If all goes according to plan, the University of Notre Dame bowl committee will have been nearly invisible this week.
That group for 2018 includes associate athletics director Ron Powlus, director of football operations Jason Michelson, assistant director of football operations Olivia Mitchell, director of football administration Beth Rex, plus senior associate athletics director Jody Sadler and assistant director of special projects Jenny Borg.
Michelson, in collaboration with others from the football office, has been tasked with creating much of the daily schedule and nailing down every last detail for the Irish week in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl.
There are bound to be some changes on the fly, but the goal is for every last activity to come off seamlessly for players, coaches and staff.
It’s a tall order, but one Michelson and his colleagues embrace.
“Olivia and I handle the team for the most part, Beth makes sure Coach (Brian) Kelly is up to speed with what’s happening, Jody and Jenny handle the athletic department staff side and Ron brings it all together,” says Michelson.
They began their postseason preparation by requesting bowl manuals from both the Cotton and Orange Bowls. Michelson essentially put together multiple complete preliminary itineraries for the team — then the committee waited like the rest of the Irish to see where Notre Dame was assigned.
“We knew the practice sites, we knew the hotels, so we could build the daily schedule,” says Michelson. “We actually had four separate plans, depending on which game and whether we were the higher or lower seed.
“We knew the residence halls closed on Saturday the 15th of December, so we had to arrange housing for the players and also potential housing for the period between the semifinals and the championship.
“Our schedule here on campus was going to be the same no matter what, so we could start to book flights home for the players.”
Once the Cotton Bowl assignment became reality Dec. 2, the Irish received an official bowl manual for Dallas, knowing for sure the assigned hotel.
Maybe the simplest part is that the Irish (and Clemson) practice site is AT&T Stadium, so there was no need to outfit a separate practice location and then move into the game day environment later. Details came together during a one-day site visit to Dallas Dec. 4.
“We spent half the day at the stadium and the other half at the hotel,” says Michelson.
“The following Monday and Tuesday (Dec. 10-11), all four teams went to Santa Clara (site of the CFP title game). As we went through the stadium, the practice site and the assigned hotel, we were with the Clemson staff. Because for whoever wins, this is what you get.
“You have to plan to win–and it’s new for us because the other three teams did all this last year.”
Michelson says the biggest change for the Cotton Bowl is the level of hospitality provided:
“They want us to have a seamless experience. They’ve been awesome to work with. For every request we had, they had the answer.”
He noted that the site visit also involved making sure every location was “what we thought it was.”
He adds, “You’re making sure, for example, that the distance from the hotel to the stadium is what you expected. You understand the events a little better. Then you can hammer down what you want to do and when you want to do it.
“We originally had a wake-up call at one particular time, but we realized we didn’t need that much time to get taped and have breakfast and get ready to go to practice, and so we pushed it back.
“Overall, our job is to let Coach Kelly worry about coaching and for the rest of us to put the football team in the best possible situation to win the game.
“At the end of the day if we all communicate together and are on our details it will be a successful trip.”
Michelson and the Irish team return to South Bend Sunday.
He and the rest of the bowl committee would like nothing better than to have another week of details to confirm.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.