THE BEUERLEIN YEARS
When you’ve done this for 35 seasons, years and names blend together, eras come and go, and you start to lose track of what resonates among those who are reading your material.
Case in point with Steve Beuerlein, Notre Dame’s starting quarterback for most of 1983-86, which spanned the last three years of the Gerry Faust era and the first year of Lou Holtz’s 11-year reign.
When I ran into Beuerlein at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex the day of the Blue-Gold Game, I was excited to connect with him again. I hadn’t spoken with him since he was a senior in 1986.
Beuerlein was a freshman at Notre Dame the year after I graduated. I was just starting my career as a journalist and he was just getting his feet wet on the collegiate level after a brilliant senior season at Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif.
Any time I can connect with a former Notre Dame football player, it’s an opportunity to tell a story, one that some have a vague memory of and some that no longer resonate with our Irish Illustrated clients.
For example, let’s use the recollection of a 12-year-old as the cut-off for recalling a Notre Dame player/team. To recall Beuerlein at Notre Dame, you would have had to been born by 1974, which would make you 43-years-old today.
Now there may be some 40-year-olds whose father was a big Notre Dame fan and indoctrinated his child at an earlier age. But by and large, anyone under 40 has virtually no memory of Steve Beuerlein at Notre Dame.
So while we don’t want to inundate and alienate our readership that has no recall of players from “way back when,” we also want to tell the stories of former Irish standouts, particularly those who have made interesting journeys.
Beuerlein’s story is unique. He took a leap of faith to leave California and play for Gerry Faust. After three years of losing and injuries, in comes Lou Holtz, who, according to Beuerlein, saved his career…a 17-year career in the NFL.
Beuerlein started 102 NFL games, which means he frequently was a backup. His best year, a Pro Bowl year, came at age 34. He threw for more than 24,000 yards with 147 touchdown passes from 1987-2003.
He started just two NFL playoff games, both for, of all coaches, Jimmy Johnson, whose Miami Hurricanes handed Notre Dame/Faust a 58-7 loss in Faust’s last game coaching the Irish and the final game of Beuerlein’s junior season. Beuerlein told me things about the experience with Holtz that I had forgotten or never knew.
Part I is below with Parts II and III to follow.
ALL-TIME ASSISTANT COACHES
On at least half-a-dozen occasions through three-and-a-half decades of covering Notre Dame football, I’ve embarked upon putting together the most comprehensive, all-time statistical review of the Fighting Irish.
Each attempt has stalled amidst the laborious task. Someday.
Likewise, I’ve often gazed at the list of Irish assistant coaches – offered alphabetically by Notre Dame’s sports publicity department – and wondered what it would take to piece together the Notre Dame staffs year-by-year.
Sometimes research on another story has taken a detour because I had to go through each year (for years I didn’t have a media guide handy) to construct the exact staffs of various Notre Dame teams.
Recently, I spent an afternoon going over each assistant coach, beginning alphabetically with current Boston College head coach Steve Addazio through 1956-58 “ends” coach Jack Zilly. One by one, their names were placed on a year-by-year chart. There are discrepancies in Notre Dame’s archives that are difficult to navigate at times.
By my count – with the addition of Chip Long, Mike Elko, Del Alexander, Clark Lea and Tom Rees to the 2017 staff – there have been 202 assistant football coaches in the history of Notre Dame football. (Note: That includes David Cutcliffe, who was hired by Charlie Weis prior to the 2005 season, but never served for the Irish due to health issues.)
I’ve embarked upon a five-part series on the composition of staffs under Holtz, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly. Holtz subtracted and added coaches on a regular basis (see story below).
There were eight alterations from Davie’s original staff of nine while Willingham had 10 assistants in three years, or just one change, and that came in his final campaign in 2004.
Weis had three coaches who worked for him all five years and three that were with him for four. All told, there were just six coaching changes over five seasons.
As most know, when Kelly picks a coach, he wants that coach to stay with him for the long haul. It wasn’t until the disastrous 4-8 season in 2016 that Kelly made significant changes to his staff.
Look for Part 2 of Notre Dame’s all-time assistants spanning Davie’s five years from 1997-2001.
BARAJAS CHOOSES ILLINOIS STATE
I was wrong, and the fact that a vast majority of those who saw Josh Barajas’ high school film agreed with the lofty assessment does not make the swing-and-miss any less of a whiff.
Illinois State announced Wednesday that Barajas, after two nondescript years at Notre Dame, will be moving to Normal, Ill. to become a Redbird.
Over the last 25 years that I’ve been analyzing high school film – beginning with the VHS recruit videos we used to produce during my days at Blue & Gold Illustrated – I’ve evaluated hundreds of prospects. We’ve hit on a vast majority of those evaluations, whether positive or negative.
One aspect of prospect evaluation that increases the margin for error can only be ascertained through repeated contact. And yet even if you get to know a prospect, that’s no guarantee that you’ll determine what makes that recruit tick on the football field against high-level competition.
And so it’s an inexact science, just as predicting the weather or the outcome of a big game between equal combatants.
Here’s what I wrote about outside linebacker prospect Josh Barajas on March 4, 2014:
• Assets: Carries himself like a man among boys. Exceptional foot speed. Incredibly light on his feet. Maintains square shoulders and balance when stringing out ball carriers. Does not go for jukes/fakes. Outstanding change of direction. Smooth, gliding defender with an ease of movement around the football field. Has top-level zero-to-60 explosiveness.
Has another gear when going from pursuit phase to tackling phase. Has an explosiveness in his tackling technique when he lowers the boom. Accelerates into tackles. Uses his chest as a weapon as well as a retaining wall.
A natural pass dropper/defender. Drops and opens his hips with ease. Can turn and run with most athletes on the field. Always one of the most gifted athletes on the field.
• Room for improvement: Very light in the back side (although he doesn’t hit like it). Not a huge frame to add considerable weight. A bit on the short side of the prototypical outside linebacker. Stature could hurt leverage against larger blockers.
There was concern over his height, which was listed at 6-foot-3 but looked closer to 6-foot-1. Still, I considered Barajas to be the top prospect in the signing Class of 2015.
You know the rest. He missed his mark from a physical conditioning standpoint upon his arrival, suffered a pre-season hamstring injury, and preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman in ’15.
He barely scratched the surface in ’16, and didn’t get into the Blue-Gold Game on defense until the second half of the ’17 spring finale.
Barajas was Scout’s No. 51-rated prospect in the country in ’15. Only tight end Alize Mack (No. 32) and interior offensive lineman Tristen Hoge (No. 48) rated higher among fellow Irish classmates.
Here was my final summation of Barajas 11 months before he signed with the Irish:
In a perfect world, Barajas would have a bit more length a la Jaylon Smith and a longer frame to fill out with weight. But in terms of the complete football package athletically, this is a coach’s dream. There is such a maturity to his movement on the field that presents the image of a much experienced, older football player.
Barajas has the power to explode through a gap and light up a ball carrier, and then the ease of motion to drop into a backpedal, open his hips and run with a speedy receiver or running back on a wheel route.
When coaches run drill after drill after drill, hoping to create a naturalness to a player’s movements on the field, they envision a player like Barajas. You are not going to find many outside linebackers – in any year – with better foot speed and change of direction than this kid.
I still believe my evaluation of Barajas was actually what I saw on film, but it never translated with the Irish.
WARRIORS VS. CAVALIERS
It’s time to cut to the chase now that the chaff (the Eastern Conference) has been brushed aside.
The Rubber Series between Golden State and Cleveland is about as good as it gets in the NBA with the Warriors winning two years ago and the Cavaliers overcoming a three-games-to-one deficit last year.
Love the story line with LeBron James in his seventh straight NBA finals and eighth overall. He’s shooting for a 4-4 mark in finals, but that will be difficult against series favorite Golden State.
The story lines are multiple; the cumulative talent is off the chart.
James vs. Kevin Durant. Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving. Klay Thompson…Draymond Green…Kevin Love…Tristan Thompson…Zaza Pachulia (I like saying his name)…J.R. Smith…Steve Kerr…Mike Brown.
Would never bet a penny against James, but with nothing at stake…I’ll go Warriors in six. No, make that seven on the basis of familiarity with one another...and LeBron’s greatness.