NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Bill Belichick hasn’t had many Notre Dame graduates play for him during his two-decade long career as a head coach in the NFL. But the ones he’s had - particularly a tight end during his days as an assistant with the New York Giants - left a lasting impression on him.
“We had David Givens, we had Mike Richardson, and I go back to Mark Bavaro,” said Belichick, the three-time Super Bowl champion head coach of the New England Patriots, who was the featured speaker Thursday night at the annual Notre Dame coaches clinic.
“Mark Bavaro is right at the top. He’s about as Notre Dame as they come.”
Belichick was invited to kick off Notre Dame’s annual coaches clinic, where hundreds of high school and college coaches gathered to hear pearls of wisdom from guys like Belichick and former Nevada head coach Chris Ault, who is the mind behind the innovative Pistol offense.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and new Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman are the featured speakers Friday night.
Brian Kelly will conclude Friday’s events with a presentation of his own. Belichick said Kelly invited him to speak at the clinic when they played together in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in January.
“When you hit as many shots as we did, you get some extra time to hang out, talk football and talk about some things we have in common in our careers,” Belichick said. “We were hitting a lot out of the same bunker.”
Belichick offered a profile of the Notre Dame players he’s encountered during his coaching career, which includes a total of five Super Bowl championships - three as a head coach and two as an assistant.
“They’re all smart, they’re tough, and they’re disciplined,” Belichick said. “To get through four years here with the program that Notre Dame has academically, socially and from a football standpoint takes a lot from a kid. That’s the kind of player you see come out of here. Kids that are smart, well-versed and have more than football in their lives.”
Belichick, like his former assistant, Charlie Weis, was particularly fond of Bavaro, the great Notre Dame tight end from the early ‘80s who helped lead the New York Giants to a Super Bowl title.
“He was as good a football player as I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and be around,” said Belichick of Bavaro. “Not just athleticism, which was good, but all the other things Mark brought like his toughness, 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.
“Of all the players I’ve been with, I couldn’t put any more of a stamp on a guy than Mark.”
Belichick also was impressed with Notre Dame’s 2012 defense, which he saw on film in recent months as he and his staff prepared for the late-April NFL draft.
“Coach Kelly, Bob (Diaco) and his staff have done a nice job,” Belichick said. “They’re well-schooled and disciplined. They play really good defense in every area. They’re good fundamentally, have good schemes, play good on early downs, rush the passer...They’re good in the red area and didn’t give up a lot of points last year.”
Although Belichick hasn’t had an abundance of Notre Dame players under him during his coaching career, he knows what he’s getting when he gets a Fighting Irish alum.
“They’ve certainly played on the big stage,” Belichick said. “They’ve played in front of a lot of pressure: TV games, sellout crowds…the expectations of the Notre Dame football program are extremely high. When they go to the next level, that’s not something that they’re in awe of because of what they experienced here.”
Belichick also gave a shout out to Weis, the former Irish head coach.
“I know Charlie had a great impact on this program and had a lot of success here,” Belichick said. “His mark is still here, and Coach Kelly has taken that to a great level. Notre Dame has a great tradition of coaches. I don’t think that’s ever been a problem here.”