Catching up with… Pat Haden

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Pat Haden and Notre Dame football are improbably intermixed. That an award-winning quarterback at USC becomes a prominent part of Notre Dame football is undoubtedly odd, but Haden has become a staple of the Notre Dame broadcasts along with partner Tom Hammond.

In his own right, Haden is a fascinating character. He was a part of three Rose Bowl teams, a member of two national championship squads, and played professional football from 1975-1981. He was also one of the more distinguished scholar-athletes in college football’s history, winning the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which he pursued during the offseason of his professional football career.

After a solid professional career, Haden made a career in broadcasting, and 22 years ago started a private equity firm that has been one of the more respected in the industry. Many question Haden’s choice as a play-by-play man by NBC, yet after catching him on the phone during a layover in a busy terminal at LAX, it’s clear that Haden is as smart, thoughtful, and as insightful as they come.

(Who knew USC made guys like that?)

I hope you all enjoy “Catching up… with Pat Haden.

On what he made of the performance against Nevada:

I just think they have pretty good players that they haven’t had in a long time. I think that was my biggest observation, they were a deeper, faster, team. I thought they played brilliant on both sides of the ball. Jimmy Clausen was awesome and the blitzing defense of Jon Tenuta caused all sorts of problems against a pretty dangerous offensive team in Nevada.

On “drinking the Kool-Aid,” and an early judgment on the state of this team:

All I would say is, what’s the rush to judge this team just yet? Having said that, in Nevada, I thought this was a dangerous team for the Irish. I thought Nevada would score points. I didn’t know if Nevada could stop Notre Dame, but I thought they could score points, because they did against just about everyone last year. They averaged 37 points a game.

We were telling people to curb your enthusiasm if you will, but I think there’s a lot to look forward to, but I just don’t think we should judge the team just yet. Let’s wait a few more weeks. If they can beat Michigan, and I think if they can beat Michigan State in week three, then there’s some hope for the Irish faithful.

Michigan State is a little like Notre Dame in my mind, because Coach Dantonio has recruited a lot better than they have in the past, and they have some good young players there. Maybe they aren’t as highly thought of as Notre Dame’s, but they have a different style than what we’ve seen. It’ll be tough for the defensive coordinator for the Irish, because they play a different style team nearly every week. Spread teams the first couple weeks, then a pound ’em team like the Spartans, then a balanced team like USC, then an option team like Navy. It’s a tough task for a defensive coordinator.

On the dynamic of defensive coordinators Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta:

I think Charlie Weis wanted Jon Tenuta as the defensive coordinator. And Corwin Brown is a good enough guy and secure enough in his role that he’s not worried about his title. Corwin told me Friday that in 20 years, nobody is going to remember the titles, they’ll just remember if we had a successful season or not.

On becoming the lead analyst for Notre Dame football, after being a USC Trojan:

I had been in broadcasting for about 15 years before NBC called me. I had first worked college football for CBS after I retired from the Rams. For 8 or 9 years I did college football, then did pro football for Turner Sports. When Turner lost the NFL contract, NBC called me to see if I’d be interested in doing Notre Dame broadcasts.

I get asked this question a lot, but NBC hires the announcers, not Notre Dame. They have a national broadcast, and they don’t want any appearance of bias, I think. I give NBC a lot of credit for doing it. I was an experienced broadcaster, and it was a great opportunity for me, as I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Notre Dame. And quite honestly, the six game schedule, it really kind of fit into my business life. This is my 9th or 10th year, which is a lot longer than I thought I’d do, but I’ve enjoyed it a great deal. It’s been fun.

On balancing a successful career with broadcasting:

I work full-time with my business, including when I’m at Notre Dame on Fridays. Usually I have several conference calls or whatever I need to do with work. Broadcasting is a hobby for me. I’m a partner in my investment firm, Riordan, Lewis & Haden, which I’ve been doing for 22 years now. We’ve had a long, successful track record at my investment firm that we’re very proud of.

On his life during an average Notre Dame home football weekend:

I arrive in South Bend on Thursday nights. We have a production meeting and dinner with Tom Hammond, our producers and director. By the time we get there though, we’ve already done a lot of homework. The first game is probably the most prep for me, as I don’t know as much about ND as I do after the first game. On Fridays, we usually watch game tape from 8:30 to 10:00. At ten, we meet with Coach Weis for about 45 minutes to an hour, then we meet with Corwin Brown for about 25 minutes or so, then meet with some players. Jimmy Clausen, Michael Floyd, Kyle McCarthy, Sam Young. We meet 4, 5, 6 players each week, hear a little about the game plan, what’s going on with their life, with school, and then get some stories that don’t have anything to do with football.

The Nevada came in Friday afternoon, we watched them walk through practice, talked to their head coach, quarterback, and a few other guys, but we’d already had a conference call with them on Wednesday for about an hour and a half. And then we do the game. By on Sunday on my flight back, I’ve already spent four hours working on Michigan State. I’ve already read about 30-40 articles on them. And Monday I’m back in the office, I’m back to work. I try to read an article or watch some tape every morning while I’m on the treadmill to prepare for the next game.

On mixing professional football and the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship:

I was drafted by the Rams, but I had received the Rhodes Scholarship. The World League allowed me the opportunity to play 6 or 7 games and then still go to Oxford. So that’s why I didn’t sign with the Rams. I signed in the World League, played 7 games, then went to Oxford. The next two years of my Rhodes Scholarship, I actually played for the Rams for six months, then went to school for six months in Oxford. I did my scholarship over three years, and I played football for all three years. They wouldn’t let me do that now. And then I came back and went to law school, and they probably wouldn’t have let me do that either.

On how this ND team will handle adversity?

I asked Jimmy Clausen the same thing. I said, “Jimmy, why should anybody expect you guys to play better when you’ve got basically the same team?” He told me, “we’ve been together for three years now. We’ve suffered the highs and lows together, and we refuse to have as many lows. We’ve got great upperclassmen and leadership.”

That really resonated with me. This year, JImmy has a different aura around him. I’ve talked to Jimmy a lot of times, but Jimmy had a different feel about him, a different vibe about him. That was the most encouraging sign.

On if this team’s psyche is finally repaired?

I think it is. There’s a whole different kind of spirited leadership. Brian Smith is a solid leader. Jimmy Clausen appears to really be developing as
a leader. Kyle McCarthy is
a good leader and Scott Smith is the captain of special teams, and a really solid guy. There’s going to be some adversity, it’s going to happen to every team every season. I mean look at Florida, they’ve never gone undefeated in the years they won the national championship. You’re going to have those moments, and how you respond to adversity really tells you about the quality of the people and the quality of the team.

Kraemer, Eichenberg compete for RT spot, moving Bars inside, and Bivin to…

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Forty percent of the offensive line is essentially set in stone: fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and senior Quenton Nelson at right guard.

The center position seems to be senior Sam Mustipher’s to lose.

That leaves the two starting spots on the right side of the line for a number of players—both young and experienced—to fight over.

Sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have emerged as the frontrunners for the right tackle spot, moving senior Alex Bars inside to right guard. Bars started all 12 games last season at right tackle.

“Those two [Kraemer and Eichenberg] are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle, and they’re going to battle,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Today Kraemer was there. Last two practices Eichenberg got a lot of the work. Eichenberg will go back there on Friday. They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Part of the reasoning in giving the two sophomores extended looks this spring is Notre Dame knows what it has in Bars when at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position, but we know he can play the [tackle] position,” Kelly said.

A starting five of McGlinchey, the three seniors and either sophomore may seem to leave fifth-year lineman Hunter Bivin out in the cold. Not often is a player asked to return for a fifth year only to spend it on the bench. That is even more rare when considering the current Irish scholarship crunch.

Kelly compared Bivin’s role to that of Mark Harrell’s last year. Harrell appeared in all 12 games, starting two, and provided much needed depth and flexibility along the offensive line. Rather than have five backup offensive linemen, position coach Harry Hiestand relied on Harrell to provide support at multiple spots.

“It’s reasonable to assume that Hunter Bivin’s going to be involved in this as well,” Kelly said. “We’ve just asked Hunter to take a seat right now. He’s done that for the team.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us. A guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions. We trust him, but we want to see these two young players [Kraemer and Eichenberg]. Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us as a swing guy.”

On that note, this space will refer to Bivin as a fifth-year lineman, as was done above, rather than as a guard or as a tackle, until further notice. In his case, the broader description may be the most accurate.

Spring break out west is fine, but Wimbush better be ready to run

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It will undoubtedly become a habit, at least for the next five-plus months. If Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush sneezes in front of a camera, it just might lead to an uptick in webmd.com traffic. His every football move will certainly be analyzed, nitpicked and discussed at length. Thus, Irish coach Brian Kelly being asked about Wimbush’s spring break should surprise no one.

Rather than find a Florida beach, Wimbush spent his spring break working with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in San Diego alongside a handful of other college passers. Kelly said there is value to such a spring break but stopped short of setting any lofty expectations of the effects.

“I have no problem with [Wimbush] working out with George Whitfield,” Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice, the first following spring break and the third of 14 leading into the Blue-Gold Game on April 22. “George doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on the quarterback and throwing the football, moving in the pocket. George is really good at keeping those quarterbacks active and moving.”

Whitfield is best-known around Notre Dame and among Irish fans for working with former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson during Golson’s academic suspension in 2013. Whitfield and Golson spent 10 weeks together, thus granting time for extensive off-field activities such as film study. Far shorter, Wimbush’s time out west appears to have been spent primarily doing drills.

“In those situations, it’s a bullpen session,” Kelly said. “They’re keeping their arms loose, they’re keeping their feet loose. He’s just keeping them active.”

It is hard to construe that activity as a negative, but it obviously lacks certain aspects crucial to Wimbush’s 2017 season. With only five career pass attempts and seven career rushes, Wimbush’s inexperience looms large. Developing the necessary intangibles to account for that may be just as, if not more, important as fitting his throws into tight windows.

“When it comes to the playbook, to his teammates, to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits the road, those are the guys that matter the most,” Kelly said. “He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame football, where the focus is.”

Included in that playbook will be an expectation for Wimbush to carry the ball. To date, Wimbush’s biggest play and possibly only imprint on most Notre Dame fans’ memories is a 58-yard touchdown scamper against Massachusetts in 2015.

Link to 17-second YouTube video which has unfortunately disabled embedding

Note, the play is not exclusively-designed for Wimbush to run. Now a rising junior, then a fellow freshman, running back Josh Adams comes across Wimbush’s front for a possible handoff. Instead, Wimbush makes the correct read and keeps the ball. Why state so clearly it was the proper read? Adams has to evade a Texas defender even though he never had the ball.

Future option plays should present Wimbush with the possibility of throwing the ball, too.

“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” Kelly said. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No.”

“I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power or singular runs. He’s going to have options: hand it off, throw the ball out on the perimeter. You’ll see more of that than you will prescribed quarterback runs. We had a little bit more of that last year with Kizer, but I think you’ll see that he has an option to get the ball out of his hands more so than just prescribed runs.”

Those option plays, in particular, will require Wimbush to have a thorough familiarity both with the Notre Dame playbook and with his teammates’ tendencies.

RITA LEE OR 52-53?
Staying consistent with his comments over the last two months, Kelly once again reiterated the biggest changes new offensive coordinator Chip Long will bring to the Irish playbook will be in its wording. Perhaps going to an extreme example to illustrate his thinking, Kelly pointed to the future.

“We’re going to win next year and Chip is going to be the greatest offensive coordinator in the country and he’s going to get a head job, right?” Kelly asked rhetorically. “Then I’m not going to introduce the Chip Long offense to the next offensive coordinator.”

“It has to have my culture in it … The culture of the offense is still the base offense that I have always run because I have to be able to carry that with me from year to year.”

Within that ellipsis, Kelly gave two examples of possible verbiage changes. Without knowing much more behind them, they do not mean too much out here in the cobwebs of the internet, but they do provide a quick glimpse at what Kelly has been referring to when discussing lexicon since hiring Long.

“If he wants to change Ringo Lucky protection to Ram and Lion protection, go right ahead. If he wants to change certain calls, for example, 52-53 protection is now Rita Lee.”

RELATED READING:
4 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at QBs (Brandon Wimbush)
Pace of Play: More Snaps Equal More Scoring Chances, Right?

Back from break, Irish commence hitting; DT Elijah Taylor out with LisFranc injury

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Notre Dame last wore pads in its 45-27 defeat at USC back on Nov. 26, a full 117 days ago. Suffice it to say, the Irish enjoyed the chance to don their shoulder pads and hit each other in Wednesday’s third spring practice, the first one since returning from spring break.

“What I liked about it more than anything else is there wasn’t a big drop off today,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Usually you go two days and then you take a week off, and then you come back and put your pads on—it took us only a couple of periods to get back up to form. That was nice to see.”

Contrary to previous years in spring practice, and perhaps practice in general, Kelly emphasized tackling, especially tackling in the open-field, in Wednesday’s drills.

“[I] felt like we needed to make up for a little lost ground,” he said. “We got in tackling today for the first time. That’ll be an emphasis. We’ll tackle a lot this spring to make up for lost ground.”

The early and often physical nature of practice didn’t bother any of the players, per Kelly, but also per presumed common sense. While Notre Dame’s coaching staff changes and public questioning played out in broad view, the players spent 117 days in private waiting to unleash some of the frustrations of 2016’s disappointing season.

“Everybody to a man has been looking forward to this day,” Kelly said. “It was a pretty difficult offseason for them. They were looking forward to putting the pads on and getting out there. I think they exhibited that today.”

TAYLOR OUT FOR SPRING, AT LEAST
Junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor was not in pads Wednesday. In the final practice before spring break, another player stepped on Taylor’s foot, Kelly said. The resulting LisFranc fracture will keep Taylor out of the remaining dozen spring practices and limit him until at least July. Taylor saw action in four games last season, finishing with three tackles, including one for a loss.

Notre Dame team surgeon Dr. Brian Ratigan already performed Taylor’s surgery.

“Typical LisFranc fractures, we’ve had good success with their repairs,” Kelly said. “…We’ll be able to train around the injury. Full range of motion moving around and doing things in June, probably full clearance sometime in July.”

Without Taylor, the interior of Notre Dame’s defensive line becomes even shallower, though that may have been hard to previously comprehend. Junior Jerry Tillery looks to be ready to start, and senior Jonathan Bonner has moved to the inside, rather than at end as he has been for most of his career. Behind them, the Irish present only question marks.

Kelly said he will look to junior Micah Dew-Treadway to step forward in Taylor’s absence.

“Micah Dew-Treadway has had a really good offseason for us,” Kelly said. “Changed his body, has been doing a really good job in all facets, in the class room and weight room. He’s somebody that had been ascending anyway prior to the injury.

Kelly indicated junior Brandon Tiassum also could be expected to see more work with Taylor sidelined.

Seniors Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah are in the mix, as well. Cage struggled with concussion issues last season after a promising 2015.

Notre Dame will need to wait until the freshmen arrive—perhaps also joined by Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano, reportedly still taking official visits as he ponders his 2017 destination—for further reinforcements. Consensus four-star recruit Darnell Ewell would be the most likely candidate of the three expected arrivals to move up the depth chart right away.

In layman’s terms, a Lisfranc fracture occurs when a mid-foot bone connecting to a toe separates from the cluster of bones toward the heel. Note: This is stated here only to provide some context, nothing more. This particular scribe avoided most biology classes.

CLAYPOOL A RECEIVER AND THAT HE WILL STAY
Asked if he considered moving sophomore receiver Chase Claypool to defense, Kelly answered succinctly.

“We feel like we need his play on offense,” Kelly said. “He’ll continue to contribute on the special teams end of things, but we need his play on offense.”

KELLY ON KIZER’S NFL POTENTIAL
“I’ve had a number of conversations with GMs and coaches about [former Notre Dame quarterback] DeShone [Kizer], and my personal feeling is he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks. I don’t know that he’s prepared to come in and win a Super Bowl for you [this year]. Some may feel as though maybe one of the other quarterbacks are. I don’t know that firsthand. But I think, in time, he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks.

“I get it. It’s the NFL. Everybody’s under the same pressure of performing and needing somebody to come in right away, but I think he’s a guy that just needs some time. If he gets in the right situation, I think he’d be the guy to take.”

Kizer and eight other former Irish players will take part in a pro day tomorrow (Thursday) in front of some of those GMs and coaches.

Te’o to New Orleans; Booker to Nebraska

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Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has signed a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints, per reports.

Once recovered from a torn Achilles, Te’o will join a crowded Saints linebacker corps. The Saints signed A.J. Klein—formerly of the Carolina Panthers—to a three-year, $15 million contract earlier in March and return Craig Robertson, who finished 2016 with 115 tackles.

All three have experience at the middle linebacker position in a 4-3 defense, though Klein and Robertson are both capable of playing at the strong side position, as well.

Before his week three injury, Te’o had started 34 of 38 games for the San Diego Chargers and notched 221 career tackles. With the Saints, he rejoins linebackers coach Mike Nolan, who held the same position with the Chargers in 2015 when Te’o finished with a career-high 83 tackles.

BOOKER REJOINS DIACO
It appears former Notre Dame tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker will join the Nebraska coaching staff. Two former Irish coaches—defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and safeties coach Bob Elliott—already have seats in the Lincoln coaching room, which is quickly becoming something of a Notre Dame West.

Booker will reportedly join the Cornhuskers staff as a special teams analyst. He served as Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator from 2012 to 2016 before this past offseason’s extensive staff changes.

PRO DAY THURSDAY
A reminder: Notre Dame will hold its Pro Day this Thursday. Nine players will partake, obviously highlighted by quarterback DeShone Kizer.

The others: long snapper Scott Daly, running back Tarean Folson, tight end Chase Hounshell, defensive linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, cornerback Cole Luke, safety Avery Sebastian and linebacker James Onwualu.

Kizer hopes to prove himself worthy of a first-round draft pick, while Jones and Rochell may be in the mix for a second-day pick, meaning in the second or third rounds.

As it is draft season, this discussion of why mock drafts exist even though most prognosticators cannot stand them is worth the few minutes needed to read.

MARCH MADNESS UPDATE
The majority of the “Inside the Irish” bracket pool’s leaders escaped the weekend’s chaos, though frontrunner andy44teg will not hold onto that top spot for long after his titlist pick, Duke, exited late the tournament late Sunday.

That will leave some character named Dennis and his North Carolina prediction as the presumptive favorite to win, well, to win absolutely nothing.

Five of the top 10 expect North Carolina to win the championship.