Sept. 30, 1999
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Growing up in Pittsburgh you hear about Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia. Notre Dame seemed like this mystical place. I didn’t know where or what it really was. It was a whole different thing.
At that time, you did not associate Notre Dame with being a college team, it seemed to be more of a professional organization. My first encounter with Notre Dame was watching the Sunday morning replays with Lindsey Nelson. As a matter of fact, my first game as a graduate assistant coach at Pittsburgh was against Notre Dame in Pitt Stadium. Notre Dame won that game.
Ending up here was never really something I thought about. You never know down what path life will lead you. There is a lot of irony surrounding the circumstances that led me to Notre Dame. For example, my final two seasons at Texas A&M concluded playing Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. When has Notre Dame ever played the same team in consecutive bowl games?
Following the 1994 Cotton Bowl I was offered the defensive coordinator job here at Notre Dame. After initially turning down the job, I decided to accept Coach Holtz’s offer. While serving as the defensive coordinator I had a number of opportunities to accept head coaching positions elsewhere, but I elected to stay at Notre Dame. It is like everything happens for a reason. You go down whatever path life leads you.
When I first arrived in South Bend the celebrity of this place and the way people migrated towards Notre Dame football caught my attention. I remember my first season as head coach, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, Dick Vitale and Joe Theismann all spoke to the team on the same day. Once you have been here, like most of us, you tend to take it for granted. We do however, use this in recruiting because it is just one of the many things that makes Notre Dame unique.
Being here has provided me many opportunities, which is why I turned down some other coaching offers. It is not an easy place, but you have to appreciate what Notre Dame is about.
As coaches we do not get to enjoy the atmosphere surrounding football games at Notre Dame. We spend Friday nights at the Holiday Inn in Plymouth, Indiana and then we bus straight to the Basilica on Saturday morning. I have yet to see a tailgate party. All I see is the debris left over on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
The word I use to describe the Notre Dame football experience is unique. I can see it walking from the Basilica on Saturday morning. At a lot of places there is a sense of rowdiness, but here it is more respect and class. Notre Dame is truly unique, simply because of the manner in which we do things.
This scares me a little, but all of our opponents always say this is the most unique place they play. Walking up the tunnel you have that incredible view of Touchdown Jesus and then there’s the band playing the Victory March. I imagine it is just as inspirational for our opponents. It is a tradition-rich experience. v