Character, Credibility and Courage

Who knows what’s going on behind the (hopefully not lace) curtain as ND considers its next choice for Athletic Director. As I wrote in For Love and Money, we need someone who has credibility, influence and courage, in addition to understanding exactly what ND means internally and externally.

Br. Andre put it this way
: “It’s got to be a guy with an extremely strong personality who has credibility with all constituencies and is deeply invested in Notre Dame and its overall ethos.”

In our Internet sleuthing, CJC turned up the following on Steve Orsini (we encourage submissions on all possible candidates) from the Navy-ND Game day program. Orsini recently told the Dallas Morning News that he would listen if ND came calling.

Even Sherlock Holmes would be unlikely to discover the connection between the brand-spanking-new football stadium on the University of Central Florida campus and the green jerseys that many credit with helping transform Notre Dame’s 1977 football team from underachievers to national champions. But that connection exists in the person of Steve Orsini, currently the director of athletics at Southern Methodist University and one of the captains of that ‘77 Fighting Irish squad.

Before arriving at SMU in June 2006, Orsini was director of athletics at UCF. At the press conference in 2002 announcing his hiring to oversee the Central Florida athletics department, Orsini was asked about the prospects for an on-campus football stadium for the Knights, who were playing their home games at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. Without the benefit of conferring with his boss, Orsini answered that he would like the Knights to be playing in their own on-campus football stadium within five years. The UCF president eventually stepped to the podium and expressed the hope that Orsini would see a football stadium on the UCF campus within his lifetime. Presumably the president had adjusted his timetable by the time Knights christened their new on-campus football stadium in the 2007 season opener against the Texas Longhorns. “What they taught us when we played football at Notre Dame was to reach for the stars, to set your goals high,” offers Orsini by way of explanation of his seemingly grandiose vision.

“As freshmen, we promised each other that we were going to win a national championship before we left Notre Dame,” Orsini recalls. “And other than Ken McAfee, we really weren’t playing very much as freshman. But that was our goal.” Yesterday’s Heroes CATCHING UP WITH… Steve Orsini by Craig Chval. By the time that Orsini was a senior, that goal looked pretty tenuous. The ‘77 Irish were picked by many to win the national championship, but stumbled early. A loss to Ole Miss and a handful of unimpressive wins had those title hopes on life support by the time Southern California paid an October visit to South Bend. Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine stunned the Trojans—and his own players—by having the Irish dress in green jerseys following pre-game warm-ups in their traditional navy jerseys.

The frenzied Irish pummeled USC and stormed through the balance of their schedule. And when Notre Dame overwhelmed unbeaten and top ranked Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl, Orsini and his classmates had their national championship. “I don’t know where I’d be without the experience I had at Notre Dame,” says Orsini. “It has defined who I am today in every area of my life.” Indeed, after putting his Notre Dame accounting degree to work in New York City for a public accounting firm, Orsini came back to work for his alma mater 1981. “I knew from the day (former Notre Dame athletic director) Gene Corrigan hired me as ticket manager that I wanted to be an athletic director at a Division I school,” says Orsini. He found not only a vocation, but a bride. It was during his stint as Irish ticket manager that Orsini met South Bend native Amy Kertesz. The two married and are now parents to an 11year-old daughter, Angela. Orsini enjoyed stints with the Dallas Cowboys, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Georgia Tech University, before becoming athletic director at Central Florida.

And while Orsini is justifiably proud of the work he did in making the Knights’ football stadium a reality, his impact upon the Central Florida program was hardly limited to facilities. Central Florida earned its first-ever bowl appearance during Orsini’s tenure and the program set a record for number of football season tickets sold. The men’s basketball team made two consecutive NCAA appearances and the Knights won the all-sports championships in their final season in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Orsini also led the Central Florida athletic program to unprecedented achievements in the classroom, an emphasis he has continued at SMU. The Mustangs football program earned the American Football Coaches Association’s 2006 Academic Achievement Award by graduating 100 percent of its football players.

SMU’s overall refined graduation rate is 97 percent and 188 of its scholar-athletes were named to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll. But for all the facility-building and academic glory, Orsini hasn’t lost sight of what occurs between the white lines. “My philosophy on how to have fun in athletics is spelled W-I-N,” he says. Orsini has publicly announced his goal of rebuilding the once-glorious Mustangs football program into a Top 25 fixture.

It’s a lofty target for a program that’s still struggling with the aftermath of the NCAA “death penalty” imposed nearly 20 years ago. “If you don’t make it, you’ll be the laughing stock of Dallas,” Orsini acknowledges. “But I think it’s important to take pride in your program and set your goals high.” And thus, the Notre Dame influence lives on for Orsini—and SMU. “I’m motivated to try to give all of our student-athletes the same kind of experience I had at Notre Dame, because it’s been so important in my life.” Orsini got his start in college athletics administration at Notre Dame when he worked in the ticket office as the ticket manager


3 Responses to “Character, Credibility and Courage”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Great post. Sounds like someone who “gets it” and has acheived some good things elsewhere. Maybe he could bring back the swagger to ND football and ND athletics in general. Let’s go Irish!

  2. Ken Says:

    All i know is that this guy definitely sounds like the real deal and would be a great fit for Notre Dame

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Orsini sounds like your man.

    I don’t much care for UCF, but it’s hard not to admire what they’ve done in such a short period of time.

    ’92 Gator

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