When Charlie Weis was relieved of his duties at Kansas during the 2014 season, his quarterbacks coach – two-time Notre Dame captain Ron Powlus – knew his tenure with the Jayhawks was coming to an end.
Now what? Well, he could pursue another coaching job. He could jump back into an administrative role, which he held at Notre Dame in 2005-06 before becoming Weis’ quarterbacks coach in 2007.
Or he could come back to Notre Dame, the place where he wanted to be when he was a five-star quarterback out of Berwick, Pa., the place where he wanted to get into administrative and coaching work, and now, the place where he and his wife Sara want to settle in and raise sons Ronnie, 13, and Tommy, 10.
“My youngest, Tommy, said, ‘Well, I’m the only Hoosier in this family,’ because he was born here,” said Powlus, Notre Dame’s recently-named Director of Player Development.
“And I said, ‘No, Tommy, we’re all going home.’”
After Weis was fired at Notre Dame following the 2009 season, Powlus joined Rob Ianello’s staff at Akron for two seasons. Ianello’s tenure was short-lived, which created an opportunity for Powlus to remain in coaching and join Weis again in Lawrence.
Faced with another transition after three years with the Jayhawks, Powlus looked at the big picture.
“We moved three times in five years,” said Powlus, 40. “My kids are fantastic about it. They are adjusted. As anybody that’s moved around with their family can tell you, it helps them with meeting new people, being able to change and putting your hand out and shaking hands and saying hello because you have to.
“But it’s hard. Lawrence is a great town. Loved the people and there were a lot of good things about it. But my sons were getting invested in the community. We all were. You can’t help it. You start thinking, ‘Am I going to move him again when he’s in ninth grade, and then again when he’s a junior?’”
Notre Dame was the logical choice for Ron and Sara, who were married prior to his fifth-year with the Irish. The place was everything he wanted in a school – as a player, an administrator and a coach. The logical step, from the Powlus family perspective, was to see if returning to his alma mater was feasible.
“I started looking at opportunities at Notre Dame, and Notre Dame athletics in some form or fashion,” Powlus said. “I’d stayed in touch with (Associate Athletics Director of Football Operations) Chad Klunder and (Director of Player Personnel) Dave Peloquin.
“So when the opportunity arose to come back to this position, it was an off-the-field position, but it was a football position and I still had a hand in the department. Just as important, it was getting me back to Notre Dame.
“I didn’t want to get out of coaching. It’s just that if I wasn’t in coaching, where is the first place I’d try to look? Of course it was Notre Dame. I wasn’t going to go across the country when I could try to come back here first.”
Powlus’ role has adjusted since he was Director of Player Personnel in 2005-06. Specifically, he heads up the intellectual, social and spiritual development of the team with the coaching staff handling the skill and strength & conditioning aspects.
Among the areas of the Notre Dame football program Powlus heads up is the team’s community service, known as Irish Around the Bend. He works with the career center, which helps players such as offensive guard Steve Elmer, who obtained the funding to intern in Washington, D.C. for a congressman from Elmer’s home state of Michigan.
Powlus also helps coordinate the football team’s unity council – 12 players representing all five classes and every position unit. It was through the unity council that the singing of Notre Dame’s Alma Mater after home games was reintroduced, as well as the “smoke” that greets the players as they exit the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel and take the field. When a player has an issue in his dorm, Powlus speaks with the rector to help clarify the situation.
Powlus communicates with Notre Dame’s academic services “almost daily.” He speaks with the parents of the players to keep them informed. During Notre Dame’s recent fantasy camp, he helped organize the speakers, which included two former 17-year NFL veterans, Tim Brown and Steve Beuerlein, a nine-year veteran of the pro ranks, Marc Edwards, recently retired seven-year NFL player John Carlson, and current San Diego Charger Manti Te’o.
“It was such a great range of guys,” Powlus said. “To be able to work with them and put those guys in front of the team was awesome. We’re working on some other speakers coming in this summer, guys with real life experiences, former players who maybe had a tough time, or some other student-athletes.”
First, however, Powlus had to convince the players that they could come to him without reservations.
“The hurdle I had to overcome was to be able to get guys to come in, trust me and be able to see me,” Powlus said. “What I’ve told them, and what I’ve been able to show them, is that I’m really qualified for the job.
“I’ve gone to school here, I’ve played here, I’ve coached here, and I’ve been in a director role before. I’ve been on the team, dealt with the team as a coach, dealt with the team not as a coach, and I’ve sat in those meetings.
“As I tell them, ‘I’ve had a paper due on Thursday, a test on Friday, and USC on Saturday, so I know what you’re going through.’”
Powlus gets to share that message with the school/program he holds near and dear, and wants to help contribute to a consistent power on the field and a well-adjusted group off it. It brought him back to the place that he and Sara hold close to their hearts.
“Timing played a part in it,” said Powlus of his return to Notre Dame. “I’ve been around and I’ve seen some places. Not that other places were bad, but it comes back to the same statement I made during recruiting. People would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you go to Penn State? What did they do wrong?’ They didn’t do anything wrong; Notre Dame was just more right.
“Being at Akron and Kansas…are they bad? No, they’re not bad; Notre Dame is just better for me, and the family aspect of it all is a part of it. There is nowhere else I’d rather be with my 13-year-old and my 10-year-old, raising them on this campus.”