Skip to content

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Irish A-to-Z: Scott Daly

    Jul 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Purdue v Notre Dame

    Anonymous long-snappers are the best kind of long snappers. And for the better part of two seasons, Scott Daly was exactly that. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at a man who is no longer anonymous.

  2. OL Parker Boudreaux commits to Notre Dame

    Jul 2, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class added a big commitment from Florida offensive lineman Parker Boudreaux today. One of the country’s top interior linemen chose Notre Dame in a online video done in collaboration with Bleacher Report.

  3. Irish A-to-Z: Shaun Crawford

    Jul 2, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT

    Cleveland Plain Dealer Cleveland Plain Dealer

    Great football players come in all shapes and sizes. Incoming freshman Shaun Crawford will likely prove that. The diminutive cornerback comes to South Bend looking to make a big impact.

  4. Offseason Q&A: Clemson

    Jul 1, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    South Carolina v Clemson Getty Images

    When you look at Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule, it’s hard to skip past the Irish’s trip to Clemson. Returning to Death Valley for the first time since Joe Montana led a comeback victory in 1977, Brian Kelly’s squad will take on Dabo Swinney’s impressive team, the makings of a football game with College Football Playoff implications. Shakin’ the Southland’s Brian Lewis gets us up to speed.

  5. Irish A-to-Z: Te’von Coney

    Jul 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Courtesy of Notre Dame Media Relations Courtesy of Notre Dame Media Relations

    While Jerry Tillery stole the headlines, fellow classmate Te’von Coney more than held his own this spring. The linebacker may have entered a packed depth chart at linebacker, but he solidified his place as a key cog in the future plans of Notre Dame’s defense.

  6. Irish A-to-Z: Nick Coleman

    Jun 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Nick Coleman

    Hailing from the same high school that brought the Irish Malik Zaire, incoming freshman Nick Coleman looks to infuse the same type of unlikely toughness to the secondary that Zaire brings to the quarterback position. Irish A-to-Z rolls on.

  7. Irish A-to-Z: Amir Carlisle

    Jun 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Amir Carlisle Amir Carlisle

    Irish A-to-Z continues with Amir Carlisle. The winding on-field journey for the fifth year senior ends in 2015.

  8. Irish get commitment from safety Spencer Perry

    Jun 29, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    Spencer Perry

    Florida safety Spencer Perry committed to Notre Dame on Monday, a week after visiting campus for the Irish Invasion camp. The move followed Perry’s de-commitment from in-state power Florida, taking the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from a Gator pledge to a member of Notre Dame’s rapidly growing 2016 recruiting class.

  9. Irish A-to-Z: Daniel Cage

    Jun 29, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

    One of the last members of Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class was one of the first people to make an impact on the field. Defensive tackle Daniel Cage is next in Irish A-to-Z.

  10. Greg Bryant suspension tests offensive depth chart

    Jun 29, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Getty Images

    News broke Monday morning that running back Greg Bryant will be suspended for the first four games of the season. As first-reported by Irish 247, Bryant will miss a quarter of the regular season based on the dreaded-and-ambiguous “violation of team rules,” thinning a running back depth chart that was already down to just Bryant, returning starter Tarean Folston and converted wide receiver C.J. Prosise.

  11. Irish A-to-Z: Jimmy Byrne

    Jun 29, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    via Twitter via Twitter

    Like the rest of his classmates along the offensive line, Jimmy Byrne spent 2014 learning the ropes and hitting the weight room. Redshirt off, Irish A-to-Z continues with the Ohio native.

  12. Irish land top 2017 TE Brock Wright

    Jun 26, 2015, 10:28 PM EDT

    Rivals.com Rivals.com

    Texas tight end Brock Wright has committed to Notre Dame, adding another elite recruit to the Irish tight end pipeline. Wright is a 2017 prospect who camped in South Bend last week for Irish Invasion.

  13. Irish A-to-Z: Devin Butler

    Jun 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Purdue v Notre Dame

    With KeiVarae Russell suspended and Cody Riggs hurt, Devin Butler got his chance to be a starting cornerback. It wasn’t necessarily a positive experience. We look ahead to an important season for the junior defensive back.

  14. Offseason Q&A: UMass

    Jun 26, 2015, 11:07 AM EDT

    Massachusetts v Vanderbilt Getty Images

    After a difficult three-game stretch to start Notre Dame’s season, the Irish will welcome UMass to South Bend, a game that was originally intended to match up former Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar with his previous employer.

  15. Report: Irish might be adding OL Jurkovic

    Jun 25, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT

    An Irish Illustrated report says that Notre Dame might add a piece to the 2016 recruiting class, with touted offensive lineman and one-time Ohio State commit Mirko Jurkovic Jr. in the crosshairs.

  16. Irish A-to-Z: Greg Bryant

    Jun 25, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Greg Bryant has yet to play up to the 5-star status he entered South Bend possessing. Now for the good news: He’s got three more seasons to try.

  17. Irish A-to-Z: Chris Brown

    Jun 24, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    Chris Brown enters his senior season in South Bend, still looking to build on a magical start. Irish A-to-Z rolls along, knowing that we’ve got a long way to go before the start of the season.

  18. Irish A-to-Z: Justin Brent

    Jun 24, 2015, 3:04 PM EDT

    Justin Brent, Devin Butler Justin Brent, Devin Butler

    There are good debut seasons. And then there are debut seasons like the one Justin Brent just had. Let’s take a closer look at the sophomore receiver as Irish A-to-Z continues.

  19. Offseason Q&A: Georgia Tech

    Jun 24, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT

    Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days

    Last year, Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech team burst onto the scene, nearly wrestling the ACC championship away from Florida State in a primetime showdown. While the Yellow Jackets didn’t pull out the victory, they sprinted away from Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl and won by double-digits, capping off an 11-win season.

  20. OLB/DE Jamir Jones commits to Notre Dame

    Jun 23, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Notre Dame v Syracuse

    Notre Dame’s quick-growing 2016 recruiting class is adding another familiar name. Rochester defensive end Jamir Jones, brother of starting defensive tackle Jarron Jones, committed to the Irish coaching staff on Tuesday, fresh off receiving his offer. He joins Julian Okwara—brother of Romeo—as younger siblings of Irish players in the 2016 recruiting class.