Steve Addazio arrived at Notre Dame in 1999 at the age of 39, fired up for the opportunity to coach the Irish tackles, tight ends and special teams.
The passion and burning desire to coach is, if anything, blazing hotter than ever for Addazio, 56, who parlayed a six-year stint with Urban Meyer at Florida into his first head-coaching gig at Temple in 2011-12, where he won nine games in his first season and landed the Boston College job prior to the 2013 season.
Addazio’s background is along the offensive line, the unit he handled during his stint with the Gators before ascending to the offensive coordinator’s job under Urban Meyer, himself a former Notre Dame assistant where he and Addazio first crossed paths.
After back-to-back 7-6 seasons at Boston College – on the heels of a 6-18 mark in the two years prior to his arrival – Addazio is faced with a significant rebuilding effort this fall following the loss of quarterback Tyler Murphy and the entire offensive line.
The long-time offensive line coach’s game is built on toughness, motivation and superiority in the trenches. In his four years as a head coach, his rushing offenses have ranked No. 7, No. 31, No. 20 and No. 15 nationally, never averaging less than 200 yards rushing per game, including 256.3 at Temple in 2011 (one year after the Owls averaged 150.2 yards per game) and 254.6 last year at Boston College.
Irish Illustrated spoke with Addazio earlier this week about his football philosophy, his building effort at Boston College, his memories of his 1999-2001 stint at Notre Dame, and this fall’s clash with the Fighting Irish in Boston.
TIM PRISTER: If one were to observe your offensive approach and penchant for running the football – with the knowledge that you once coached at Notre Dame -- he might think you’re a Lou Holtz disciple. What is the origin of your strong emphasis on the ground game?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I’ve been a line coach my whole career and I love the concept that it all starts up front on both sides of the ball. The ability to run the ball and stop the run has always been something really important to me. I feel like if you can’t run the ball, it’s really hard to win.
Urban Meyer and I are really close friends. We started our friendship at Notre Dame. He coached the receivers and I coached the O-line (and tight ends). We had an instant friendship and I think we have a lot of similar viewpoints.
The plan to win (at Boston College) is the same plan we had to win at Florida under Urban, and one of the key components there was the ability to run the football.
I’ve been involved in all kinds of offenses. I’ve been involved with the Wishbone, I’ve been involved in the spread, I’ve been involved in the trap option, I’ve been around the West Coast…I’ve been through them all, and in our run game, it’s a broad stroke. Last year, we had a lot of spread-option game. The year before that, we were a true power team. We adapt the run game to fit our personnel.
TP: With college football tilting heavily to the passing game, is it difficult to convince young football players of the importance of running the football?
SA: I don’t think so. It’s all about winning and you’ve got to do whatever you can to win. A lot of these spread teams run the ball a lot.
I was involved in the infancy of the spread offense at Florida with Urban. When people think of Urban, they probably think more along the lines of throwing the football. But the truth of the matter is his whole emphasis was on the ability to run the ball. It’s just a question of whether it’s the running back running it or the quarterback running it.
Our system at Florida, we were a gap-scheme zone team. That hasn’t changed for me. I’m a gap-scheme, zone-scheme guy. (Tim) Tebow was our power runner at Florida as opposed to the tailback. It all works.
Balance is really important. I say that and people say, ‘You don’t really care about balance.’ But I do. It’s just that here (at Boston College), we didn’t have that ability. We rode our talent. We had a Heisman Trophy runner-up running back (Andre Williams) and a big offensive line, and we had a quarterback (Tyler Murphy) who could run the spread option as well as anybody in the country. We’ve brought in some young, quality receivers. We’re trying to develop our talent level and our skill so we can create more balance.
Balance is always what we’re striving for. Will we always be slightly more run than throw? Maybe, but I’d like to be more balanced. But what I really want to do is become bowl eligible and compete for a conference championship. That’s what I want to do.
That’s just my mindset. Would I ever be all throw and no run? No, I’d never go that way because I don’t believe you can win that way. I would really like to be balanced if I could, and we’re striving to get closer to that.
TP: Motivation is a big part of your game as a coach. It was when you were an assistant at Notre Dame and that’s certainly been the case for you as a head coach at Temple and Boston College. That would appear to be how you’re wired.
SA: I’m a fiery guy. That’s who I am. I really believe in motivation. I believe in passion. I’m a passionate person. I hire guys on my staff that are that way.
Our mantra when we came here was we’re going to be the toughest team in our conference. I believe in that. I want passion, I want toughness, I want you to watch our team play with great energy and great physicality, and play like a team with accountability towards one another.
All those things that used to be so important and great, I believe still are. I want us to play with our hair on fire. We’re going to come out of that locker room charged. Some people say, ‘All that stuff is great, but after the first snap, it’s gone.’ I don’t believe that. I think it’s a mindset, and if I coached any other way, I would be contrary to that.
I want to be around people that have juice and energy. I don’t care if you’re playing beach volleyball, I want to go out and win. I want to be around people that are high-fiving and playing with enthusiasm. That’s what I want and that’s what I want for this program.
I don’t want mellow and being relaxed. Go be relaxed somewhere else. It’s not going to be here. There’s no relaxing here. There’s no laidback here. You’re not going to do well here if you are. That’s not the way this program is. There’s not one ounce of laidback anywhere in this building.
TP: You’ve made significant inroads in your first two seasons at Boston College. As you look forward, how tough is it going to be to win on a consistent basis in the ACC?
SA: Right now, I think we’re in one of the elite conferences. The data shows that the most players that go into the NFL every year far and away come from the ACC and the SEC. It’s a very talented, competitive league. We have our niche. Being a physical, smash-you-in-the-mouth team is different now.
Is it difficult in our conference? Yes, but in the same breath, we have a niche in recruiting, we have a niche on the field, and we have great history in our program. In the last 16 years, we’ve been to 14 bowl games, and at one point, we went to a bowl 12 straight years. We’ve had numerous great players go on to the NFL, as many as anybody, and two of the best players in the NFL today (quarterback Matt Ryan and linebacker Luke Kuechly) are out of BC.
All that together gives us a niche. We’re building our program back so that we can be that team that we were in the 2000s when we had a great run. The league has gotten better. BC isn’t in the Big East anymore. The powers in the ACC are very powerful again. Last year, our non-conference game was against USC.
Is this a tough job? Yeah, it’s a tough job. Can we compete year-in and year-out in this league? Absolutely. Without a doubt. Can we compete for a championship here? Yes we can. We’re not there right now. We’re building, we’re recruiting, we’re developing…
But it’s a great niche here, kind of like Notre Dame. We’re very attractive to guys here who really believe and really want a place where you can excel in the classroom and on the playing field. I think it’s fantastic.
I really enjoyed my time at Notre Dame because of the guys I had the opportunity to coach. These were guys that were committed to their academics and they were committed to being great football players. Notre Dame is a magnificent university that represents not only great academics and athletics, but faith and everything else. I really feel that at Boston College, I have all of that.
Every day I come to work, I feel great. I don’t have to chase my guys to class. I’m around a great group of guys that want to excel at a university that stands for everything that’s right. It really makes me feel good every day. We’re developing a great team. There are a lot of great players in the country, but how many great teams are there? We want to be that great team.
TP: Obviously, you’re going to be asked a lot this fall about your experience at Notre Dame as your game in Fenway Park approaches. What are your fondest memories of Notre Dame?
SA: I had a great experience there. I love Coach Davie. I have a great relationship with him to this day. He was truly a mentor and I appreciate him so much. I loved pep rallies on Friday nights, walking down to the Grotto with my family, the great people I was around and everything that the place stands for.
At that time, I didn’t ever want to leave. When we got to the Fiesta Bowl (in 2000), we had to overcome losing Arnaz Battle at quarterback. We went to Gary Godsey and eventually Matt LoVecchio, and we found a way to get to the Fiesta Bowl. That was an unbelievable year, really exciting.
I went through the whole deal when we got let go. I was retained and then let go again. I went through the whole gamut there. I remember when I had to leave, it was heartbreaking to myself and my family.
But through it all, I’ve always had a great feel and appreciation for Notre Dame. I feel like that experience really helped me prepare for my job here. Going to Florida was huge as well.
At Notre Dame, I met so many great guys, great people. The guys I coached with at Notre Dame – Kevin Rogers, Greg Mattison, Urban Meyer, Dan Mullen, Charlie Strong, and Mickey Marotti, one of my closest friends…Urban, myself and Mickey are still close to this day. We were all together at Florida.
The great things that came out of being at Notre Dame…The relationships with (athletic directors) Bubba Cunningham, Kevin White, Bernard Muir, Sandy Barber, Jim Phillips…and (men’s lacrosse coach) Kevin Corrigan…So many great relationships came out of those three years. We’re all friends to this day. We stay in touch.
I’d always wanted to be at Notre Dame and it was a great stop, a great launching point. I have a great appreciation for that, and I feel that way about all the places I’ve been because I’ve been lucky. I’ve been around some great head coaches like Coach (Paul) Pasqualoni at Syracuse, Coach (Gerry) DiNardo at Indiana, Coach Davie, Coach Meyer, and then finally having a chance to be a head coach.
You’re a collection of experiences, and the experiences I had at Notre Dame were powerful.
TP: You’ve got a lot of opponents to worry about before Notre Dame pops up on your schedule on Nov. 21. But what will you be facing when you take on Brian Kelly’s team in Fenway Park?
SA: They’re a veteran team, a talented team, and Brian Kelly is a great football coach. It will be a big challenge for us, especially in a year where 65 of our 85 (scholarship) players will be freshmen and sophomores. We’ll have a quarterback that hasn’t played any meaningful reps yet and a completely rebuilt offensive line.
It will be a tremendous challenge for us. I have all the respect in the world for Brian Kelly, his program and his team this year. It will be quite the challenge here in Boston. It’s going to be a great event in one of the most storied ballparks. Two programs that have a lot of history between them. The fans and the alumni will be pumped up, and the players will be, too. I’m looking forward to it.