Notre Dame had to have Kory Minor to make its 1995 recruiting class complete.
Few realized at the time what a slam-dunk the highly-rated linebacker out of Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif., was for the Irish.
“I always knew I wanted to be at Notre Dame,” said Minor, 38, who heads up Kory Minor Industries just east of Los Angeles. “I knew it from the age of six.”
Minor fulfilled his Notre Dame dream, finishing second all-time in school history with 22 ½ sacks and captaining the 1998 squad to a 9-3 record. His transition from Lou Holtz to Bob Davie didn’t go smoothly and his NFL career was relatively brief.
But after a successful stint owning Domino’s Pizza franchises, he launched Kory Minor Industries, which encompasses motivational speeches, seminars, books, videos, coaching (his marketing firm) and consultation throughout the United States and beyond.
Kory Minor remains the driving force he was on the Irish gridiron.
He and his wife, Lisa, herself a double graduate of Notre Dame, are the parents of Ilyanna (10), Noah (8) and Julian (5).
TIM PRISTER: Tell us about your journey since the end of your football career.
KORY MINOR: I sold my Domino’s Pizza franchises about two years ago. That was fun, but it stopped being fun. So I started looking for my next move. I’m always trying to better myself and I wanted to be a speaker. I’d done some speaking work before and I wanted to do it full time.
So literally I went to my office one day and I started listening to motivational tapes. By the end, I had created my speech, and lo and behold, I’ve been speaking for a couple years now, traveling the country, traveling the world, speaking to corporations about leadership…It’s been amazing, fun and inspiring.
I live a different life. I tell people I have six Saturdays and one Sunday every week. I’ve been pretty successful with a marketing business on top of that, so I travel the country speaking to my ‘team’ trying to help grow that business as well.
I’m totally blessed and I’m trying to change lives and trying to be better than I was the day before. I do a Periscope video every morning and I’m trying to get people jacked up about life and having success and creating better lives, whether it’s relationships, business, mindset…I’m blessed. I’m doing God’s will. I’m truly thankful.
TP: You had a pretty good motivator to learn from in Lou Holtz. He had to be an influence on your career move.
KM: Besides the Notre Dame academic influence, I went to Notre Dame because of Lou Holtz. He was the second reason why I went to Notre Dame. His messages, his philosophy, his teaching will stay with me forever. He wrote the foreword in my book (“Make A Touchdown of Your Life”) a couple of years ago. He’s a great man, a great person and I owe him a lot because he was an instrumental piece in my success at Notre Dame and beyond.
TP: You’ve said that you were watching Notre Dame when you were six-years-old and you knew you wanted to go there way back then. (Notre Dame recruiting coordinator) Bob Chmiel has told the story about when you and your mother (Kim) visited the campus and it was one of the colder days in South Bend. She said something along the lines of, ‘I can buy you a coat, but I can’t buy you a Notre Dame education.’ How did that all unfold?
KM: It was one of the worst winters they’ve had in South Bend. I think it was Jan. 21 or Jan 22 (1995). It was like negative-20 with the wind chill. Snow. Everything.
We were going to go across campus and my mom said, ‘Can we walk?’ Coach Chmiel was like, ‘We can’t have the Minors walk!’ But my mom was adamant about walking, and I’m saying, ‘Mom, let’s not walk! They have these cars here for a reason!’ But we walked, and we were walking right by Touchdown Jesus when she said, ‘I can buy you a coat, but I can’t afford a Notre Dame education.’
Every time I talk about it, I still get chills, and not from the cold weather. For me, it was a dream from the age of six. She was a single mom coming from a gang community and didn’t have much money. But I had a vision, I had a dream, and if you don’t have a vision, as it says in the bible, people perish.
I wanted to go to Notre Dame. I had every naysayer in the book telling me it couldn’t happen. I was told it wasn’t possible. Even my mom, when I was younger said, ‘Son, I can’t afford that.’
So when Notre Dame started recruiting me my sophomore or junior year, and the day I got that letter in the mail from Lou Holtz offering me a full scholarship, it was a wonderful time. I bleed blue and gold. I don’t get to a lot of games, but I’m in tune with what’s going on. I get letters from people saying, ‘Thanks to you, I’m a Notre Dame fan,’ or ‘Because of you, I want to go to Notre Dame.’
I don’t take it lightly. I know the value of going there. I don’t think I’m special. I was just a young kid who had a vision and believed in dreaming big dreams. I’ve always believed in doing things right. When I was at Notre Dame, I did it right. I followed the rules and I went to school to get a great education.
TP: You had two years with Coach Holtz and two years with Coach Davie, and I know that the transition from one coach to the other was not the smoothest for you.
KM: We were 9-3 my freshman year in ’95 after Notre Dame was coming off a 6-5-1 season. Here I am a freshman and we’re playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl. How awesome is that? And then we went 8-3 and didn’t go to a bowl game as Coach Holtz was leaving Notre Dame.
The transition for me was tough. Bob Davie was a helluva coordinator for us. As a head coach, let’s be honest, it was too big for him at the time.
If Notre Dame came calling with a job, would you take it? Of course you’d take it, and I don’t blame Coach Davie for that. It was just too big for him. I don’t think he was ready for it. The values he had as a coordinator unfortunately didn’t carry over as a head coach and we, as players, didn’t think he was the genuine coach that we thought he was going to be.
So that was tough for us to get through. He’s a great guy. We talk to this day. We text. He had some big shoes to fill. How do you replace a Bentley, right? The only way you can do it is by buying a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. To properly replace a Lou Holtz, you needed a Vince Lombardi or a Joe Paterno. It’s hard to replace a guy like that. I don’t fault Bob Davie. It was a tough thing for him to come into.
We won some games. We went 9-3 in my last year, but it lacked the flair of Lou Holtz, the charisma, the passion, the motivation and inspiration that Coach Holtz offered.
TP: What were some of the highlights on the field for you at Notre Dame?
KM: We played a lot of great games. My freshman year, we beat USC soundly at home and then played Florida State in the Orange Bowl. We won at Texas my sophomore year in ’96. We opened the ’98 season with a pretty convincing win over Michigan and we won a bunch of games in a row (eight) before losing at USC.
The game that really stands out to me was Navy my sophomore year because the game was played in Ireland. That was amazing.
I had a great game at home against Ohio State, which we unfortunately lost. I had a sack in that game and I remember hearing the students chanting, ‘Ko-ry Mi-nor!’ The students started it and then the rest of the fans chimed in. You know how in a movie you reach that point where the character feels that he’s arrived? That was my moment. That was awesome.
The walks to the Basilica. The walks to the stadium where the fans are lined up cheering your name. The pep rallies…There are so many things that I’m thankful about with Notre Dame. I wish I could go back and relive those moments. As an 18-year-old kid, it’s so overwhelming, and then all of a sudden it’s gone and you’ve moved on.
But the student body, the administration, those people were so good to me. The Notre Dame community…they got to me. Anytime any of those people write me, I respond to them. Without them, there’s no No. 4 because they made me exist. I’m thankful for that University because it did so much for me.
TP: Who do you stay in touch with from your days at Notre Dame?
KM: Shawn Wooden. Autry Denson is now back on campus. Oscar McBride. Kinnon Tatum a little bit. Not like I used to. Now that I’m 38-years-old, I’ve got my own situation. It’s hard, but I try to connect when I can through Facebook and Twitter.
I’m so lost in the world. I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a businessman, I’m trying to create a life for my family, so I’m really focused on those things. If I’m not on a conference call or traveling the world or speaking or doing something with my marketing team, I’m with my family, my kids. I keep a really strict schedule. I take the same drive I had in football into my life and with my family.
TP: You were a seventh-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers. You played 30 games with Carolina. I guess I was always surprised that you didn’t get selected until the seventh round and have more of an impact in the NFL. What was your professional football experience like?
KM: It was painful. I never knew why I was drafted so late. When I got to San Francisco, one of the coaches pulled me aside and said, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it, but there was some noise from your school that you were uncoachable, undisciplined, which we know is not true. But GMs only can go by what they hear and unfortunately, you got the brunt of that. All you can do is go out and be the best player you can be and prove them wrong.’
So that was a blow. I was one of the top-rated linebackers in the country. To hear how people were upset about my relationship with Lou Holtz and how I was trying to fight for his job, some people felt they had to put something out there that I wasn’t as good as some people thought I was.
That took some time for me to deal with. I remember for many years hating the University. I threw posters, clothes, everything Notre Dame away. I was rooting for USC a few times, that’s how bad it was. I was heartbroken.
I gave my blood, sweat and tears to this place with hurt shoulders and sprained ankles…I gave it my all. I was so unhappy when I heard about what was said about me. I was the first person on a day off to go down to the hospital and visit kids. I was the first one they’d call and I’d go, no questions asked.
TP: So was it Davie that did that or was it other people?
KM: That was tough to swallow.
TP: I know you were in town recently to speak with the team, so apparently some fences have been mended.
KM: My wife is a double domer and she was the one who got me turned around. She said, ‘Kory, I know you’re upset. But we’re talking about two or three people that did this as opposed to an institution that loved you. Don’t blame the institution. Be mad at the people that hurt you, but don’t hold on to that very long because God can’t forgive you if you don’t forgive others.’
She helped me realize it wasn’t the school. They always say marry up, right? Well I definitely married up.
TP: Would you have gone to USC if you hadn’t gone to Notre Dame?
KM: No, no, no. I was never a fan. If I hadn’t gone to Notre Dame, I have no idea where I would have gone. There was no No. 2. At the age of six, I was already sold. There was no No. 2, and that was after that cold recruiting visit.
I was with Shawn Wooden, Renaldo Wynn and Cliff Stroud and Shawn’s car broke down and it was snowing and cold. It wasn’t the best trip ever. But it was predestined. I was going to Notre Dame.
I visited Washington, USC, Arizona – I hated that – and I was going to go to Tennessee. I canceled my trip to Tennessee and Coach (Philip) Fulmer cussed me out. UCLA probably would have been the next choice. Terry Donahue was a good coach and a good guy.
Because of some things that happened, I struggled with Notre Dame after I graduated. But it’s all in perspective now. I always wanted to go to school at Notre Dame and I’m proud to be a Notre Dame graduate. I fulfilled the dream of my life and for that, I’ll always been thankful.