Who will be the voice of Notre Dame Stadium? Search for next PA announcer turns to Twitter

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame Stadium will have a new public address announcer this fall. Mike Collins, who held the job for 39 years, retired following the 2020 football season.
  • Notre Dame has yet to hire replacement for Mike Collins, who retired after 39 seasons
  • Close to 50 people submitted videos when Notre Dame football asked for applicants on Twitter
  • Twitter submissions are only part of Notre Dame's search for next PA announcer

When Notre Dame football’s official Twitter account asked for video submissions to apply to be the next public address announcer for Notre Dame Stadium, Aaron Lewis didn’t give it much thought.

Maybe the tweet was more about social media engagement than Notre Dame’s actual search to replace the legendary Mike Collins, who retired following the 2020 season. But when the tweet started making the rounds in a private Facebook group for public address announcers, Lewis, a 21-year-old student at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., realized it must be serious.

Lewis grew up a fan of both Notre Dame and Alabama football. Those were the two teams he regularly watched with his mother, because both teams were frequently televised on NBC and CBS, respectively, and his family didn’t have cable at the time.

► More:Mike Collins to step down as voice of Notre Dame Stadium after 2020 football season

► More:Collins warms up for his victory lap

But more importantly, Lewis has been preparing for a career as a public address announcer since his freshman year at Benedictine. He still has a senior year left to graduate, but that wasn’t going to stop him from recording a video for Twitter.

“I looked into it a little bit more, read the tweet a little bit and saw that people were really going for it and doing it,” Lewis said. “So I was like, 'You know what? I've been a PA announcer for three years now, why not give it a shot? What's the worst that could happen, right?"

Lewis is one of nearly 50 people who have since publicly replied to the @NDFootball tweet from April 19 with a video submission.

“Want to be the next voice of Notre Dame Stadium?” the tweet said. “Tell us who you are, why you're the right fit and give us your best PA calls of the game situations below. Drop your video in the thread to apply. #GoIrish”

The @NDFootball tweet included video clips of Notre Dame’s team running onto the field, a five-yard touchdown run by running back Tony Jones Jr. and quarterback Ian Book running out the clock to end Notre Dame’s 35-20 victory over Virginia in 2019. The video was accompanied by the audio Collins provided during that game at Notre Dame Stadium.

John Horlander, a 2019 graduate of Notre Dame, went to great lengths trying to perfect his video submission.

"I must have recorded about 70 different takes in my closet of my apartment here in Tulsa trying to get the right one,” Horlander said.

Horlander, who works in social media and public relations for FC Tulsa, the USL Championship soccer team in Tulsa, Okla., wasn’t convinced the opportunity to submit a video application was legitimate until he checked in with someone at Notre Dame he knew from his time working in student media.

"It was crazy when I saw it,” Horlander said. “Surely there's something else going on. Surely there's a real search going on behind the scenes where they're vetting candidates. But I was like if this is even remotely legit, I'm throwing my name into the ring.”

Horlander, 23, was right. Notre Dame’s search for a public address announcer for Notre Dame Stadium isn’t limited to the Twitter applications. But an athletic department spokesperson confirmed that the committee in charge of finding the next PA announcer was open to reaching out to folks who made a good impression on Twitter.

Horlander has been digging around trying to learn more about who’s in charge of the hiring process, where the athletic department is in the process and the timeline of an eventual hire.

Details on the search, which has not yet concluded, have been closely guarded. Three people who have been identified as candidates for the position shared the PA announcer duties during Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on May 1, but an athletic department spokesperson wasn’t willing to identify them. A Tribune request to interview anyone on the search committee was declined.

"It seems like a fair, few amount of people saw my video,” Horlander said, “so maybe one of them was the right person.”

Advice from Mike Collins

Mike Collins

After 39 seasons as the Notre Dame Stadium public address announcer, Mike Collins has plenty of thoughts about the job and the person who will be tasked with following the echoes of his voice.

The 76-year-old Notre Dame graduate is full of advice. Surprisingly, a Tribune reporter last week was the first to ask him for any.

“Nobody's coming to hear the PA announcer,” Collins said from his home in Florida. “That would be the first piece of advice. The second would be put your ego on the sidelines, because there are some PA announcers who feel they can just babble away any time there's an opening to babble or to talk on a microphone. If they do that, they're going to wear out their welcome pretty quick.”

Collins, who still does PA announcer work for the Pittsburgh Pirates at their spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla., certainly knows how to last in the job. He first took over the Notre Dame Stadium mic for the 1982 season opener against Michigan.

In February of last year, Collins decided that the 2020 season would be his last. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the look and feel of his final season, but Collins bade farewell at the end of Notre Dame’s final home game against Syracuse in December.

“I promised I wouldn’t cry. I am,” Collins said to the crowd. “I’ll leave you with the words of Father (Theodore) Hesburgh: ‘God. Country. Notre Dame.’ Godspeed. Godspeed to all of you.”

Even through the end, Collins enjoyed the thrill of a game day at Notre Dame Stadium.

"There's a real rush to doing that job when you know you're doing it well,” Collins said. “It always started when I would do the 'Here come the Irish!' and then my quick introduction and my goofy weather forecast.

“I can't tell you how nervous I was even after 39 years. Once the game started, it was like 'que será, será.' Let's have a good time up there.”

Collins has not been a part of Notre Dame’s search for his replacement, though he said he did recommend someone from South Bend as a candidate who should be interviewed.

Collins said he likely won’t attend the first couple games of the 2021 season. He wants to give the next PA announcer to have the space to succeed.

"I want it to be someone really good,” Collins said. “I'm not one of those people who would want it to be somebody who's going to fall flat on their face. I want somebody who's good, because I franchised that job in my mind. I took it to a certain level, and I want it to stay at that level.”

Collins might not have been the reason anyone attended Notre Dame football games, but he became a recognizable part of the proceedings at Notre Dame Stadium.

“He's irreplaceable,” Horlander said. “I've been going to games since I was in diapers. That's the voice you've always heard.

“To replace him and to be the voice that comes after him — whether it's me or someone else — that's the tallest task in the world. I can't imagine what voice is going to come next.”

To whom it may concern

Paul Stelzer created a Twitter account just to submit a video application for the Notre Dame Stadium public address job.

“I really got on this and tried to do my very best to show with a very short sample of a 45-second video that I have the right voice, the right presence, personality, charisma, to be the next public address announcer for Notre Dame Stadium,” said Stelzer, a 1994 Notre Dame graduate. “I've been trying to find ways to increase my odds of getting a chance.”

Stelzer, a co-founder, instructor and performer for Hashtag Comedy in Columbus, Ohio, even considered reaching out to Notre Dame to pitch the idea of him getting a chance to step to the mic at Notre Dame Stadium around the setup for the Blue-Gold Game or the commencement ceremonies.

His qualifications include experience as a broadcaster and jobs in television as a news and sports reporter. Stelzer, 49, started his broadcasting career working for WFVI, Notre Dame’s student-run radio station, during the Lou Holtz Era of Notre Dame football.

"I would love the opportunity to show them what I can do,” Stelzer said. “Not only with my voice, inflection and what I can sound like in that stadium, but just to show them my passion for the program, my knowledge of the history, my respect for the tradition.

“I am confident that there is nobody who wants this job more than I want this job. I know there are a lot of people out there that really, really want it. And there may be some people who want it as much as I want it, but it's that kind of the dream job for me and would be such a tremendous honor and opportunity."

Because Stelzer is new to Twitter, his video submission wasn’t likely to receive as much attention as others in the flood of applications, but as of Sunday morning it had 12 retweets, 28 likes and 480 views. The three videos with the most views to date belonged to former Notre Dame offensive lineman and ESPN Radio host Mike Golic Jr. (37,500 views), Horlander (5,100 views) and 2020 Notre Dame graduate David Korzeniowski (4,400 views).

Chip McFerran, a 63-year-old retiree who worked for UPS for 26 years, used a unique offer to help gain attention to his video. He asked for the same agreement with Notre Dame that he has with Alexandria-Monroe High School in Alexandria, Ind., where he’s been a public address announcer for 10 years. Before every game, McFerran always receives a bag or box of popcorn and a 16-ounce Coke or Pepsi.

“You have to have a voice, but you also have to have a love for Notre Dame, so I submitted my video,” McFerran said.

McFerran has learned to pay special attention to how players’ names are pronounced during his announcing career.

"Doing PA announcing, you just can't show up on Saturday, walk up to the booth and start announcing,” McFerran said. “Even high school games you have to be prepared. You have to talk to the coaches. You have to be able to phonetically speak the names of the players and the coaches.”

Because Collins, who McFerran said has a voice as fabulous as a Tony Bennett singing at Madison Square Garden, held the Notre Dame Stadium PA announcer job until he was 75, McFerran joked that he had a good 12 years left in him to dedicate to Notre Dame.

Certainly Notre Dame should be able to attract plenty of candidates for the job without a public call for applications on Twitter. Even if those who submitted videos have a slim chance of becoming a serious candidate, the @NDFootball tweet added some entertainment to the search process.

"I'm so excited about this opportunity,” Stelzer said, “knowing full well that the odds are against every single applicant because there are so many applicants that would really love to have this job.”

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Aaron Lewis
John Horlander
Paul Stelzer
Chip McFerran