Coley O'Brien saw action at quarterback and running back during his Notre Dame playing days.

Summer Football Fix - Catching Up With...

June 27, 2006

Sixty-seven days and counting down until kickoff against Georgia Tech on Sept. 2 (see the countdown ticker on the right side of the front page from for the exact hour and minutes until kickoff). Forty-one days and counting down until Football Media Day on Sunday, Aug. 6. The Summer Football Fix continues…

Note: These two articles were originally published in the 2005 Notre Dame – BYU GameDay Magazine

By Craig Chval

Coley O’Brien made the first start of his Notre Dame career in the final game of his sophomore season, one week after replacing injured classmate Terry Hanratty at quarterback in Notre Dame’s fabled 10-10 tie with Michigan State.

In that season finale, O’Brien completed 21 of 31 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns as the Irish pummeled 10th-ranked Southern California, 51-0, to cement their number-one ranking.

But O’Brien and everyone else knew that the starting job in 1967 would belong to Hanratty, who finished sixth in the 1966 Heisman Trophy balloting. Today’s “experts” would speculate that – blocked on the Notre Dame depth chart – where would O’Brien transfer in search of playing time, stardom and ESPN highlight clips?

But O’Brien didn’t switch schools; he switched positions, becoming a halfback in Irish head coach Ara Parseghian’s full-house backfield. According to longtime Irish offensive coordinator Tom Pagna, O’Brien was the best blocking back he ever coached.

“Football was my entry into Notre Dame,” explains O’Brien. “It was a dream come true to be able to attend Notre Dame and it didn’t enter my mind about moving to another school.”

O’Brien helped the Irish to a 24-5-2 record during his three years on the varsity before earning his law degree from Notre Dame. The McLean, Va., native returned home, earning a reputation as one of Capitol Hill’s most effective lobbyists. O’Brien currently leads NASA’s legislative efforts, helping to promote the agency’s vision and program for space exploration in Congress.

“It’s very exciting to be working as part of NASA’s space exploration program,” says O’Brien, who inherited his fascination with space travel from his father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. O’Brien has passed his love for Notre Dame on to his three children – Christin, Conor and Cara. He and his wife, Barbara, currently have an additional reason to visit Notre Dame, as Christin is a senior, majoring in political science.

O’Brien is impressed by Charlie Weis’ 2005 Irish football team. He’s noticed a familiar confidence in the Irish.

“With Ara, every time we took the field, we knew that if we executed properly, he and the coaches had given us the schemes we would need to win the game – no matter who our opponent was,” remembers O’Brien.

Of course, of particular interest to O’Brien is the play of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn.

“If I were being recruited as a quarterback today, I’d say, `I think Charlie is the guy.'”

Tim Scannell enjoyed more than his share of success as a Notre Dame football player. So when he heard a person in Notre Dame Stadium calling his name during a game, Scannell figured it was an autograph request.

Once the fan had Scannell’s attention, he made his plea:

“Hey, do you think you could get Allen Pinkett to sign this jersey for me,” the fan pleaded, angling for the signature of Pinkett, one of Notre Dame’s all-time leading rushers.

Scannell, an Irish captain and second-team All-American as a senior offensive guard, laughs as he recounts the story.

“You need to know your role in life,” he says.

After spending time in the Dallas Cowboys camp as an undrafted free agent, Scannell had a stint as a graduate assistant coach on Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame staff in 1987-88.

During those two years, Scannell earned a Notre Dame MBA and also learned a number of lessons outside the classroom. He applied those lessons first as a United States Secret Service agent and then in a steady rise through the corporate world, culminating in his current position as president of Stryker Spine, a division of the health- care giant Stryker Corporation.

“Simply watching Lou Holtz lead and drive the organization on to greatness taught me lessons and gave me examples that I can emulate to this day,” Scannell offers.


Tim Scannell during his playing days at Notre Dame.



Greatness – at least as measured in wins and losses – was more elusive during Scannell’s Notre Dame playing days under head coach Gerry Faust, but Scannell sees a great link between his experiences as a player and his success in the world beyond Notre Dame.

“Intensity and competitive spirit were baked into you,” says Scannell.

“The pressure of competing against very formidable opponents, overcoming adversity, and surviving to fight another day are lessons that have served me well in my career.”

At one point in Scannell’s career, “the first family” meant the nation’s first family, as he was entrusted with protecting the President of the United States and his family. Today, Scannell’s first family consists of his wife, Brigid, and their three children – Shane (13), Spencer (10) and Kenna (seven).

The Scannells return to Notre Dame often, where visits to the grotto, Sacred Heart Basilica and other campus sites “energize and humble” the former star.

“In the grand of scheme of life, Notre Dame always helps remind you of what’s really important.”