Rod West, Executive Vice President and the Chief Administrative Officer of Entergy and Notre Dame football alum, talks about his playing career, his favorite coach and why the Irish will beat Alabama in the BCS national championship game on Monday.
What was the deciding factor when you signed with Notre Dame?
The deciding factor for me was Notre Dame’s rich football tradition and the fact that Notre Dame expected its student athletes to be students first. It wasn’t just a slogan; it was part of the culture. No athletic dorms, the football players were full participants in academic and residential life on campus. Additionally, having played in the Catholic League at Brother Martin High School, Notre Dame was also a familiar environment in terms of the roles of spirituality in campus life.
What made playing there special for you?
The journey toward success. Not just winning the championship, but the process that went into becoming the best in the nation. I remember the hard work and the adversity, the relationships with my teammates, the faculty and student body.
How much have your playing exploits been enhanced when you tell your kids about them?
The beauty , of my household is that my wife was an outstanding and heralded athlete at LSU, and my daughter could care less about the specifics of my football career! She knows her dad played football at Notre Dame for Lou Holtz, that he played on the 1988 national championship team, and that was ancient history as far as she is concerned!
The Fighting Irish haven’t won a national championship since 1988 when you were playing. What’s taken them so long?
As a former college football player and now university trustee (LSU 2000-2012, Notre Dame 2009-present), I’ve witnessed the college recruiting landscape change dramatically in the last 30 years from generational culture changes to coaching. In prior decades, Notre Dame enjoyed a competitive advantage over some schools because of its national brand and the fact that Notre Dame was always on television. Now, with so many television networks and national and regional sports coverage, that competitive advantage has been mitigated greatly. Additionally, the economics of professional sports and the lure of big pay days for the gifted athlete flies in the face of Notre Dame’s identity and culture as a place where athletes are expected to stay for four years and earn a degree. That being said, there is no team, no matter the school, that’s ever achieved success without a number of things falling into place at the right time. It starts at the top with having a coach who understands what it means to recruit and coach today’s athletes, and certainly the university having something that today’s blue chip athletes find attractive, e.g., great weather, beaches, social life (clearly a recruiting challenge in South Bend, Ind.). Notre Dame is a special place, but it’s not for everyone. The key for Notre Dame has been to find the right combination of coaching, recruiting and developing talent on the field and balancing the challenging academic demands that are not going to change because a young man is a football player. Notre Dame has finally found success on the field, and I couldn’t be more proud of the coaching staff and those young men. It’s been a long time coming, but they’ve arrived right on time.
Rudy or Knute Rockne: All American? Which is the better movie?
I’ve watched them both. I consider Rudy a more modern remake of the Notre Dame story. They both helped to bolster the Notre Dame brand in their day. Today’s kids associate Notre Dame with Rudy, but their grandparents knew Ronald Reagan as the Gipper.
Your wife was an LSU basketball player. Who’d win if you went one-on-one?
I will never play my wife one on one. First, she’d probably win, secondly, if I beat her, I’d lose. . . Explain to me how playing her would be a good idea? But seriously, my wife had an incredible basketball career at LSU.
You’re also a Sugar Bowl member. What do you think of the new agreement with the SEC and Big 12?
Change is the only constant in this football equation. I’m like most people, I’m interested in seeing how this will play out. But when you think about the quality of football coming out of those two conferences, you’ve got to be excited about where we stand. Of course, I’m biased in the bowl game scenarios. I think the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans sets the standard by which other bowl organizations and host cities are judged.
Is the four-team playoff which begins in 2014 enough, or should they go to 8 or 16?
There will never be a specific number that satisfies the fan bases. If the number is four, then teams 5-10 feel like they got the short end of the stick. I think 16 teams would drag the football season out too long and would call into question the increasingly tenuous notion of these athletes as amateurs. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. Let’s give it a chance to be successful and see how it plays out. The fans will vote by their feet and viewership.
Brian Kelly, Nick Saban, Lou Holtz or Les Miles. If you had to pick a coach to win one game, who would it be?
All great coaches in their own right, but I will always believe I played for one of the best game-day coaches to ever prowl the sidelines. My vote goes to Holtz.
Pick both with your head and your heart. Who’s going to win Monday night?
My head tells me that Alabama deserves to be the favorite in this game and that they have earned every benefit of the doubt by what they have accomplished on the field these past several years. My heart tells me that this will be a close game and that the Irish will shake up the world Monday night. Notre Dame 21, Alabama 20. Go Irish!!!
This story was updated on Jan. 5, 2013 to correct Rod West’s title with Entergy.