Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (center) runs into the line for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Irish’s matchup with Oklahoma Oct. 27. Whitehall High School alum Pat Welsh is a graduate assistant coach for Notre Dame this season and has
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Lifelong Notre Dame fan Pat Welsh never even considered life would lead him here. When he had a room dedicated to the Fighting Irish as a child, he couldn’t have guessed he’d one day be able to directly help the team.
Even when he began coaching at Whitehall shortly after graduation in 2005 under then-head coach Andy Malbouef, no amount of daydreaming led Welsh to the situation he’s in now.
“It’s surreal,” Welsh said of his current job, offensive graduate assistant at the program he’s loved all his life. “I always imagined I’d be coaching at a high school level. Ever since (being hired) I feel like I’m playing with house money.”
Welsh joined Brian Kelly’s staff at Notre Dame this season as a graduate assistant on offense, where he aids the Irish’s offensive-line coach Harry Hiestand, also new to the staff this year, in molding the big men up front. While it may be coincidence, the Irish have not lost a game since Welsh joined the staff and at press time was ranked #1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, their first ascension to the top spot in the rankings since 1993.
What is almost certainly not coincidence is Welsh’s role in the work the Irish’s front line has done to help make the team’s run possible.
Notre Dame’s offensive line has paved the way for a running attack that averages over 200 yards per game and has given the Irish’s sophomore quarterback Everett Golson the time he needs to make good decisions. It all adds up to a Notre Dame offense that has turned the ball over just 13 times this season through 11 games after giving the ball away 29 times in its 13 games in 2011.
Welsh, for his part, gives a lot of credit for Notre Dame’s improvement up front to Hiestand, a veteran offensive-line coach.
“We work really well together,” Welsh said. “He’s been coaching lines for 30 years. He oversees things, but he trusts me enough to let me run drills. I’m learning so much from him. He’s renowned as one of the best line coaches in football.”
Notre Dame played Southern California Saturday after the Beacon went to press, and there’s probably no one on the Irish staff who knows the price of a complacent top-ranked Irish team more than Welsh, who said he vividly recalls watching the Irish’s loss to Boston College the Saturday after ascending to the top spot 19 years ago.
Of course, there were stops along the way before Welsh ended up on the coaching staff of the country’s top-ranked team.
Welsh joined the Whitehall staff as a volunteer after a year attending Hope College. He coached the quarterbacks for the varsity team and was offensive coordinator for the JV squad.
After being bit by the coaching bug, Welsh enrolled at Grand Valley State and, with some help from then-Muskegon High School coach Tony Annese, became a student assistant under then-Lakers head coach Chuck Martin. After Martin left to join former boss Kelly’s staff at Notre Dame, Welsh spent a year as a defensive assistant at Grand Valley before accepting the job coaching quarterbacks at Division III Wittenberg College in Ohio.
He spent a year doing that before receiving a call from his former boss, Martin. Turned out that Martin was replacing Charley Molnar as the Irish’s offensive coordinator after Molnar took the head-coaching job at Massachusetts. Martin had a graduate assistant spot to fill on his offensive staff. Would Welsh be interested in interviewing?
The job entails no pay, only remission of graduate tuition. The hours are ludicrous — “Monday to Wednesday is 7 a.m. to midnight,” Welsh said almost flippantly.
It was a chance to coach at Notre Dame. Welsh was never turning down this job.
“He gave me an opportunity and I took it and ran with it,” Welsh said of Martin. “We’ve become close over the last few years. He’s a tremendous coach. His presence on our staff is a huge reason we’re having such a successful season.”
Welsh was also complimentary of his CEO, Brian Kelly, who, like Welsh, got his big coaching break at Grand Valley.
“We interact pretty much on a daily basis through staff meetings and offensive interactions,” Welsh said. “I actually hadn’t met him until I came down for my interview. He’s an unbelievable person. He’s got a great relationship with all the players.”
However, the most important relationship in Welsh’s life, besides the one with his wife Jacqueline, is with his family back home, a family that’s probably bigger Irish fans now, with Pat on staff, than they’ve ever been.
The family being Michigan natives added an extra degree of satisfaction for Welsh when the Irish defeated Michigan State and Michigan in consecutive weeks in September.
“I grew up in Michigan and lived around Michigan and Michigan State fans,” Welsh said. “It was a nice revenge factor to beat both those schools. It’s an unbelievable blessing to be a part of this university and football program.”
Surprisingly, the family is not constantly plugging Welsh for inside information on each week’s game, but they’re still close, and Welsh talks with his family often.
“The running joke going into it was, there was going to be a direct line constantly,” Welsh said. “I call my dad and we talk two or three times a week. We text constantly about what’s going on. They’re always there with congratulations.”
While the Irish entered Saturday’s game with aspirations of a trip to the national-title game, which will be held in Miami this season at the site of the Orange Bowl, Welsh knows no matter the outcome, his family will be thrilled to follow him to whatever major bowl game the team is destined for.
“My family is going to be excited wherever we end up playing, and they’re looking forward to traveling and following us,” Welsh said. “We’ve got to take care of the Trojans first.”
While Notre Dame works out its destination for a postseason bowl game, Welsh hasn’t even considered what his next move may be. While being an assistant in South Bend has been a jumping-off point for such coaches as Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the Whitehall alum said he’s barely realized the fact that he’s working at Notre Dame, let alone where he may go next.
“I get that question a lot, where I see myself going, and I respond the same way,” Welsh said. “I just want to ride it out, I keep enjoying where I’m at and trying to get better and I’ll see where it takes me.”
Welsh’s coaching philosophy hasn’t changed much since gaining his new position. He said seeing the way Kelly, Martin and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff handles their business during practice has only reinforced his already-held beliefs about what makes a successful coach on the field and off.
Welsh also notes that he’s utilizing concepts discussed in his graduate classes while performing his coaching tasks.
“We discuss certain coaching topics and philosophies and the differences between younger and older kids,” Welsh said. “It’s right up my alley. It definitely translates to on-field experience and dealing with personalities.”
The personalities at Notre Dame, though, haven’t been hard to deal with, as Welsh said he enjoys all the players. He didn’t single any one player out as a positive influence, saying all of them have given him nothing but good things to say.
“Our locker room is filled with good guys who care about each other,” Welsh said. “We don’t feel like we have anyone bringing us down in any way. You hear about all the problems in college athletics, but everyone here cherishes this season and their success.”