Jan 3, 2013, 12:55 PM EDT
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.
Jul 27, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT
It didn’t take long for Brian VanGorder to put his stamp on the Notre Dame defense. And before he coached a single game or practice for Brian Kelly, VanGorder went out and identified freshman defensive tackle Pete Mokwuah. Irish A-to-Z continues as we profile the Staten Island native.
Jul 26, 2014, 11:17 AM EDT
Notre Dame will continue to recruit Chicago for top football talent. And in sophomore Colin McGovern, the Irish landed one of the area’s top offensive linemen. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at one of the bigger surprises on the Irish roster.
Jul 24, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Notre Dame broke the mold when they signed offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey. With a body better suited for Mike Brey’s hardwood, the Philadelphia native looked like a developmental project when he pledged his commitment to Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at Notre Dame’s starting right tackle.
Jul 24, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
Wide receiver Will Mahone, whose future at Notre Dame is still uncertain, was sentenced to 10 days in Mahoning County jail on Wednesday stemming from an arrest in June. Mahone has been indefinitely suspended from the football team by Brian Kelly and is not enrolled at the university.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
Against just about all odds, senior Cam McDaniel led the Irish in rushing in 2013. Our latest installment in the Irish A-to-Z looks at the veteran running back, who now battles sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston for carries.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
In case you haven’t been following along on social media, the installation of Notre Dame’s new synthetic surface is nearly complete. With the team from FieldTurf working this week to lay down the playing field, the Irish will have a playable field to practice on when camp begins on August 4
Jul 22, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT
A recruiting cycle before Notre Dame went hunting late for big bodies to play along the defensive line, they signed a player who might be able to fit that mold in 2014. Fresh off a redshirt, Jacob Matuska has the chance to add some much needed size and strength to Brian VanGorder’s defensive line.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
The founding member of the 2014 recruiting class, linebacker Greer Martini enters a football program that looks decidedly different than the one he committed to back in July of 2012. Irish A-to-Z continues as we look at the freshman inside linebacker.
Jul 21, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
No, he’s not his brother. But center Nick Martin should solidify his standing as one of the top centers in the country in 2014. After an injury ended his debut season in the starting lineup early, Martin returns healthy after knee surgery, giving Notre Dame a key anchor in the middle of Harry Hiestand’s offensive line.
Jul 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
After losing Troy Niklas and Alex Welch from the depth chart, Notre Dame needed to restock a position that’s been very kind to the Irish over the past few years. Irish A-to-Z continues with freshman tight end Tyler Luatua.
Jul 20, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
A year after contributing as a freshman, Cole Luke’s assignment will be a bit more ambitious in 2014. One of three cornerbacks who is expected to play major minutes, Irish A-to-Z continues with the sophomore cover man.
Jul 19, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
One of four graduate students on the Irish roster, Christian Lombard feels like he’s been a part of the Notre Dame football program for a long time. As one of Charlie Weis’ earliest commitments in the 2010 class, Lombard has seen coaching changes, position switches and injury challenges in his five years in South Bend.
Jul 19, 2014, 3:24 PM EDT
After two underwhelming seasons in South Bend, Ben Koyack finally emerged as a legitimate threat late last season. And with Troy Niklas’ unexpected departure to the NFL, Koyack has a chance to be the next in a line of impressive tight ends playing on Sundays. The Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at Notre Dame’s starting tight end.
Jul 17, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
With just two other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, incoming freshman DeShone Kizer begins his college career a bit closer to the playing field than any head coach would like. Our latest in Irish A-to-Z looks at Notre Dame’s quarterback from the 2014 recruiting class.
Jul 17, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT
Injuries to Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke gave Jarron Jones his shot at a new position. The rising junior took advantage of his opportunities. Our next installment in Irish A-to-Z takes a look at Notre Dame’s new starting defensive tackle.
Jul 16, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT
When Notre Dame added Torii Hunter Jr. to the roster on Signing Day 2013, the Irish did more than just add another famous father to the family section at Notre Dame Stadium. Our next installment on Irish A-to-Z looks at a rising sophomore who is healthy after entering Notre Dame with a major injury.
Jul 16, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Few football programs need a press release to discuss the markings on their home football field. But after months of wonderment by certain segments of the Irish football fanbase, the athletic department gave us an early “look” at what the new synthetic playing surface will look like when Notre Dame takes the field this fall.
Jul 15, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Entering his senior season, Chase Hounshell’s career has been defined by what’s kept him off the field, not his performance on it. Our next installment in Irish A-to-Z looks closer at the Ohio native who has battled back from multiple shoulder injuries.