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NBC’s Mike Tirico: “We're really careful about not being the Notre Dame network.”

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Play-by-play man talks Irish experience, says he admires Coach Brian Kelly.

NBCUniversal Press Junket Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Play-by-play man Mike Tirico has heard the complaints from college football fans about NBC shilling for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team.

“One thing we're pretty conscious of is — we're really careful about not being the Notre Dame network,” Tirico told The Schwab Speaks podcast Tuesday. “I think people might say that out of laziness and naïveté. We went down to Athens, spent the day with Georgia. We covered that game. You go back and watch or listen to that game, I'll put that up with any neutral network broadcast, because that's what we are. We're a network broadcaster even though we have the contract for Notre Dame's home games.”

Tirico acknowledged that his network does make accommodations for Notre Dame, such as airing the marching band at halftime on its NBC Sports app as well as the “What Would You Fight For?” advertisement for the university.

“But in the quality and the call in the game, we approach it as a full national game,” said Tirico. “And one of the best compliments that our group received was the folks down in Georgia were so complimentary in the broadcast when they went back to watch it. I think thinking that they were coming up from the SEC we never cover you guys. This is going to be a one sided broadcast. And they commented to us they couldn't believe how much time and energy we went into covering Georgia in preparation for that game and then talking about it.”

Tirico did not address the opposite perception held by some Notre Dame fans — that the booth often includes one person with a perceived animus against the university, leading to anti-Irish sentiment.

The broadcaster did offer his opinion on Coach Brian Kelly, including that verbal spat with the Indianapolis Star’s Laken Litman earlier this year.

“There was the one comment that I'm sure he regrets after the game against Georgia with one reporter,” said Tirico “That snippet that became, and like everything, it becomes that's the new, that's the perception, and that's who this guy is.

“I've listened to almost every press conference Brian's done for the whole season. You know you're going to cover them seven times so you try and keep up with them. He hasn't had a cross word with his media interactions at all during the year. So that one moment gets highlighted. And that's part of the business. They're all big boys, they understand that you cannot have that and be dismissive. But he is trying really hard to make sure that this year is not last year, or prior years. And I think it’s light years away.

“I admire him. I've learned just in observation a lot from watching Brian this year, that you can make a change, and you can still believe in the way that you used to do things, but understand that modifying to meet the times and the current situation, might be better for everybody involved. And the energy and the approach, and the attitude around that program. Very, very different.”

Here’s the whole exchange regarding Notre Dame. The full interview also includes Tirico’s thoughts on Colin Kaepernick, the NFL and the Olympics.

Howie Schwab: “Let's switch to college football for a second, Mike. Alabama and Clemson look like the teams to beat. Oklahoma, Penn State, some other teams in the mix. Is this gonna be where you have another Alabama Clemson final?”

Mike Tirico: “Boy, it's looking that way. I'll say this Howie, I had Georgia in South Bend against Notre Dame.”

Howie Schwab: “Right.”

Mike Tirico: “And, it's especially, you know we just talked at the start of this about how you don't really know the NFL for a while. College you never know for the first couple of weeks. But I think the farther we get away that game ... Georgia's very good. They're very good on defense. They've got two different quarterbacks who can win games for them. They lost their starter and their back up, the freshman who's come in and played really well.

“So I don't think Georgia/Alabama is a guarantee this game's gonna be Alabama or completely a run through the SEC. It might. But Kirby Smart is kind of building what he was a part of with Nick Saban at Alabama. ... It's interesting to watch that thing progress.

“In terms of the ACC you start looking around, all right they beat Louisville, they beat Virginia Tech. Is there anyone who can sort of stand up to Clemson as this year goes through? And then in the other conferences do you have a team that is a notch above everybody else like those two teams seem to be within their leagues, from what we've seen on the field? And right now I say no.

“The likelihood is that one of those two teams gets tripped up along the way. But if the landscape is right for it, it doesn't mean that a one loss team can't get back to the playoffs like we saw with Clemson. So, the signs are pointing that way, and it's interesting. Would it be good for college football to have a third act in this? I think it would be. Because I think both championship games were outstanding, exciting, the drama was high, the tension was high, the quality of play was high. And to me Howie, it encompasses what college football has become.

“Remember all of these offenses who'd scored a lot of points would run into a great defense and the championship game would kind of show you're not ready to win that way. Now Alabama has had to score a whole bunch of points to win a championship and to stay in two championship games. So, the game has evolved, Alabama has evolved with it and Clemson is the depth and quality of team, and a heck of a coach in Dabo Swinney, that if we see it for the third time, I'd be super happy to sign up for that. I would not find that as oh I'm getting bored of seeing this title game. It would be a really good third act between these two sides.

Howie Schwab: “How much fun are you having doing Notre Dame games?”

Mike Tirico: “I'm having a lot of fun because in the 25 years that I was in ESPN exactly coincided with the start of the NBC deal. So, we never got to go to Notre Dame to do a game, whether it was ESPN or ABC so it's the number two school in terms of all time wins. Just clicked off the 900 victory. The game day Saturdays there are neat. And I in my entire career have never had a home team, that I call games for. I went to Syracuse obviously, being around them, but I didn't call multiple games, maybe two I'd get during a season, but not a whole bunch.

“We do all the Notre Dame home games at NBC so you get six or seven games. So it's nice to see a team build as the season goes on. One thing we're pretty conscious of is we're really careful about not being the Notre Dame network. I think people might think that say that out of laziness and nativity. We went down to Athens, spent the day with Georgia. We covered that game. You go back and watch or listen to that game, I'll put that up with any neutral network broadcast, because that's what we are, we're a network broadcaster even though we have the contract for Notre Dame's home games.

“Internally are there things that are more Notre Dame centered? Of course there are, that's part of the contractual thing with ... You see the band online at halftime. There's a complimentary institutional spot that airs during the game. But in the quality and the call in the game, we approach it as a full national game. And one of the best compliments that our group received was the folks down in Georgia were so complimentary in the broadcast when we went back to watch it. I think thinking that they were coming up from the SEC — ‘We never cover you guys. This is going to be a one sided broadcast.’ — and they commented to us they couldn't believe how much time and energy we went into covering Georgia in preparation for that game and then talking about it.

“So, that's been a fun part of the challenge, but getting to know Howie, a lot of the kids on one team is fun. Because you and Jean know, you've done this long enough. It's the athletes, it's the stories. We spend a disproportionate amount of time on the negative stories. To me some of the young men that are going to South Bend for school, and the kind of education they're getting, the kind of people they are, the families they come from. It's really enjoyable. It's great.

“And instead of at a production meeting to do a team. You meet the head coach, the quarterback, the best defensive player, and maybe a coordinator and that's it. By going to Notre Dame seven times and going to the practices, I've met most of the kids who play for Notre Dame, maybe 25 or 30 of those kids over the last year and a half. And that's fun because you feel like you can talk about them with a lot more certainty and depth, and maybe give people a better sense of what these college athletes are like as opposed to hey I met him for ten minutes, I can say these two things about how he's going to run the zone read offensive play here this week.

Jean McCormick: “I'm curious Kelly — Well, first of all, I just want to say my brother-in-law is Notre Dame, his whole family is, so I have the whole Notre Dame spirit, and I went to game two years ago, and it is one of the most ... I mean I've been to sports events my whole life, amazing sports events, and that was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever been too.”

Howie Schwab: “South Bend is special.”

Jean McCormick: “It is unbelievable. But I'm curious about Kelly. Now they've won as many games now as they did all of last season and there was so much talk about Kelley's job status at the beginning of this season, and now it's the first time that they've been in the AP top 25 this season two weeks in a row. What's he doing differently?”

Mike Tirico: “He did what it's easier to say but it's hard to do. He reinvented not himself, but reexamined his way of approaching things. So, Brian's not calling the offensive plays this year for the first time in his career as an offensive coordinator who he brought in from Memphis, Chip Long doing that, and Brian is just more involved as a CEO type coach. And a lot of coach bristle at that. They think CEO type coach you put your feet up during the week.

“Brian has taken time to get involved with more players. More individual coaching if you will. Being that person who can get your arms around a massive program, that you can’t really do when you have the hours of, okay we've got to watch this and figure out we’re going to install this offense for this play and all of the specific machinations that we all hear football coaches talk about that are very important and very time consuming. It gives him a chance to be the person who's really in tune with much more, special teams, defense. And I think it was one of those -- you know what? -- he understands that if things don't go well in the next couple of years, he'll probably be looking for a new head coach.

“So, he's trying to enjoy the process. There was the one comment that I'm sure he regrets after the game against Georgia with one reporter. That snippet that became, and like everything, it becomes that's the new, that's the perception, and that's who this guy is. I've listened to almost every press conference Brian's done for the whole season. You know you're going to cover them seven times so you try and keep up with them. He hasn't had a cross word with his media interactions at all during the year. So ,that one moment gets highlighted. And that's part of the business, they're all big boys, they understand that you cannot have that and be dismissive. Ut he is trying really hard to make sure that this year is not last year, or prior years. And I think it’s light years away.

“I admire him. I've learned just in observation a lot from watching Brian this year, that you can make a change, and you can still believe in the way that you used to do things, but understand that modifying to meet the times and the current situation, might be better for everybody involved. And the energy and the approach, and the attitude around that program. Very, very different.

“We would go in there Jean on Thursday for practice and Friday for our meetings, and last year was my first year. People were tight, they were tight, they were worried. This year they are in a great place, and embrace it all, and I think that's healthy for them, and it's showing in their play I think on the field.”