Sept. 24, 2004
by Chris Masters
About a half-century ago, traveling salesmen were a fixture in America, working their way through big cities and suburban communities. Sporting an ever-present briefcase and overcoat, these men showed up on many doorsteps with a smile and unbridled enthusiasm for their particular product.
Fast forward to 2004, where Notre Dame director of football personnel development Jimmy Gonzales still uses many of those same traits every day. Sure, he’s traded the briefcase and overcoat for a telephone and a computer, but his personable demeanor and the passion of his message are just as strong as those of the Fuller Brush men from yesteryear.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the University of Notre Dame offers the best combination of academics and athletics of any school in the country,” Gonzales says.
“The best term I can use is opportunity. Football players who come to Notre Dame have an opportunity to earn a degree from the most prestigious school in America while also playing for the most storied program in college football history. That’s something very few people in this country will ever get the chance to do and it opens so many doors for these young men after graduation, whether it be in the National Football League or in the real world.”
Gonzales has worked closely with Irish defensive line coach Greg Mattison to develop a comprehensive long-range recruiting strategy for the Notre Dame football program. They focus on three key areas in their plan: identifying possible recruits as early as possible, offering unique and creative ways to market the Irish football program, and bringing recruits to campus as early and as often as possible within NCAA guidelines.
“Some people assume that just because this is Notre Dame, that the program sells itself,” Gonzales says.
“That’s not entirely true. In fact, we’ve discovered that many families know of Notre Dame, but really haven’t gotten to know what this University is all about. It’s our job to make them more aware of who we are and what we stand for. That’s something we’re always trying to improve upon and it’s a responsibility that continues all year long.”
Prior to entering football administration, Gonzales spent 15 seasons as a coach. A native of Schertz, Texas, he graduated from Texas Lutheran in 1981 and joined the staff at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) a year later, serving as a graduate assistant under the late Jim Wacker. In that first year (1982), the Bobcats posted a perfect 14-0 record and won the NCAA Division II national championship.
After stints at TCU and his alma mater, Gonzales got his first up-close look at college recruiting as the recruiting coordinator at Tulsa. However, it wasn’t until his next stop at Wisconsin (1986-89) that Gonzales made the best sales pitch of his life. In Madison, he met his wife, Mary, who was an athletic trainer with the Badgers at the time, and the couple now have two daughters — Danica (13) and Lea (11).
Gonzales also coached at Northwestern, Oklahoma and Duke before turning to administrative duties (and heading back home) as the assistant athletic director for football operations at Texas from 1996-98. In his first season, the Longhorns won the Big 12 Championship and advanced to the Fiesta Bowl. He left Austin in 1999 to take on the title of recruiting coordinator and director of football operations at Army, a post he held until he arrived at Notre Dame in the spring of 2003.
“I’m very fortunate to be working at such a great institution,” Gonzales says. “I hope the recruits and families that come to our campus see the passion we have for this school and this program. Once they do, I know they’ll understand the phrase `Nowhere but Notre Dame’.”