Talking Irish: Bill Belichick

The Notre Dame football program and its fans are often unapologetic in espousing the virtues of their graduated athletes. Thursday night in South Bend, New England Patriots head coach and three-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick echoed those Irish partisans.

Minutes before his appearance at Notre Dame's coach's clinic, one of the greatest coaches in the history of team sports pulled out his chair inside the Joyce Center's basketball auditorium.

In a seat previously occupied by the likes of Lou Holtz, opposing basketball coaching legends such as Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, and Jim Boeheim, and, in December 2004, by one of Belichick's protege's, Charlie Weis, Belichick noted what appeared to be an enjoyable career first, this after nearly four decades spent coaching his sport:

"I've never sat in front of the Notre Dame backdrop…"

"Basically I'm here really because of coach (Brian) Kelly," he began. "We were able to spend some time together out at Pebble Beach (Pro Am Tournament) and he asked me to come to the clinic here today. Of course, I have great respect for him and his program…he's a New England guy, we have a lot in common.

"I appreciate the job he's done here. Certainly last year was a great year, but the job that he's done with his program and quality of people that he turns out. I'm here to support him."

Belichick offered first-hand account of his personal favorite son from the University, standout tight end Mark Bavaro (1982-85).

"Well we had (wide receiver) David Givens, we had (defensive back) Mike Richardson," he began, "But I go back to Mark Bavaro -- he's about as Notre Dame as they come. They're all smart, they're tough, disciplined. You're not going to get through four years at the program Notre Dame has, academically as well as socially, and also from a football standpoint it takes a lot from a kid, a lot of discipline.

"I think that's the kind of player you see come out of here. Kids that are smart, that are well-coached, that have more than football in their lives, that have done a lot of things here interacting with the student body."

The Epitome

Of all the virtues Belichick listed pertaining to a Notre Dame football player, toughness is most apt to describe the two-time Super Bowl champion Pro Bowler, Bavaro.

"Mark Bavaro, that guy is right at the top. As good of a football player as I've ever had the opportunity to coach and be around. Not just his athleticism, which was good, but all the other things that Mark brought: his toughness, his dependability, his passion for the game, his values and what he brought as a person to the football team and the respect that he gained from his teammates and coaches and everybody that interacted with him."

"Of all the players I've been with, I couldn't' put more of a Notre Dame stamp on a guy than Mark."

Belichick's influence and teaching had an undeniable impact on one of Bavaro's closest friends, former Notre Dame head coach, Charlie Weis.

"We had a great relationship and he had a lot of great players and recruited a lot of the ones that are coming out this year as well," Belichick said of Weis' final class in 2009, one that included Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood, and returning team captain Zack Martin.

"Charlie had a great impact on this program and had a lot of success here. His mark is still here. Coach Kelly has certainly taken that to a great level in his three years here. Notre Dame has a great tradition of coaches, obviously. I don't think that's ever been a big problem here, coaches and players have had a lot of good football here."

Belichick's aforementioned time spent on the links with Kelly led to the former's appearance Thursday night. So too, apparently, did a few errant drives.

"We spent a lot of time together in Pebble Beach. Of course, he was the winner in that one, he played well and made the final cut. But we played together for three days and when you're out there hitting as many shots as we did you get some extra time to hang out and just get caught up on a lot of things. Football and some things we have in common in our career, families, situations and so forth.

"We were hitting a lot out of the same bunker."

Belichick was the event's keynote speaker. Before taking the stage inside the Purcell Pavilion, he found time to speak with those closest to the program.

"Its great to be able to get out on the road and be at great programs like Notre Dame. To see some of the things they do and the way the facilities are set up and the way they operate and just to talk football and talk shop -- converse about some of the similar problems we face," Belichick offered.

"I spent some time with some of the players today and (Kelly's) fine staff. I have the upmost respect for the program that he runs and I'm privileged to be a part of the (clinic) tonight."

The clinic continues with more than 12 hours of sessions Friday and ends mid-afternoon Saturday with a full practice viewing open to both participants and media.

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