Reconnected Mike Rosenthal shows his true colors for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas — It started with a phone call that ended up lasting three hours.

Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand was reaching out to former Irish and Penn High offensive line standout Mike Rosenthal, who, by his own account, had become disconnected from his college alma mater and its football program.

“Just talking shop, talking football, talking Joe Moore,” Rosenthal said, referring to the late iconic offensive line coach who recruited Rosenthal to ND but was purged by new head coach Bob Davie midway through the player’s college career.

“I’m a big fan of Harry, and what he’s done with those offensive linemen. It’s nice to see tradition back.”

And Saturday evening at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, there were many in the crowd of just over 1,000 Notre Dame fans who seemed to think it was nice that Rosenthal was wearing the love for his university on his sleeve once again.

Rosenthal was one of the guest speakers — and at 6-foot-7, the tallest — at a pep rally staged by the Notre Dame Club of Austin in a humidity soup that suggests the team with either the most depth or the most Gatorade will have the edge in the Sunday night season opener between No. 10 Notre Dame and the host Texas Longhorns (7:30 EDT; ABC-TV).

“Oh my God, is this in the sun?” said a middle-aged female Irish fan as she first feasted her eyes on the pep really stage and the perspiring fans who bopped to bagpipes, an alumni band and for some reason a little Led Zeppelin at one juncture.

Andrew Barlow, the Notre Dame Club of Austin’s communication chair, is guesstimating there could be 20,000 Irish fans in Darrell K. Royal-Texas Stadium Sunday night for the game. Maybe more.

Rosenthal will be there. So will some of the pep rally’s other special guests, which included former Irish Greg Lane, Alton Maiden, Reggie Brooks and Bobby Taylor.

Rosenthal had the shortest trip. After a nine-year NFL career and a business venture with his wife, he got into coaching at the invitation of former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

The former BYU quarterback, then the head coach at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin, needed an offensive line coach, and Rosenthal gave it a whirl. Detmer has since moved on and is the offensive coordinator at BYU. Rosenthal has moved up too — to head coach and athletic director at Austin High School.

“My players know I went to Notre Dame,” he said, “so it’s been an interesting week. They needle me about it, but it doesn’t get out of hand.”

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg was originally slated to be part of the docket, too, but he wasn’t able to sync his travel plans with the event. He will be in attendance at the game Sunday night, though.

The Austin Club did manage to lure Austin mayor Steve Adler to the pep rally.

“I think he understands the positive economic impact that the Notre Dame fans are going to have,” Barlow said.

Rosenthal, inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 2014, hasn’t been able to make it back to South Bend, because first his NFL career, then his coaching schedule. So he was thrilled when Irish games in Austin and nearby San Antonio showed up on the schedule this year.

Could college coaching be in his future someday?

“Not the near future,” he said. “I had a game last night, and I was able to get up at 6:30 this morning and drive my youngest daughter to her soccer game. And I’ve got a whole lot of other stories about the time I get to spend with my other kids.

“I get to set my own hours and that fits with my family. So I think it’s the perfect fit for me.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Mike Rosenthal, former Notre Dame offensive tackle and Penn High School graduate, speaks during a pep rally for Notre Dame fans Saturday at the Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin, Texas. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)