Former Irish QB Coley O'Brien has eyes on, family ties with Stanford

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

It’s now going on 50 years since Coley O’Brien helped Notre Dame capture the 1966 national championship – yes, it’s been that long – but the former Irish quarterback still watches extra closely the fortunes of his alma mater.

How closely? Just a few hours after this week’s depth chart was released, he was talking how big it was to have slot receiver Amir Carlisle back from injury. He knows that the two-deep has been permeated by young players. Like many, he wondered about the future of the five players prohibited from practicing or playing because of the academic fraud investigation.

And then there’s this week, Stanford week, and O’Brien’s interest gets ratcheted up yet another notch. Why? Because Kevin Hogan, the Cardinal’s starting quarterback, is O’Brien’s nephew.

“I root for Kevin and I root for Notre Dame to win; for Kevin to play well and for Notre Dame to win,” O’Brien said with a chuckle. “Then you get everybody satisfied. Except the Stanford fans.”

Hogan, a redshirt junior, was pegged as a pro-style quarterback coming out of high school, meaning there really wasn’t a fit with Notre Dame, which was looking at dual-threat prospects. Hogan committed to Stanford the summer before his senior season at Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C. and Kelly later that year secured current starter Everett Golson.

“I don’t think Notre Dame came (after Kevin). I think Kevin was really interested in Notre Dame because his father went there, all his uncles went there. The family ties are very deep. But as far as the offense that Notre Dame runs, it’s not suitable for Kevin. Stanford is a better fit, a much better fit. And I think Coach Kelly would say the same thing,” said O’Brien, whose sister is Hogan’s mother.

“When I heard about Stanford’s offer, I said that very same thing, that boy, that’s a great spot for him because he’s that type of quarterback -- Andrew Luck, drop-back, pro set -- and that was a perfect situation for him, and it’s worked out for the best. It suits his skills and the Notre Dame offense does not. I’m sure Kelly looked at that and said he doesn’t fit our offensive framework.”

O’Brien, himself a D.C. product, played at Notre Dame from 1966 to 1968. As a sophomore in 1966, he replaced injured starter Terry Hanratty in the epic 10-10 tie with Michigan State. The following week O’Brien completed 21 of 31 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-0 drumming of USC as the Irish captured the national title.

O’Brien later took a backseat to a healthy Hanratty and eventually switched to running back, but still relishes that ’66 title. In two years, the team will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the championship.

“It doesn’t seem like 50 years,” O’Brien said. “Goodness. Fifty years. Wow.”

In the five decades since, O’Brien has done quite well for himself. He worked for NASA and later served on the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives from 2006-12. O’Brien retired in 2012 at age 65 and lives in the D.C. area.

“I love it. I’m getting my golf game in shape and my wife is still working so I’m trying to support everything around the house now,” O’Brien said. “I’ve really enjoyed the retirement up until now. I hope it continues. I hope I don’t get bored, but there seems to be a lot to do.”

One of those appears to be watching his nephew and college football. Hogan has completed 71 of 100 passes for 883 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions for the 3-1 and 14th-ranked Cardinal. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hogan also is Stanford’s fourth-leading rusher with 87 yards and a pair of scores.

O’Brien still believes Hogan could be utilized to an even greater degree.

“H’s done a terrific job. I don’t think Coach (David) Shaw uses him the proper way. Kevin has a lot of ability but Shaw has his idea on what type of offense he wants to run and he’s got a lot of talented players out there so he’s got to I guess include everybody in the system. Kevin could probably help more if he utilized him more in certain situations,” O’Brien said.

“I like Shaw. He’s done a good job, and he’s very popular among the players and he’s done a terrific job there, but I just think Kevin’s got a lot of ability and they ought to call on him a little more. And he can run the ball, he can stretch that defense.

“Notre Dame’s going to have their hands full.”

Quarterback Kevin Hogan leads Stanford into town this weekend to face Notre Dame.AP Photo/MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ