got his quarterback out. I hope everybody's taking it easy on him.''
Cornerback Terrail Lambert is one of three fifth-year seniors who were with the Irish when Willingham was there, and he still hold the stoic Willingham in high regard.
``If I could be someone like that as a person, I would have done myself justice by coming here,'' Lambert said, adding he hopes to run into his former coach at Saturday's game.
``If I cross paths inevitably. You know, it's all love on this side,'' he said.
his relationship with Willingham.
``I never wish bad on anyone,'' Weis said. ``No, we don't know each other very well, but we're cordial when we see each other.
``When I call people up, I usually like to talk to the guys who left here with a good taste in their mouth. And when guys leave here before they're ready to leave, they're not the people that would be the best people for me to talk to,'' he added. ``It's not that we're not cordial, it's just not the best situation.''
True to his guarded persona, Willingham won't let on how important this game in particular may be to him.
``What I try and do is always take the Tyrone Willingham out of things,'' Willingham said. ``It's not about me. It's about the two teams in 2008 that are going to go out on the field and play.''
And that's his problem.
A comparison of Saturday's quarterbacks exemplifies where the Huskies and Irish stand: far apart. Washington's offense is now in the hands of unproven redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouchs, who will be making his third career start.
Notre Dame's rebound this season has been led by quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is playing more like what Irish fans expected when he arrived from California as the most hyped Notre Dame quarterback since Ron Powlus more than a decade ago.
and eight interceptions. Those numbers figure to get better: Washington is allowing 483 total yards, 250 yards passing, per game.
``The past couple of weeks a lot of teams have just run on us. I would say this is the first team that we've seen that is going to throw a lot,'' Washington cornerback Mesphin Forrester said, ignoring the five touchdown passes Oklahoma's Sam Bradford threw against the Huskies last month.
Clausen is one big reason Weis feels much better than he did a year ago - and a lot better than Willingham does right now.
``I feel very good about the development of our players right now, and I think that the expectations internally have grown exponentially from where they were,'' Weis said. ``No matter how many times you tell the kids and set goals for them, until they get a little taste of success, it's tough for them to actually see the same vision that you have.
``That's the direction we're heading. And as far as I'm concerned, we can't get there fast enough.''
AP Sports Writers Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., and Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.

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