Former Notre Dame kicker John Carney likes what he sees in Brindza

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

Hint 1: Only five players in the history of the NFL have played in more games than the 321 in which this former Notre Dame player competed.

Hint 2: He came to Notre Dame a walk-on and still holds a spot in the ND record book, but perhaps not for long.

Hint 3: Twice he earned spots in the NFL Pro Bowl, following the 1994 and 2008 seasons, and in ’94 was named first-team All-Pro.

If you answered former Irish kicker John Carney, you did like Carney did 478 times in the NFL on field-goal attempts and 628 times on extra points. You nailed it.

“I did not realize that a pro career was a possibility until I was coming out of school. I decided I’d been kicking footballs now for seven years, maybe I should give this NFL opportunity a try,” said Carney, who played at ND from 1983-86 before embarking on an NFL career that lasted until 2010 and included stints with seven different teams, the bulk of his years spent in San Diego and New Orleans.

“As my career continued, the new challenge was how long can I make this last, how long can I stay on this wave until it hits the beach.”

It took a long, long time for that wave to land as Carney’s pro career continued to stay afloat as he continued to make kicks. After three years trying to catch on, Carney found stability in San Diego, where he kicked for 10 seasons and was later named one of the 50 greatest Chargers of all-time.

That was followed by a six-year stint in New Orleans before Carney served as a hired gun of sorts, joining teams whose kickers were either injured or ineffective.

“That was fun to basically play like a relief pitcher where they needed someone to come in out of the bullpen and be ready immediately to jump into the mix,” Carney said. “I kind of learned on the go because when you come into a situation midseason because of a kicker being injured or underperforming, you have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. You have that workout on Tuesday, you’re practicing with the team on Wednesday and you’re playing a game on that Sunday. So things happen real fast.”

One thing that could be happening real fast is Carney seeing his name drop down a spot in Notre Dame’s record book. Carney’s 51 career field goals are the most in school history, but that record is under siege and will likely be broken by senior Kyle Brindza, who has 49.

“I assumed that Kyle was going to break the record there because he’s been there for a while and been doing such a great job,” Carney said. “I’m very excited for him. He deserves it. He’s put the work in and developed a skill and I’m looking forward to him pushing some new numbers into the record book.”

Carney’s appreciation for Brindza grew after he watched the Irish beat Navy in person last season. What Carney has noticed is an even-keeled kicker who has thrived under pressure at Notre Dame.

“As a place-kicker or punter you need that temperament. You can’t be riding an emotional rollercoaster, but you need to be a smooth, calm, cool character,” Carney said. “He has that in his makeup.”

What’s in Carney’s makeup nowadays is family life and coaching. Carney has three children – a tennis-playing daughter who is a freshman in high school, a sophomore son who plays quarterback on his high school football team, and a 22-year-old son who is set to join the Air Force.

Carney has developed a niche for working with kickers as well. After being a solo act for a long time in terms of offseason training, Carney began working with other NFL kickers as his career evolved. Coaching high school, college and pro kickers has since become his occupation.

“No, it wasn’t what I had planned on doing in retirement,” said Carney, a Florida native. “I was hoping to open up a modestly successful bait-and-tackle shop down in Florida, spending my days fishing. All my family – wife and children – have been born out here in California and they’re pretty anchored here.”

Carney, who is hopeful that Brindza will work out with him in preparation for the NFL, has developed a legs-on approach to working with his pupils.

“It keeps me young. I don’t ask my clients to do anything I can’t do. I train alongside them, kick with them,” he said. “I really enjoy it and I’m always, not surprised, but pleased with the next generation, how they’re curious, interested and motivated to hear what I have to say and to learn my routines and the keys to my success. They’re very receptive to it, and it’s my pleasure to pass it along to them.”