Gerry DiNardo discusses path from player to coach to BTN
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Members of the 1973 National Championship team will be honored during the Notre Dame - Stanford game. Gerry DiNardo, former offensive lineman, sat down with Allison Hayes to discuss the magical season and his transition from playing to coaching to anchoring.
Long before Gerry DiNardo became a household name for Big Ten football fans he was just a young kid with the dream of playing football.
Gerry's older brother Larry was an All-American at Notre Dame so it would make sense for the younger DiNardo to follow in his footsteps.
"No, I actually dreamt of the opposite. Larry was a really good student. Larry was the perfect child, I wasn't and I didn't want to follow in his footsteps. He was really good in school. He was a great college football player, a great college football player and I said, 'I don't want to do this," DiNardo said. "Ara and I talked and I left there forgetting about Larry and thinking about 'That's the guy I wanted to play for.' I couldn't say no to Notre Dame and I couldn't say no to Ara."
Few men have had that caliber of influence on DiNardo's life
"He was bigger than life, but he was approachable and that's an incredible quality for someone like him to have. He was a powerful presence. You always knew when he was in the room. He was one of those guys who took the room over before he got there. He knew the game. I learned this when I got into coaching. If you're going to coach, you better know the game," DiNardo said. "Ara would get after us, but you wanted to be with him. You looked forward to being with him."
DiNardo was an offensive lineman for Notre Dame and in 1973, the Irish had one of those magical seasons where everything just fell into place.
"Alabama was above us, Oklahoma, Michigan and Ohio State, as I remember it. And we had off the weekend of the Michigan vs Ohio State game. So at the end of practice, Ara calls us up to tell us to be good boys over the weekend and he also says, just hope that Michigan and Ohio State tie, because if they tie that opens the door for us. And, sure enough they tie and again to get back to Ara, we thought he made them tie," DiNardo said. "So, we wound up playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. We won 24-23, Bear Bryant vs Ara Parseghian. It was a game of the ages."
DiNardo was named an All-American in 1974.
After graduation, DiNardo took on a new role going from player to coach.
He got his first coaching job at the University of Maine and worked his way up the ranks.
"I have to tell you, I was in it maybe an hour and I said this is what I want to do the rest of my life," DiNardo said.
He was the offensive coordinator at the University of Colorado when the Buffalos won the 1990 National Championship.
The following year he took his first head coaching job at Vanderbilt where he was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1991 before eventually moving onto LSU from 95 to 99 where his Tigers won the SEC West Division twice.
"We beat Florida when they were number one. We beat Notre Dame in the Independence Bowl after they had beat us during the season, so that was good. We won the West a couple times but we lost the tie breaker both times. We won ten games one year and they hadn't won ten games in their history," DiNardo said.
DiNardo spent nearly 30 years of his life coaching, finishing his career at Indiana University in 2004.
What does he love about coaching?
"I loved the science of the game, I loved to study the game and the relationships. The players," DiNardo said. "And one of the things I miss about coaching is being in the staff room and you have a problem. Whether it's a first down, a third down or whether it's a discipline problem, or one of your guys is going through a tough time and having a bunch of smart people think through and solve a problem. I just think that's so stimulating."
When his coaching career came to an end he made another transition from the sidelines to the anchor desk.
After two years at ESPN DiNardo was named on air analyst for the launch of the Big Ten Network in 2007 where he has honed his craft ever since with a great team around him.
Whether it's analyzing, coaching or playing, DiNardo's love of the game has always shined through.
"I played on a National Championship team and so I always look at that opportunity, being an average Joe and winning a National Championship. It was a gift, it was just incredible that someone like me could have a chance to do that," DiNardo said.
DiNardo's daughter Kate graduated from Notre Dame in 2003.
Even though he is planning to tailgate with his former teammates, he won't be in the stadium during the game. His favorite spot is at the bar at the Morris Inn with his favorite bartender - Murphy.