Noie: Brian Boulac did a little of everything at Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Halftime of the 1989 Notre Dame football home opener against rival Michigan State was closing quickly, and the new guy was running late.

Bill Scholl had somewhere he needed to be. And soon. Like, right now.

Then in his first year as athletics and promotions manager in the Notre Dame athletic department, Scholl’s job required him to be on the field of Notre Dame Stadium that mid-September afternoon to help coordinate part of the school’s halftime recognition program. He couldn’t be late, but he likely would be.

Scholl got only as far as a few feet away from the first row of the bleachers before being stopped by a stadium usher. Back in those days, Notre Dame administrators usually followed the lead of former senior associate athletic director Joe O’Brien and wore yellow ribbons in their jacket lapels. Those ribbons basically served as sideline passes for people whose jobs required them to be there.

Got a gold ribbon? You’re good to go.

The ribbons also were signs to stadium security that this man or that woman had clearance to be on the field. Scholl had the yellow ribbon in his lapel, except one over-eager usher didn’t recognize him. Someone yelled for Notre Dame assistant athletic director Brian Boulac, who was standing five feet away. Boulac had been at Notre Dame for decades. He arrived as a freshman football player in 1959 when players still wore leather helmets. He also seemingly knew everybody there was to know on campus.

The usher yelled to Boulac, who bellowed back.

“What’s up?”

The usher pointed at Scholl as if to query, who’s this guy? Boulac simply gave a nod of his head as if to say, ‘Yep. Let him through. He’s good.’

“Nobody ever hassled me again,” said Scholl, vice president and director of athletics at Marquette University since 2014. “That was Brian. He was such a good guy.”

Behind the gruff exterior and large presence, Boulac was a big softie. He was warm and engaging. Quick with a smile and a hearty laugh and a strong and honest handshake. Scholl saw it then, and wished he could see it again one more time.

“He was a big teddy bear,” Scholl said. “Brian had a heart of gold.”

On Wednesday, the 79-year-old Boulac died after recent health issues. He’s survived by his wife, Micki, and his four daughters, Dawn, Denise, Debra and Dylan. All are Notre Dame graduates. Boulac lived close to campus in the Northshore Triangle neighborhood of South Bend.

“Brian was one of the great ones,” said former Irish men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps, who shared common area office space on the first floor of the Joyce Center. “He was Notre Dame. He was so loyal to the place.”

For decades after he arrived from Washington state in 1959, that loyalty rarely wavered. He basically arrived at Notre Dame and never really left. Coaches and players and administrators and students came and went from the school for decades. And Boulac remained. Always working. Always representing. Always.

A backup tight end during his playing days at Notre Dame, Boulac earned two letters in his three varsity seasons. Following graduation in 1963, he had a tryout with the NFL’s then-St. Louis Cardinals, but elected to stay at Notre Dame as a graduate student/assistant coach.

A Double Domer (bachelor’s and master’s degrees), Boulac served as the freshman coach in 1966-67 under the legendary Ara Parseghian.

Parseghian led the Irish to the 1966 national championship.

Boulac held a series of jobs within the athletic department following 13 seasons on the Irish football coaching staff. He was hired in 1983 as an administrator by former Notre Dame athletic director Gene Corrigan. Boulac worked as an assistant athletic director. He was the lead administrator for the men’s and women’s track and cross country teams. For men’s and women’s swimming and for fencing. He worked in student development. He also served as general manager of the Joyce Center.

Boulac even found time to serve four seasons (1989-92) as the first head coach in Irish softball history. Under his direction, Notre Dame went 135-90 and won at least 30 games every season. That included a pair of Midwestern Collegiate Conference championships (1990-91). He was named the MCC coach of the year in 1989 — Notre Dame’s first varsity season.

Two of Boulac’s daughters — Dawn and Debbie — played for him at Notre Dame.

If there was a job that had something to do with Irish athletics somewhere on campus, odds were, Boulac was doing it. Same held true for his time as an assistant football coach (1970-82). He coached the offensive and defensive lines. He coached wide receivers. He tutored special teams. He served as recruiting coordinator. He spent his final two seasons (1981-82) as the assistant head coach.

Give him an assignment and watch him go.

Boulac worked for three different head coaches (Parseghian, Dan Devine, Gerry Faust) at Notre Dame. During that time, the Irish won at least eight games 10 times. That included the 1973 and 1977 national championships.

Boulac always was around campus in some capacity. A volleyball match? There was Boulac. Basketball game? There was Boulac. But he never strayed far from his football roots. A rainy weekday out at the old grass practice fields? Boulac would be there. In the old Notre Dame Stadium press box? There he was. In the tunnel after another Irish win? Yep, there as well, often in his trademark blue suit, tan overcoat and sun glasses.

In August 2009, Boulac announced his retirement from the university after 40 years of service. He held the distinction of seeing or playing in every Notre Dame football game for 50 consecutive seasons — 282 games — from 1959 to 2008.

“Considering his long and valuable efforts as a player, a coach and as an administrator, I don’t think it’s possible to find anyone on campus who has made more contributions to athletics at Notre Dame than Brian Boulac has made over the past five decades,” Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick said on when Boulac retired.

There may have been no better ambassador for Notre Dame during the last half-century than Boulac. Scholl was honored to call him a colleague for 23 years and missed seeing him around Notre Dame after leaving in 2012 to become athletic director at Ball State

“We had so many good memories,” Scholl said.

Brian Boulac