What do you think of the fight on June 10?"I think the most important thing for me when I was approached by Tommy about the potential fight, after I got all the details of what it actually was, the most important thing to me was to make sure eligibility was not an issue; and to be honest with you, it was an issue right up until Tuesday afternoon. Because the one thing I had solved with both Tommy and Mr. Zbikowski, without it being etched in stone with the NCAA, was to know that there was not going to be a threat to losing his eligibility. That would have been a deal-killer for us and them. As far as that goes, they're paying him a bunch of money, and he is fighting four rounds. And it's tough for me to look at a summer job that is any better than that one. That's during that one window when these guys really have off. Really, they don't have much free time around here - they have off from the second week in May until the 18th of June - that's their time and I think that's going to be a heck of a summer job for him. I think he will do a little better financially than the rest of our guys will do in the summer job department."
Any ideas for a boxing name for Tom?"Mike Karwoski should really get a lot of credit. A lot of people don't know who he is, but he really handles all of our compliance issues. And he really did a bang-up job. You know, it's really busy with the men and women's NCAA tournaments going on and now you have a pressing issue where there's not exactly clear legislature as far as what is legal and what is not. He can be involved in the promotion of the fight, but he can't be involved in any promotion of any product. Just to make sure that we dotted the I's and crossed the T's, that was the most critical factor to make sure we had this the right way."
Do you have concerns about possible injuries?"You always have concerns about possible injuries, but the way I looked at it, the guy has fought 90 times, he's a Golden Gloves guy, and it's a four-round fight, and it's a lot of money and you always put yourself out there when something like that happens - the potential of someone getting banged up. In reality, I think I would be doing a disservice to the kid if I didn't give him the opportunity."
Did you have any hesitation about him missing practice to go to the news conference?"No, they approached me on this awhile ago and this was the one day I knew that I was going to have to let him go. He's not the only person who has missed a practice this spring. I have a couple of guys who have some bumps and bruises and they might be able to go, but I hold them out. In this case, it was the one day he had asked for to do this and, under the circumstances, I don't think this was asking too much. He's a tough, physical kid. He's doing great academically. If he was struggling academically, I wouldn't be so willing to go out of my way. The kid has really come a long way and he's tough not to like. I think with any of our kids here, when you look at each situation as its own separate entity, I think you always have to make sure that you take care of Notre Dame first, but you have to be realistic and, in this situation which was a very unusual situation, to take this opportunity away from him, I think, would have been the wrong thing to do."
Are you going to the fight?"As a matter of fact, he did invite me, but the reason I am not going – I would have gone with Charlie because we would have been glad to take the plane and go into the Garden, because I've been to the Garden for fights a whole bunch of times – this happens to be the same day that my Hannah and Friends Golf Tournament, down in South Carolina, will take place. I would definitely have gone, and I'm not promoting the Hannah and Friends Golf Outing because that's sold out, so it's not like I'm trying to get people to go down to South Carolina for it because that's already a done deal. That's the only reason I wouldn't be there, it's not because I wouldn't want to be supportive. I'll make sure I get a chance to watch it on TV and I'm sure I'll hear the fight song more than once."
In the case of Jeff (Samardzija) and Zibby, is it hard not to be selfish?"I'm looking at the longevity of the program and my feeling about guys who get draft-eligible at the third year here. You notice at a lot of other schools, everyone is jumping out early and going out early into the draft. My feelings will never change on draft-eligible players. I will always feel the only time I will support players to go on to the draft, is when they've graduated. For guys not to want to leave early, you have to give them something in return. And in return, I'm giving them support of things that are extenuating circumstances. Jeff could have been in the draft this year and he would have gone in the first round. He didn't have to go play baseball, and he didn't have to come back and play football, but he came back to play baseball and to play football. I think it would have been wrong for me not to sit down with Coach Mainieri and work out a program that was advantageous to both programs. I think in the long run, and I intend to be here a long time, each situation has to be handled as an unique situation. But I think if you want your guys to stay in school and graduate, and one of these opportunities comes along, you have to be willing to work with them. You have to give a little bit."
Will this be a one-fight opportunity?"They wanted more, but this was the only one that would fit within our timeframe. So right now, they're just worrying about one, and then we'll get back into summer school and get going. I'll deal with what happens afterwards, afterwards. Right now, let's go one step at a time. Mike Karwoski did a great job of sticking to the plan and getting a clarification through the promoter and through the NCAA so there's no loopholes where they could come back and, all of a sudden, one of your best players on your team loses eligibility because, ‘Oh by the way, we forgot to tell you this or that.'"
When did he first approach you about the fight?"It was awhile ago. It was shortly after he fought that benefit fight. I think what happened, besides him being pretty good, the people that were there - and I wasn't there - from what I understand there was a lot of energy and the place was going bananas. I think as a promoter, and you see all this energy, you feed off something like that. They were approached and immediately came to me because, fortunately for me, these guys know the way the program is set and I will work with them. Although Notre Dame Football is my number one priority, I am going to listen to each situation and give an objective answer to what I think, just as long as the kids are graduating and are not going to hurt their eligibility."
You said earlier that Tom was like some of the kids you grew up with, could you elaborate on that?"He's kind of quiet now, but once you get to know him, he's obviously busted a lot of chops, which is like a lot of guys I know. He's like one of those guys that, once he becomes one of your boys, he's always one of your boys. Growing up in New Jersey, that's what my friends were like. Once you settled in on who was going to be your friends, they are still my friends. I will spend a week in July at the Jersey shore and the same guys will be there, like they are always there."
Tom has to train differently for both sports, what makes him excel in both?"I think he is very, very tough. And besides being tough, I think he has skills. Boxing isn't for everybody. A lot of guys are really, really strong, but those guys aren't necessarily going to be good boxers. A lot of football players would not fare so well in the ring. I don't want to get into analyzing boxers, but he obviously has quick hands and must know how to defend himself. I'm not an expert on boxing, but I know he's a pretty darn good football player, and I'm glad we have him."
With the anniversary of Knute Rockne's death, would you talk a little bit about him?"Just look at the background of how the guy got the job. Basically, taking a job in the chemistry department and only taking the job if they would let him go out and hang out with the head coach. Next thing you know, he's the coach and changing the whole nature of the game. All of a sudden, there's shifting and passes being thrown; and all of a sudden he's got an 881 winning percentage. How many coaches in the history of football – pro or college – have a winning percentage like that? You might have a couple in high school, but not in pro or college. The fact that he died when he was at the top of his game, was a true travesty, but it also is a role model for anyone to see how a guy came in and took a program to the top and just kept on winning and winning. Unfortunately, sometimes as it is in sports and in life, he goes out at the top of his game, but he sets the bar and everyone else tries to live up to the bar he set. It's time for us to reflect on true greatness because that was what he was."
Haven't seen James Aldridge out there, is he okay?"I've kind of held him out a little bit because it's one of those things where, coming in here, he's a little sore, but he's out there after you guys leave. I don't let him out there when you guys are there because he's not running full speed and then I'd have to read about him not running full speed out there. So I figured I'd keep him inside and hide him until after you're gone, is what we are doing. I just want to be cautionary because sometimes you think something is nothing, but you want to be sure before you put him back out there. I'm going to err on the side of caution in the spring before we put him out there; we're not risking any danger."