Todd Lyght wants to turn Notre Dame into Defensive Back U.

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – It’s one thing to play the game at a high level.

It’s something quite different to coach it.

Years ago, Larry Bird wrestled with trying to develop young professional basketball players who might not have attacked the game with a ferociousness similar to his. Ditto for Ryne Sandberg in baseball.

So, how will Todd Lyght, a two-time All-American during his time as a cornerback on the Notre Dame football team (1987-90), translate what he learned as a player into what he teaches as the new Irish secondary coach?

Remember, this is a guy who was on a national championship team with the Irish in ’88, then helped the St. Louis Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV over Tennessee.

“Every player is different,” Lyght said Monday, after his official introduction. “It’s different now. The way we grew up, we played outside. There were a lot of repetitions going on outside of organized football. Nowadays, kids are more engaged in computers. They don’t play outside so much.

“A lot of the younger players don’t even watch a lot of football. It surprised me, when I got to the Philadelphia Eagles (two years ago, as an assistant defensive backs coach), there were a lot of players on the team who don’t watch pro football or college football.

“Every individual is a little bit different. Everyone learns a little differently.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly is convinced Lyght’s pedigree as a Notre Dame grad and successful NFL player for a dozen years will be a benefit, both on the field and the recruiting trail.

“You look at Todd Lyght, you look at his résumé,” Kelly said. “Look, he goes into a home, he's recruiting somebody. First of all, when you get a chance to talk to him, he's a great person. Take away the football. He's a great family man.

“If a mom and dad are looking at Todd Lyght and say, ‘If my son can be like him,’ forget about the football, we've already won.”

Once Lyght walked away from the NFL in 2002, he struggled with a career path. Owning a chain of pizza restaurants across the country didn’t scratch the itch. Owning a nightclub in Newport Beach, Calif., didn’t do it.

He missed the game.

Two weeks as the junior varsity defensive coordinator at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas (2009) was all the audition Lyght needed. It was obvious he was taking his new vocation seriously.

Two weeks into the preseason, Lyght was elevated to a varsity assistant for two state championship seasons. Connections helped him get to the University of Oregon for two years and the Eagles for two years. Lyght was at Vanderbilt for about a month before getting the call from Kelly.

Of course, not many guys can go from the JV defensive coordinator at Bishop Gorman High to the secondary coach at Notre Dame in six years.

Kelly’s not the least bit concerned about Lyght’s rather, uh… light, résumé.

“Once you have the ability to stand in front of the room and command the respect of the group that you have, then that takes away the inexperience portion of your résumé because you gain that, right?” Kelly said. “You gain that comfort level through time.

“He had that right away. That goes to his long experience in the NFL, the confidence that he has in his own ability to communicate. He's not used to not being successful.”

The foundation is solid. Lyght’s upbringing as the son of the chief of police of Flint, Mich., made for a sturdy beginning.

“Getting in trouble was not an option,” Lyght, who was 6-foot-1 and 184 pounds in his playing days, said with a chuckle. “My dad, he’s like 6-foot-4 and 240. You want to stay out of his warpath, for sure.

“I always grew up in a house full of discipline. I was fortunate as a young man to realize my dad was a lot smarter than me. I paid attention and I listened.”

Discipline and honesty are two battle-tested traits Lyght will take into work every day. He’s a stickler for fundamentals, and is devoted to technique.

“I want to turn this place into DBU Tech … (Defensive Back) University of Technique,” Lyght said. “We’re looking for the best and the brightest.”

Takes one to know one. At least, in this case.

Notre Dame cornerback Todd Lyght intercepts a pass against Pittsburgh in 1989. The Irish defeated the Panthers 45-7 on Oct. 28. (SBT File Photo)