By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE -- Tyrone Willingham would prefer never to be a story line. He's probably not going to get his wish this week.
That has proved tough enough for most of this season, as his Washington squad sits at 0-6, losers of eight straight going back to last season. The constant buzz around the program is about when -- not if -- Willingham will get shown the door.
Now comes this week's circus: At one of the lowest points in school history, the winless Huskies will host Notre Dame, the school that fired Willingham just four years ago.
"What I try and do is always take the Tyrone Willingham out of things," Willingham said on Monday. "It's not about me. It's about the two teams in 2008 that are going to go out on the field and play."
Yet separating Willingham's past at Notre Dame and his present situation at Washington (0-4 Pac-10) is made even more difficult by the tenuous job security he currently has with the Huskies. Saturday's 34-13 loss to Oregon State kept the Huskies winless since Nov. 17 of last season, and has them tied with North Texas for the longest current losing streak in the country.
Washington is the only team from a Bowl Championship Series conference without a victory. Center Juan Garcia, who has pledged not to speak to the media until the Huskies win, apologized to a Homecoming rally last week for another losing season.
The Huskies would need four wins in their final six games just to keep Willingham from having the worst winning percentage of any coach in school history.
"Hopefully our guys have seen enough this year, heard enough that they can lock in and play football, and leave all the other stuff out of it," Willingham said.
The pattern at Washington seems all too familiar for Notre Dame fans, still resentful for the 11-12 mark Willingham posted in his final two years with the Fighting Irish that led to his firing after the 2004 regular season. Notre Dame blogs and message boards are just as almost as venomous as similar Washington Web sites that are adding to the toxic atmosphere around the Huskies program.
"We're so separated from that. I don't turn back that direction to be honest with you," said Washington offensive line coach Mike Denbrock, the only coach remaining that followed Willingham from Notre Dame to Washington. "I really don't let myself go back to those days. I love being here and consider myself a Husky."
But Willingham seemed to take a little joy in revisiting his past on Monday, deadpanning a few one-liners as his Notre Dame experience and current struggles were revisited:
Why do Notre Dame fans still care so much about what he's doing?
"It's exciting to know people care. You never minimize that point in life."
Is it time to move on from his time at Notre Dame?
How difficult has this year been personally?
"It would take me too long to tell you."
What factors have limited the success at Washington?
"You did lead me into giving a short answer. We've not outscored our opponent."
Punchlines aside, Washington's players aren't blind to the connection between their coach and the Irish. While Willingham may constantly downplay Saturday's game as having any more importance than another, his players know that a victory over Notre Dame might provide the slightest bit more satisfaction for Willingham in a mostly forgettable season.
"It's always in the back of your head, 'let's get them for Coach Willingham,"' linebacker Mason Foster said. "We just look at it like we've got to win this game."