SOUTH BEND — Terry Joseph has always been a teacher.
Of course, Notre Dame’s 44-year-old defensive backs coach has worn a bevy of different titles: minor league baseball player, graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator, defensive coordinator.
But, regardless of position, the lessons learned as a business law and economics teacher at Marrero (La.) Archbishop Shaw High School still persist.
“You try different things,” Joseph said of his teaching role at Archbishop Shaw, where he also coached the secondary and special teams from 1999 to 2002. “Some guys learn better doing this. Some guys learn better in this situation. It really gave me an advantage as a teacher to say, ‘Hey, not everybody learns the same way. Don’t be afraid to try different things.’ “
That outlook carried Joseph to Destrehan (La.) High School, then to a one-year stint as a graduate assistant at LSU. It allowed a former outfielder in the Chicago Cubs organization to climb the coaching ladder in college football.
He concentrated on the current rung, not the view from the top of the ladder.
“When you start out it’s about trying to be the very best at the job that you have,” Joseph said on Wednesday, after Notre Dame signed six players to wrap up a 27-player recruiting class. “Your body of work over time is going to open some doors up for some other opportunities. Fortunately for me and my family, that’s what happened for us in our career.
“But even when I was at Archbishop Shaw High School or Destrehan High School, I was trying to be the very best teacher and coach I could every single day. Luckily for me, it drew connections and with the body of my work, some other opportunities were there for me.”
Opportunities like the one at Tennessee, where he served as the recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach in 2010 and 2011; like the ones that followed at Nebraska, Texas A&M and North Carolina.
Like the one he was offered last month, and couldn’t pass up, at Notre Dame.
“I think when you have an opportunity to come to Notre Dame, as a coach or a player, you look at a chance to recruit and compete on a national stage,” Joseph said. “If you take care of your business on the field, you’ll always be in the conversation for the playoffs. As a coach, for me, that was a career-changing opportunity that I could not turn down.”
So there he stood on Wednesday, behind an oversized podium, introducing himself — and a few of his future players — to a crowd of local media. He was a long, long way from the chalkboard at Archbishop Shaw.
But don’t misunderstand: Joseph’s arrival is not an accident.
“In recruiting, it’s one thing to gain access in terms of building a relationship, but you still have to close. You can see that coach (Joseph) is going to be a closer for us,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on Wednesday. “He can go in there at the end and close. I think that’s very, very important in somebody recruiting.
“He’s an experienced recruiter. He’s recruited at the highest level. But he also understands Notre Dame. He was a quick study in terms of understanding and recognizing our distinctions here at Notre Dame, and that’s why I think he’s going to be a great asset.”
Joseph may understand Notre Dame’s distinctions, but its personnel remains a relative mystery.
The new Irish defensive backs coach — who will work primarily with ND’s safeties — is in the process of watching every game from the 2017 season to gauge the group he’s about to inherit.
He’ll familiarize himself with returning starters Nick Coleman and Jalen Elliott, with Navy transfer Alohi Gilman, with rising sophomores Jordan Genmark Heath and Isaiah Robertson, with incoming freshmen Paul Moala and Derrik Allen.
At some point, maybe, the New Orleans native will even get some sleep.
“I’m probably about halfway through, and really I’m just taking notes on every player and meeting with them as much as I can and talking with them about where they think they are, where they want to go and how I can help them get there,” Joseph said. “Over the next few weeks before we start spring practice I’ll really have a feel on what we have to do.”
Then, he gets to teach … and appreciate the view from the top of the ladder.
“I want to be known as a great teacher,” Joseph said. “I think from coaching at the high school level, and not only being a coach but a teacher in the classroom, it really helped me develop how I install, how I teach the guys concepts. I really use that experience in my career to my advantage.
“By being at every level, from GA’ing at LSU and then going to Louisiana Tech, you didn’t have all the extra support staff, so you took on a lot of different roles. So I think it helped me in my career because I had to do things besides coach my position and recruit my area. So I think that really made me appreciate the opportunities that I got down the road.”