The first time he put on his Notre Dame apparel and ran the players through a workout, new Irish defensive backs coach Todd Lyght had a moment of pause to reflect on the full circle he was completing at his college alma mater.
“It was great being back in the colors, wearing the blue and gold, being around the guys,” said Lyght Monday when he and three other new assistant coaches met the media in the Haggar Fitness Center.
“This is a staff where we’re all coming home and we all want to be here for a long time. We all want to have success, but long-term success. We’ve got a lot of great minds, and like Coach (Brian) Kelly says, best idea wins. I love that philosophy.”
It all happened so fast. Lyght had recently accepted a position as defensive backs coach at Vanderbilt under head coach Derek Mason following two stints with head coach Chip Kelly, first as an intern at Oregon and then as an assistant defensive backs coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.
When Notre Dame first contacted Lyght, he thought the conversation was about a potential role down the road.
“When (associate athletics director for football operations) Chad Klunder called me and bounced around the idea of coming back and coaching, I thought he was talking about maybe in the future,” Lyght said. “I didn’t realize he was talking about the immediate future. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about the prospect.”
Lyght quickly chose the path back to Notre Dame, where he was a two-time All-American cornerback who paced the Irish in interceptions (eight) as a junior in 1989 and eventually landed in the first round (fifth overall pick) of the 1991 NFL draft.
Twelve years and 37 interceptions later, Lyght’s brilliant football career came to a close. After a successful venture into the business world, Lyght dipped his toe in the football waters again, first as a defensive backs coach for mighty Bishop Gorman High School, and then with Chip Kelly.
He’s ready to give back to Notre Dame, although the giving began years ago.
Lyght has established scholarships at the three schools he attended: St. Mary’s Elementary in Alexandria, Va., Luke Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Mich., and the Todd W. Lyght Scholarship at Notre Dame.
In 1995 – just four years after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Notre Dame – Lyght donated “substantially” to the United Negro College Fund as part of the NFL’s Golden Circle program.
Lyght was 26-years old at the time.
“Having the opportunity to go to all these great schools and be around these great teachers and coaches and mentors, it was my way of being in a position to give back and help the next generation out. I thought that was very important to help the future of this world.”
Now that he’s back at Notre Dame, he’d like to lend a hand in leading the Irish to their first national title since 1988, when Lyght was a sophomore.
“I thought for sure by 10 or 15 years (after the ’88 national title), we would have won another national championship,” Lyght said. “Obviously, we got back to the championship game a couple years ago, but we played a juggernaut of a team in Alabama.
“To me, it’s been surprising that we haven’t won, but they’ve been close on several occasions. Coach Kelly is a great coach and he’s won wherever he’s been. With Coach Kelly at Notre Dame, there’s always a chance.”
Lyght knows what he has to offer to the equation.
“My greatest strengths will be teaching the fundamentals of championship football and recruiting,” Lyght said. “Going out there and finding the best student-athletes that are the right fit for this program to move this program in the direction where we can win championships.”
In the process, Lyght also will serve as an example to the student-athletes he’ll be coaching.
“Along the way, there have been so many people instrumental in my success,” Lyght said. “I appreciate what they did for me. It’s so hard for somebody to do it by himself.”