Car pool partners DelVaughn Alexander, Chip Long reunite on Notre Dame coaching staff

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — A car pool bond is impenetrable.

It survives everything: wind, snow, heat, rain, early mornings, late nights, big wins, agonizing losses, pesky potholes and questionable music choices.

DelVaughn Alexander and Chip Long are living, breathing proof.

For four years at Arizona State, Alexander (the Sun Devils’ wide receivers coach) and Long (the tight ends coach) shared a car for the 17-mile drive to campus. That’s 34 round trip miles to and from work for the majority of 1,460 mostly sunny days.

Every car ride brought a conversation — about football, family and faith. The coaches developed a mutual respect and trust along the way.

“Those were great conversations,” Alexander said after being introduced as Notre Dame’s wide receivers coach on Monday. “It’s every day. It’s on the way to work. It’s late at night. It’s, ‘I’m tired.’ ‘I’m grumpy.’ ‘I’m excited. What a great win.’ ‘Boy, we let one get away.’ There’s a family part of it. It’s a great opportunity to get to know someone because of all that time (you spend together).”

It was hardly a surprise, then, that when Long was announced as Notre Dame’s next offensive coordinator and tight ends coach in December, Alexander was quick to congratulate him.

It was even less surprising that Long cracked open a door to Notre Dame.

“I kind of reached out to Chip to say hello and congratulations, and he told me, ‘If there’s a chance, I’m going to bring you in and let you meet these guys,’” Alexander recalled. “’There’s no guarantees, but there might be a possibility.’”

It was a possibility Alexander enthusiastically pursued — and head coach Brian Kelly is happy he did.

“You know, what I loved about DelVaughn is his organization skills and his ability to teach the wide receivers, as well as a veteran coach who has built great relationships with his players,” Kelly said on Monday.

“So we've got a veteran wide receiver coach, well-established in his profession, and in his interview he was extremely detailed and organized in laying out what his role will be in developing our fairly young wide receiving corps.”

Make no mistake, Alexander needed to interview, and impress. Long’s recommendation alone wasn’t nearly enough to land his car pool partner a position at Notre Dame.

“He wasn’t hired because of the comfort level (between us),” said Long, who currently stays in the same South Bend hotel as Alexander. “He was hired because he’s a great receivers coach. We interviewed quite a few of them, and it just came back that he was top one or two in all of the categories we were looking for and did a tremendous job.

“I didn’t really sell him to coach Kelly. He came in and sold himself. I’m glad he’s here, because he’ll be a major asset for us.”

He’ll be a major asset for Notre Dame, just like he was a major asset as the wide receivers coach at Arizona State and Wisconsin. He’ll be a recruiting asset as well, as Alexander brings a familiarity with high school programs in the Midwest and on the west coast.

“For me, I recruit to the brand and I recruit to the tradition,” Alexander said after Notre Dame signed 21 players on National Signing Day on Wednesday. “Those are two things that, as a college football coach and having gone to school where I did, you don’t have to be here long to sit down and study.”

A Los Angeles native, Alexander didn’t arrive as a stranger to Notre Dame.

It’s hard to be a stranger when you were once its biggest rival.

“I played against USC five years in a row there at Arizona State, so it’s just a matter of winning where you are,” said Alexander, who lettered in football (as a wide receiver) and track at USC in 1993 and 1994. “It’s two great programs. Two great traditions. But when we line up against each other, it’s about the X’s and the O’s. It’s about the energy. It’s about the performance of the players that I coach.”

Those players include sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown, who led the Irish in catches (58), receiving yards (961) and touchdowns (9) last season; freshman Kevin Stepherson, who made a splash with 25 catches and five touchdowns in 2016; C.J. Sanders, a dynamic slot receiver and returner; Chase Claypool, Javon McKinley, Chris Finke, Deon McIntosh, Miles Boykin. The list goes on and on.

Alexander inherits a unit short on experience but long on talent.

Long, for one, has plenty of faith in the guy that’s coaching them. That’s what countless car rides (and conversations) will do.

“I’ve always had a tremendous respect for him — just the way he conducts his meeting rooms, the way he conducts things with his players, how detail-oriented he is for his position and the pride he takes with that,” Long said. “He was a major asset, having to come in and install this offense. I know, in my mind, that he’s coaching exactly how I want things done in that room.

“We’ve got to get those guys rolling, and that’s a huge part of this offense. Just having that feeling that it’s being taken care of the way I want it taken care of allows me to really work with the entire offense.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander talks to reporters during a press conference Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN