We caught up with former Notre Dame men's basketball coach Digger Phelps on Monday afternoon and he surprised us when he confirmed interest in the vacant athletic director's job left open by the departure of Kevin White to Duke.
For more of the story, look at today's Journal Gazette. But here is part of our conversation with the ESPN college basketball analyst.
Irish Insights: How'd you become interested in the position?
Digger Phelps: "When Kevin decided to leave, Kevin did a great job at Notre Dame. When you look at whats gone on here since hes been athletic director, everybody points to football but when you look at everything else thats happened to us in all the other sports, its been a great balance of intercollegiate athletics at Notre Dame. As far as facilities and growth and development hes been outstanding. He sees the challenge at Duke as another situation to do the same thing. Dukes a great school academically and a great tradition in basketball but when you look at whats there as far as the ACC, its a challenge. I think he should be commended for what he did at Notre Dame in the years hes been here. Im just looking to whats best for Notre Dame now, for us looking forward. I think thats, I live here, Im two blocks from the place. Im always around the place. I just finished working out there at the training room for 15 minutes. I know everybody there. I know everyone in administration. I know whats going on to make this place very special. So of course youve got to have an interest in it because you care about the welfare for whats going to be the right position for Notre Dame to move forward. I also look at the four athletic directors that are out there right now, Gene Smith at Ohio State or Bubba Cunningham or Steve Orsini at SMU or Rick Chryst and what hes done in the Mid-American Conference, they are all Notre Dame alumni. They have all been here as athletes and have a feel for the place. Thats the biggest concern everybody has, is just to make sure that the tradition moves forward and knowing and understanding the insides, I think, thats whats so important for Notre Dame right now, to keep it in the family."
II: Is that why you're interested, to make sure that happens?
DP: "Yeah. Thats got to happen. When you take a look at whats at stake here at Notre Dame, the fact is everyone points to football but its more than football. Athletics without Knute Rockne and what he did back when in the 20s and 30s and what Leahy did to go three undefeated seasons in football in 47, 48, 49, that tradition now, the torch is passed on to this new century. Its more than just looking at the Golden Dome and seeing Touchdown Jesus. I look at the new softball field for the women, what they are doing to all the athletic fields to get them back and updated. I see where we are trying to put ourselves in position on this side of the street, as we say, but on the other side of the street, to see the growth of the university.
"If it wasnt for what went on with Rockne and Leahy, wed be just like our three sister schools, Portland or Kings College in Wilkes Barre, Pa. or Stonehill College in Massachusetts, wed be a small Catholic school in the Midwest and thats it. But what weve done with football is to market everything else from academics to other athletics."
II: What do you believe makes you qualified for the position?
DP: "I just think when you look at my whole life, I dont know if youve read Undertakers Son but what youve seen whats happened to me in my lifes journey, from politics to education to what Im doing building homes now in New Orleans to carrying the torch that Father Hesburgh has inspired me as a President for 35 years, what Mother Teresa is a nun, he is as a priest. I think Hesburgh a living saint. Hes taught me to be more than just a basketball coach. He taught me from coaching basketball to coaching the streets. I just spoke to the one-year MBA students at orientation. Of the 60 students in that program, four are Notre Dame graduates which means 56 of the students are non-Notre Dame undergraduates, which is what Notre Dame wants in its graduate schools, the same thing Notre Dame wants in its two-year MBA program. Im speaking at their orientation coming up in August.
"What this university does, especially through athletics as well as academics is to have that balance to where you make a difference in someone elses life that you have the ability to do that. Its more than just being accounted, its going into the community and making a difference doing that. The 20 years I coached here, the 56 guys who have played for me all graduated and theyve gone on and become more than basketball players. Theyve given back to communities and thats the real, true message of what Notre Dame is."
II: Has Notre Dame contacted you about the job?
DP: "No. I just got home last night. I was in Memphis all weekend. Im not worried about that. Obviously, whats going to go on is there is going to be a lot of speculation from a lot of people and the most important thing is what is important for this position to be filled with the right person knowing and understanding what Notre Dames direction is. "
And for the lighter side of things -- at least one Indiana student wants Digger to be more than Notre Dame's AD. She wants Phelps to run for President. Don't believe us? Check the video on the right.