Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not Just an Ex-Football Player | by Jay

As I was watching PTI in an airport bar in Dallas this afternoon, I noticed they had an upcoming entry in the scrolling rundown titled "Powlus". So I ordered another eight dollar Bud Light and stuck around to hear the segment, not sure if it was good news or bad news or what.

Turns out, it was nothing more than to wish the original Beano Cook All-Star a Happy 33rd Birthday. Pretty neat. They had even had a little highlight clip of some of his touchdown throws, and I'll be damned if he didn't look pretty good dropping back in the pocket. While I waited to hear my name called off the standby list, I recalled something I wrote back in '05, when Powlus first found himself back at ND working for Charlie.

Powlus, believe it or not, looks like a real find, and a fine addition to the staff. Powlus' career has always been sort of Flick Webb-ish, standing tall among the idiot pumps, the expectations too great and the potential never realized. Ask any Irish fan what they think of when they envision Ron Powlus, and chances are you'll hear two things: his electrifying debut against Northwestern, four touchdown passes and Beano Cook conferring the double Heisman; and second, a wobbly Powlus happy-footing an option play down the line, awkward and jittery. Still, whenever Holtz dialed up the option (all too frequently), he plugged away and did his best. Somehow Powlus was able to grab some passing records during his tenure (although as Pat points out, QB records at ND up until then hadn't exactly been stellar, relatively speaking. Quinn will probably break Powlus' records at this rate, and then a Weis QB will probably break those.) Still, his teams were marked by underachievement, and I think it's safe to say that most Irish fans exhaled a sigh of relief when he finally graduated.

Happily, though, the curtain didn't come down on the Powlus-ND story when he stepped off the playing field. After a foray into business sales, Powlus is back on campus, having impressed Weis over a number of other potential hirees for the role of Director of Football Operations...It's a great opportunity for one of the Irish's biggest enigmas, and he'll have a chance to reinvent himself and finally buck the saddle of his patchy playing days in the eyes of the fans.

This year, of course, Powlus was promoted to quarterbacks coach, and he has his work cut out for him: tutoring three guys who have never taken a meaningful college snap, and trying to get them ready for battle. There's no time for a learning curve: one of Jones, Clausen or Sharpley is going to be tossed into the pit in about six weeks, and Powlus might be the difference between whether he eats the bar, or the bar eats him.

It's a mildly poetic opportunity for Powlus, too; in a way, he's come full circle. The high expectations that once splintered with the snap of a broken arm have been recast and forged anew. A second chance awaits; the phenom who stumbled now returns as a coach and mentor, tempered with the wisdom of experience.

Over the squawk of the airport PA system, I raised my extra large airport stein and offered a little birthday toast to the last (until recently, that is) of the Golden Boys, and wished Ron Powlus luck in one of the only jobs that might be tougher than being a quarterback at Notre Dame: being an assistant coach for Charlie Weis.

P.S. The SBT had a great interview with Powlus yesterday. Take a look.