Jimmy Clausen reflects on coping with coaching turmoil at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

When the whispers grew loud enough and the rumors stopped seeming so outlandish seven seasons ago, quarterback Jimmy Clausen called the other Notre Dame offensive players together and plotted a way to make it all go away.

“I tried to put everything on my shoulders,” Clausen said of the calls to truncate the coach Charlie Weis Era after five seasons, a development that galvanized the Irish in 2009 but failed redirect a sinking bottom line or prevent an eventual purge.

“I tried to take the pressure off him and put it on me.”

Saturday, from the NBC studios in Stamford, Conn., the now 29-year-old Clausen will be watching to see whether current Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer’s play reflects the pressure to transcend an underachieving Irish running game and a defense trying to grow out of a historically dreadful start.

Clausen will serve as guest analyst for the network’s coverage of Miami’s first visit to Notre Dame Stadium since 1990. The pregame and halftime shows, in which Clausen are set to appear, air on NBC. The postgame show, of which he will be a part, will be on NBC Sports Network.

Kickoff between the Irish (2-5) and the Hurricanes (4-3) is 3:30 p.m. EDT.

Kizer was asked during a media session Wednesday if he might be trying to do too much at times. His pass-efficiency rating plunged from ninth in the nation to 34th over his past two games (and a bye week).

“This quarterback position, here, is a lot of responsibility and I fully take that on,” he said. “And if you try to do any more than what (the coaches) are giving you, then it's way too much. Right now my mentality is just executing what coach Kelly is putting together.”

Clausen never let on to the media what he was doing behind the scenes in 2009, but his teammates sure knew.

“I said, ‘This is where we are. We’re struggling to run the football. We’re going to need to throw it pretty much every down, whether it’s the short game — using that as run plays — or throwing the ball down the field.’

“I knew I had to be consistent and accurate, and I couldn’t turn the ball over. I wanted the pressure and I felt it. Every time we had the football, we felt like we had to put points on the board. That was the only way possible to alleviate some of the pressure off of Coach Weis, off of the defense.”

Clausen did his part, finishing with the highest single-season pass-efficiency rating (161.42) in school history, just getting edged out for the national statistical title that year by Florida’s Tim Tebow and Boise State’s Kellen Moore.

The former No. 1 national recruit actually sees lots of statistical and strength/weakness similarities between the 2009 Irish that finished 6-6 and this 2016 squad that has started 2-5. The numbers bear that out.

The 2009 Irish were 84th nationally in rushing offense (92nd in 2016), 89th in rush defense and 82nd in pass-efficiency defense (81st in both categories in 2016).

That ND team, though, started out 6-2, then lost its last four games — to Navy, Pitt, UConn and Stanford — by an average of 4.25 points per game. The school acknowledged Weis’ firing after the Stanford loss. Clausen, a junior, declared for the NFL Draft, as did junior wide receiver Golden Tate, a little over a week later.

Both were second-round choices.

Clausen, a sociology major, did come back and get his ND degree during the spring semester of 2011, which overlapped the four-month NFL Lockout.

“It was something very important to my parents that I got my degree,” Clausen said, “and I promised them when I decided to leave as a junior that I’d go back and finish. It was also important to do it for myself.

“To go to a school like Notre Dame and to get a degree from there is something special. Not a lot of people can say they’ve done that.”

Clausen, who played for drafting team, the Carolina Panthers, as well as the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens from 2010-15, isn’t convinced football is behind him, but he’s preparing for life after football just in case it is.

“I’m still working out every day and throwing every day, just trying to stay ready in case my number gets called,” he said. “But you can’t work out 12 hours a day. So I’m trying to set up my life, my career, whether that’s this year or five years down the road.”

Clausen is doing some residential real estate work in his native California and dabbling as a college football analyst. If things go well this weekend with NBC, there’s a chance he’ll be assigned to come to South Bend for the home finale vs. Virginia Tech on Nov. 19.

“I’m trying to figure out exactly what I want to do and what I’m good at,” he said. “But if football knocks on the door again, I won’t hesitate to answer.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Coach Charlie Weis' job insecurity galvanized QB Jimmy Clausen (left) and the other Notre Dame players in 2009, but it couldn't save Weis' job. (Tribune file photo)