Feb 1, 2010

The Stars Weigh In


January 29, 2010

The Stars Weigh In: Frank Pomarico


by LOU SOMOGYI
Senior Editor
As a Notre Dame starting offensive guard from 1971-73, and a tri-captain with tight end Dave Casper and defensive back Mike Townsend for the 1973 national champs, offensive guard Frank Pomarico waxes poetic about his days with the Irish.

“Every day of practice with (head coach) Ara Parseghian was a Camelot experience for me,” Pomarico said. “Notre Dame and Ara Parseghian are very meaningful to my life, but the school in its whole is a tremendous place, especially with Father (Ted) Hesburgh’s example of leadership and giving back to the community.”

Category: General
Posted by: Frank
January 29, 2010

The Stars Weigh In: Frank Pomarico


by LOU SOMOGYI
Senior Editor
As a Notre Dame starting offensive guard from 1971-73, and a tri-captain with tight end Dave Casper and defensive back Mike Townsend for the 1973 national champs, offensive guard Frank Pomarico waxes poetic about his days with the Irish.

“Every day of practice with (head coach) Ara Parseghian was a Camelot experience for me,” Pomarico said. “Notre Dame and Ara Parseghian are very meaningful to my life, but the school in its whole is a tremendous place, especially with Father (Ted) Hesburgh’s example of leadership and giving back to the community.”

A longtime resident of South Bend, Ind., the New York native Pomarico lived about a mile from the school for a couple of decades after his football days, before moving to Jackson, Mich., where he is a high school coach for Lumen Christi (which won the Division 5 state title in November) while also still involved in a diverse sales career. These days, he still follows the Irish closely, but is even more in tune with the Michigan Wolverines, where his son, 6-4, 253-pound Tom, is a walk-on junior and the starting long snapper. Pomarico’s daughter, Lisa, graduated from Notre Dame in 2003. 

 1. What is a realistic yearly expectation you have for Notre Dame football?

Pomarico:
It’s always an empty feeling when you don’t see Notre Dame in a bowl game, and that’s been happening too often (five times in the last 11 years). You want to be very competitive in every game and win at least eight in a 12-game season. Do they have to win the national championship? No, but you want to have a feeling they can be in the hunt. In my four years there, we felt we were in the hunt every year, and that was important. Can they be again? With the right coach, yes.

2. What do you think is most needed in the program to become a viable, consistent BCS and national title contender?

Pomarico:
You need to hone in on the character of the people you are recruiting and realize they are going to be leaders of society when they leave Notre Dame. With that foundation of kids to go with the right coaching, if Navy and Georgia Tech can be successful and win 10 games, then Notre Dame also can be there, especially because it can also go after premier student-athletes all across the country.

3. Why do you think Notre Dame has struggled so long? Coaching, talent, schedule, academics, strategy, luck …

Pomarico: They have not had the right person in there as the head coach, someone who sparks excitement in the alumni, and especially the players themselves, to take it to the higher level. That’s not a knock on the coaching ability of the people who have been hired, but it takes a unique person to spark that spirit at Notre Dame, because the job demands more than just preparation and recruiting. Once you’re able to get to this level, everyone knows his Xs and Os pretty well. What has to set you apart at Notre Dame is understanding and embracing everything that makes the university.

4. Joe Montana indicated that Notre Dame, because of its academic requirements, has become similar to Stanford in football — where an 8-4 or maybe 9-3 record is a fine season. Do you agree?

Pomarico: The talent today is spread out greater than it was in my time, when there was more disparity between the top teams and everyone else. But I still think Notre Dame gets as much talent as just about anyone, or certainly enough to be beating a lot of the teams they aren’t. Notre Dame still has more talent than most teams on its schedule, except USC — and even when I was playing USC had more athletes. That’s nothing new. To say the only way Notre Dame can compete is by lowering its standards, that’s a cop-out.

5. Do you agree with Lou Holtz that with the improved facilities, early enrollees, better salaries, friendlier schedules, including seven home games, etc., Notre Dame is in a better position to win than 20-25 years ago?

Pomarico: I believe they are in a better situation to be productive and win. Even when I went there, a lot of our supposed drawbacks didn’t hinder us.

When I enrolled (1970), Notre Dame still wasn’t coed. That wasn’t a big deal to me because I came from an all-boys Catholic school and enjoyed that kind of camaraderie. On the campus, you could do things you probably couldn’t had there been girls around. I was even initially against the school going coed (in 1972) — but I changed my mind drastically once my daughter went and graduated from there.

The salaries for the coaches were miniscule compared to today. Our locker-room situation would be considered a joke today. We had the same rickety lockers from the days of Knute Rockne — but that didn’t bother me because I thought it was nostalgic and an honor. It seared into the core of my body. The South Dining Hall was the same from years past with all the old, beautiful murals, and we didn’t need all the new facilities they have now.

For me, and I think I speak for a lot of people from my era, the thrill was just to be at Notre Dame and around Ara. Going to Notre Dame was like an appointment to royalty, and you felt like a knight at the round table. It was very personal. Ara emphasized the powerful tradition, but at the same he reminded us, “Nobody from the past can make the tackles or blocks or touchdowns for you, so our responsibility is not to live off it, but add to it!”

6. What was your reaction to Brian Kelly’s hiring, and did you have your own favorite choices?

Pomarico: He was not my choice but I think it’s a good hire. I really thought they were going to get Bob Stoops, who I was pulling for. As someone who played with and is friends with Tommy Clements and Gerry DiNardo, I had always hoped they would get the opportunity, but they would now be considered too old.

Brian Kelly is saying all the right things. He’s a good speaker who embraces the alumni, former players, the people on campus and really seems to understand the spirit of the school. He is getting a lot of people on his side, and he is good at that — and I think that can help him be great at recruiting. From a coaching standpoint, he has a good track record and has proven himself as a good college coach.

7. Besides winning, what would be your top recommendation to Brian Kelly?

Pomarico: Exactly what we talked about — embrace the alumni and student body and get to know the people who comprise the school, not just live in an ivory tower in the Guglielmino (Athletics Complex). Ara sometimes would just walk the campus — obviously not during the busy times — just to be out there, not be some isolated figure, or there would be spontaneous rallies involved with the coaches. The staff immersed itself into the student body, and they were people you could shake hands with, touch and talk to normally.

It’s important to understand that you don’t have to be at Notre Dame to have the Notre Dame Spirit. The proof was Ara, who wasn’t a graduate of the school or Catholic, but he was a manifestation of what Notre Dame is and should be. Study all that Notre Dame is and then let it crystallize in how you conduct yourself personally and interact with everyone. Be that King Arthur who sits in that powerful seat, but also keep that common touch with the people who comprise the school, and make everyone feel like we’re in this together.

8. What is the most overrated and underrated aspects of coaching?

Pomarico: The overrated stuff is all the publicity recruits get every year. How many times over the years have you seen people saying what a great class Notre Dame brought in and doesn’t materialize? There was a lot of talent when Ara came here (1964), but what were they, 2-7? They hadn’t had a winning season in years. There are great kids all over the place, and if you don’t maximize the full potential or development of what you have, then it won’t matter what you get.

That takes you to the most underrated aspect — which is putting people in the right position or system to succeed and motivating them to do so. You might have a quarterback who can throw great, but can he run a certain style of offense like the spread? If Jimmy Clausen ran the spread, would he have been as effective? It’s important to be able to identify the talent that can excel for you not try to put the square pegs into round holes.

9. How important are motivational skills to a college coach compared to a pro coach, or should a player be more self-motivated?

Pomarico: It seemed to me the kids liked Charlie Weis, but for whatever reason, the team often looked lethargic. In college, it’s much easier to get to the soul of a player, and that comes through the preparation, organization and intensity the coach and his staff provide. When you see that, you know you’re willing to be in a foxhole with that coach. You know he’ll have you at your best and you in turn don’t want to let him down.

10. What has been the biggest change in football you’ve seen over the years?

Pomarico: One of the great things I had was we weren’t totally engulfed by the coaching staff 24-7-365. We really did have an off-season that allowed us to regenerate our batteries and get back our hunger for the game. You had more time to yourself and with people on the campus. We started working out again about four weeks before the start of spring practice, and then we would go home in the summer. Weight training was so much more unsophisticated then. I lifted some and also did a lot of other athletic things like play handball, run …

Sometimes your “weight training” came from lifting heavy equipment in your job, or in construction. You would have a summer job to have some of your own revenue during the school year, you could regenerate your mental battery, yet at the same time you worked out and prepared on your own. You knew that if you didn’t work out, you’d have a hard time making it. There was just a driven spirit.

I also think that for many of the players back then, just being able to come and suit up for Notre Dame was the highlight of his athletic career. For more people now, it’s about getting to the NFL because the money is so enormous. Back then you came to Notre Dame to play for a great coach, you came because it’s a spiritual place, a place where the mind was opened up and asked why am I important to the world. You realized you were here to make a difference, to be a leader, one to provide hope to people. Some guys still wanted to go on to the NFL and had it as a goal, but it’s not like the money was there the way it is now.