SportsCrack Blog

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Interview conducted by Nick Ironside, an aspiring writer who also works for New Era Scouting.

1) Talk about your love for Notre Dame – how did it start and why is it still so strong?

Ever since I was a kid, playing CYO football in the fifth or sixth grade, I used to listen to Notre Dame on the radio. I had a great love for them, and also I used to watch them on Sunday morning when they had them on TV – the replays. And then when I was coaching at Moeller [high school], a lot of the kids I coached there went to Notre Dame; and they loved it. They were always treated right, and every one of those kids that went from Moeller to Notre Dame got their degree. And those were 26 student athletes, over a period of about 22 years. So that’s how I began to love Notre Dame, and they were my favorite team. My second two favorite teams were the Army and Navy teams – I used to listen to them and they used to play every year. One year I’d root for Army and the next year I’d root for Navy, but Notre Dame was my number one school.

2) You had the best high school football team in the country back in the ‘70’s at Moeller high school. Why was that team so successful?

Well four of our last five teams were national champs. We had such great tradition, we never had a real bad season, and we started out our first senior class in 1963, in a real tough league – a Catholic league and we were 9-1. That was our first varsity football team, and those kids sort of set the tone, and ever since that time we had nine undefeated seasons – and in two of the undefeated seasons we lost in the playoffs, and five other teams we went all the way. And two other teams went undefeated when there were not playoffs at that time – ’65-’69. Real playoffs didn’t start until ’72 or ’73. The reason we were so successful at Moeller was we starting tuning in that first year, and we didn’t make the young man play both ways. We asked them to play offense or defense, and for four years they would play on that side of the ball, and about 90% of them knew what the offense was, knew what the defense was, and they made very few mistakes.

3) How was the coaching change from high school to college different?

Recruiting is one thing that’s different, because you don’t recruit in high school, and at the college level you have to recruit hard and long – that’s one thing. The other thing is the speed difference and the size difference. It’s so dramatic of a change. The third thing is when I was coaching in the high school level we were spending our time preparing for the next game, where in college football you have to do it all day long, the practice and for games, because that’s all you do- football. At Moeller, when I was the athletic director things took a lot of time. At the college level the speed was so much faster, and since you had more time, the whole complexity of the game was more complicated. It’s a big jump from high school to college – even to play as well as to coach it. And I would think the same thing is from college to the pros.

4) How would you describe your tenure at Notre Dame on and off the field? How about at Moeller high school?

Well first at Moeller – it was unbelievable because we had such a great coaching staff, and we had great kids – everyone in the district wanted to come to Moeller high school. When I left Moeller we were undefeated on all three levels – our freshmen team was undefeated for two or three years, our sophomore team was undefeated – we had 220 kids playing football on all three levels. I would’ve never left Moeller except for Notre Dame – I loved Moeller, but going to Notre Dame was the dream of a lifetime, and my five years at Notre Dame we didn’t win as many games as I’d like to have seen us win, but I loved every minute of it. It’s a great place – the people that worked there, the professors, the groundskeepers – they go there because they love the University and it’s a great University, and with the Holy Cross priests and brothers – it didn’t come any better. So my five years at Notre Dame, even though we won more then we lost, we didn’t get the job done the way I felt we should’ve got it done, and so that’s why I stepped down. It was a great five years, and the pressure was tough. When you don’t win when you love a place, it makes it even a little tougher. But when people ask me would I do it again, the answer is without a doubt. Without even hesitating. Would I do things differently? Yes, I would. And I’d do a lot of things differently – The third thing is if the results had been the same would I have done it again? Yes. Because it was the five years where I got to live the dream. And I go back [to Notre Dame] all the time, and I go back to Moeller all the time, and ironically I’m down at Akron, so I go to Akron a lot too – to the University with the football and basketball coaches. But I go to five or six Notre Dame games a year, and I go to four or five Moeller games a year, and four or five Akron games a year. So the three places where I coached some, I’m still pretty close to all three places.

5) What advice would you give to coaches now who try and switch from high school to college?

I would tell them to research and take their time at hiring assistant coaches. Now don’t get me wrong, I had great coaches at Notre Dame, and they’ve done an excellent job. But one of the things I had at Moeller that I didn’t have at Notre Dame was cohesiveness. And I think when your staff come together, and being a rookie when I did it, I didn’t have that cohesiveness, and not everybody was on the same page. I think you have to be on the same page at any level of coaching. Same goals, same principles, same ideas, and loyalty.

6) What would you say are keys to recruiting football players?

Well first of all a lot of mistakes are made in recruiting because it’s hard to predict how the kid is going to progress in college, and being a part of your program – that’s the first thing. The second thing is you have to recruit where you have weaknesses, so you can create depth. Third thing is, you’ve got to recruit quality human beings. The kid could be a great football player, but maybe he’s a bum. It’s not worth the trouble and it causes you more trouble. And you’ve got to work hard at it. It’s not an easy job, and you have to be thorough. So I thought our recruiting was real good while I was there, and I think we had five really great years. We were able to close in on a lot of great kids and a lot of great athletes. And it paid off as the years went on, because coach Holtz molded them into the national championship football team a few years later.

7) What would you say to a recruit to get him to go to Notre Dame?

Well first of all, you have to know the family and you have to know the young man. Thirdly, you have to know what his goals are. Fourthly you have to let him know where he stands in terms of in the future of the program and where he fits in. And fifthly, you have to convince him that if he’s Catholic a Catholic education is important. If he’s academically very strong you have to convince him that he’s going to get the best education.

8) What is the moment you remember best at Notre Dame?

Everybody asks me that question, and most people think it’s running out of the tunnel for the first time – but that’s not it. The first day of spring football, I invited the community – the South Bend community to come and watch practice, and over 5,000 people came out there and we had to get the security, and the policemen to keep them back so we could practice. And it was a rainy, cold, windy day. I was working with the kickers and then the whole football team met at the gate, and started to run on the field, to do calisthenics warm ups, to loosen up. I wanted to be the first one over there, so I ran over across the field, and I could see the dome up there and I looked up to the heavens, and since it was my first day at Notre Dame in practice I thanked the good lord, and the blessed mother for giving me this great opportunity. And as soon as I did that, said “Dear lady, dear lord; thank you for this great opportunity,” the sun broke through the clouds and shined on the golden dome; the blessed mother.

Other Nick Ironside articles:

-Put on a higher platform(a look at USC recruit Matt Barkley)

-Russell Shepard Interview: Part II

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