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Diaco and Te’o form a dynamic duo

Jan 3, 2013, 12:55 PM EDT

Diaco Te'o

If you want an idea of the relationship forged between defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his star linebacker Manti Te’o, your best insight wasn’t gleaned from the 45 minutes they spent answering questions asked by the assembled media. It was in the few minutes leading up to the media session, where the coach and player caught up on the previous evening’s events, gabbing like two students in the back of a lecture hall trying to keep their voices beneath the grasp of the conference room microphones.

The two whispered and smiled, recapping a fun night in South Florida, some rare down time before the biggest football game in the life of both coach and player. For Irish fans that have watched Te’o speak weekly with the press, nothing he said today was a surprise. He is, and continues to be, one of the most incredible interviews you’ll ever hear, and a wisdom and maturity beyond his years comes out when he answers even the most mundane of questions. And for those Irish fans that have watched Diaco over the past few seasons do his best with the press, this was a session similar to many others, the young assistant answered every question respectfully, yet gave nothing away in the process.

But the pairing of Diaco and Te’o made one thing abundantly clear: Both coach and player were made for each other.

For the young coordinator, he has a star pupil that mirrors the rare passion and love for the game that the coach possesses. He has a leader that performs like one of the most talented players in the country, but practices like a walk-on at spring tryouts. That type of effort from a star is a coach’s best friend, it’s a beacon that helped turn one of the nation’s worst defenses into the top unit in the country.

For the star linebacker, he found his leader at the perfect time. After a freshman season spent playing on instinct and talent, the last three years were spent learning the game from a man perfectly suited to teach him; a coach that shares his passion for faith, for football, and for family. When Te’o was hit with the personal tragedy that came his way this fall, he leaned as much on Diaco, and what he’s taught him about being a man, as he did anybody else.

“It’s well documented how I feel about Manti,” Diaco said. “For as talented a player he is, which you guys
have all had an opportunity to see over his career, he’s a better person.

“You know, on a day where maybe as a coach you might be feeling a little down or maybe slightly distracted
with the world’s pulls, Manti is easy to see, look at and see his face and immediately be energized.”

That energy pulls both ways, as Diaco — as relentless of a coach as their is in the country — continually fuels the unit that he leads. He’s a demanding leader, no doubt, but also does so in a way that preaches respect and love, words not often found inside the walls of a college football program. In charge of the bond between players in the defensive meeting room, Diaco has built a group that feels more familial than any at Notre Dame defense in recent memory.

“The connection that we have with our coaches is a bond that’s very different. It’s kind of like a family members,” Te’o explained. “We know all their children, their children know us by name. They don’t know us as, ‘Oh, you’re No. 5 or you’re No. 89…’ They know us as ‘Hi, Kap.’ ‘Hi, Manti.’ That’s the bond that we have with our coaches and their families.”

This Irish defense and those well forged bonds will all be tested Monday night by an Alabama team that draws nothing but admiration from both coach and player.

“Their organization led by Coach Saban is so fun to watch from a football purist standpoint,” Diaco said. “As Manti said, we look at those guys and say, hey, we’d love to have them as teammates. We do that.”

Mutual admiration was all around Thursday, with Notre Dame and Alabama players echoing similar thoughts — all said sincerely enough that you didn’t actually think coaches made them do it.

But that’s where we find ourselves, anxiously awaiting undefeated Notre Dame battling defending champion Alabama. That the Irish find themselves here, trading compliments with one of the best programs of the decade, is another head-shaking moment for a program that’s fought its way to the top.

And that wouldn’t have been possible without the pairing of Bob Diaco and Manti Te’o, a star defensive coach and his dazzling pupil.

“I think all of the growth of our team has to do with this man sitting beside me and the rest of our defensive coaches,” Te’o said.

  1. 808raiderinparadise - Jan 3, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    I’ve been MIA (not miami) but HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!

    Game is close upon us, biggest moment of my ND life (28 years).

    Florida and South Carolina and LSU all prove the SEC is not to be feared.

    ND is a great team who had a lot fo close games because the offense can’t score in the red zone.
    ND needs to score …

    Alabama hasn’t been stopped once … 10 games with 400 plus yards offense and four over 500 yards.

    ND needs to finish drives on offense and disrupt the run game of Alabama on D.

    Golson I feel will be amazing, his best game yet.

  2. irish4006 - Jan 3, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    So many things that are running through the mind – if we can stop the run (like we did all year), find a passing game of our own (we all know that all the pieces are right there), just play special team (as in punt return or defending the big play)… 4 more days. I am also hoping that we are not over or under prepared and show up for the game ready to play.

  3. sinister23 - Jan 3, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Well…apparently Keith Arnold wants to have te’os babies…heart warming man crush…now lets talk football

  4. oldestguard - Jan 3, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    Thanks for keeping us stoked over the break, Keith.

    Certain elements of this team transcend the X’s and O’s and these will be our edge. They make a guy like Riddick run possessed and bond 11 men together as one on the goal line to flat-out deny.

    Guys like Diaco and Kelly know how to cultivate those elements.

    Looking forward to our best on Monday night !

  5. haterhurter937 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    what is all the “we” stuff about with notre dame fans? there is no we, theres you and theres the team.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:14 PM

      Ah, grasshopper, you have noticed we are different than most fans. Well done.

    • ndfi78 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:18 PM

      It’s the same with any fanbase

    • irish4006 - Jan 3, 2013 at 4:01 PM

      Thank you for your contribution to “our” board. “We” appreciate the insight. BTW, who are “you”?

  6. jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    Sounds like this staff, and Coach Diaco in particular, have formed a bond with these players that makes them want to run through walls for these guys. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a staff be able to motivate it’s players so well. I always got the feeling that Weis ran the team more from the front office and wasn’t really a “player’s coach”. Willingham, well, lets not even go there. Kelly said at the start of the year that he was putting a greater emphasis on his players this year and now he gets to reap the benefits of that strategy. College football is so much about the emotion of who wants it more. We’ve had this resource all along at ND, I’m just glad somebody finally learned how to tap into it.

    • nudeman - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:44 PM

      Whatever he/they are doing … keep doing it.
      Sort of working, I’d say.

  7. seamus0317 - Jan 3, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    Man I cannot wait for Monday to get here!!!!!!!

  8. stoney76 - Jan 3, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    Nd nation, go to you tube and check out the video titled notre dame national championship 6 th game. It awesome

  9. yogihilt - Jan 3, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Wow, ESPN just had an interesting segment on ND defense.. will prob run all night and tomo am. Impressive

  10. nudeman - Jan 3, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    Off topic, but … if you remember the ND green jersey game vs. USC in ’77 YOU HAVE GOT TO WATCH THIS (below)
    The article is excellent and talks of the uniform histories of Bama and ND
    But the video is OUTRAGEOUS.
    It made me want to cry (in a good way)

    When ND rolled the Trojan horse in to ND Stadium from the tunnel, USC PLAYERS thought it was FOR THEM.


    One of my all time favorite ND beatdowns of ANY team since I’ve been a fan (1964)
    But the fact that it was USC makes it off the charts. 49-19 if I recall
    It was so bad (in a good way) I almost felt sorry for USC

  11. dutch31 - Jan 3, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    Yogi missed the segment. What was it about??

    I’m down with my son (12 years old). Any good events for Fri afternoon/ early evening??

    GO IRISH!!

  12. 1historian - Jan 4, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I don’t think we have seen Notre Dam’s best all around game – offense defense and special teams.

    Special teams – a 102 yard runback would suffice nicely.

    But I would settle for 80 yds.

  13. 1historian - Jan 4, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    spellcheck – Dame, not Dam, as in whoops

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