SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Apparently Notre Dame's energy level on defense was nothing the Nature Boy couldn't fix.
Allow defensive end Jay Hayes to explain the Wednesday afternoon pump-up session, which came courtesy of defensive coordinator Greg Hudson:
"This took place (at) like 2:45 and we got in the room and he's just energy, he's high energy and all of a sudden music's playing, and the screen’s facing that way and everybody's facing this way and there's a screen behind us and music's playing. We're like: 'What?!' And he’s like: 'Everybody -- hey, hey, hey, hey, listen up. Turn around. Look at this.'
"We turn around, we're looking at it and it's Ric Flair. It's literally his intro from WWE -- I was a huge WWE fan, too -- but like I'm looking like: 'OK, what is this?' But I think throughout practice we used the phrase like 'WOOO!' as energy. But he's a funny dude."
Funny is one way to describe Hudson, who gained control of the Fighting Irish defense when Brian VanGorder was fired Sept. 25 after a 1-3 start. And while the only tangible evidence of Hudson's impact to the outside world has been a 50-33 win over Syracuse in his debut, he has certainly carried a presence about himself inside the Irish football complex.
Start with the food analogies: Linebacker James Onwualu spoke of a similar intensity from the way Hudson eats to the way he coaches. Head coach Brian Kelly used the image of the bald-headed, barrel-chested Hudson "jumping out of the cake at birthday parties" to describe the energy level he brings to a room.
Hudson has yet to give interviews, per standard in-season policy with Notre Dame assistants. But what's been telling thus far is the outpouring of affection from Irish players toward a guy they have known for only five months, when the 49-year-old Hudson, a former Irish linebacker, was initially brought on as an assistant.
"I think it's tough to gain trust within a locker room, especially after being through some hard times," said Onwualu, a senior captain. "With Coach Hudson all I see is him caring about this program. His past has been all about Notre Dame. Obviously him still being here, he obviously has that love for the school. And he's brought that to practice and the locker room. So when you see a guy, fellow alumnus who has been through it and been in the same seat that you are, you can kind of put everything past you and start to gain that trust."
Hudson was on the brink of tears after the win over the Orange, and he led the team in its victory march in the locker room. While it would be a leap to draw any conclusions from a 50-33 win schematically, Hudson gave younger players more run, and he subbed more frequently. Hayes described a game plan that was very understandable and made players feel comfortable, allowing them to play loose and have fresher legs in the second half.
Having served as both a starter and reserve at different points this season, linebacker Greer Martini sees how a looser rotation has affected focus in practice.
"I shouldn't be that way, but reality is that it is that way, naturally," Martini said. "I think the coaches have also done a good job of getting the twos more reps, live reps or seeing new plays, so when we get in there we're not copying everything that the ones are doing."
It remains to be seen whether all these philosophical changes result in a huge spike in play. Statistically speaking, the Irish exited last weekend as a relatively unchanged defensive unit, and the challenges will only grow in their next two games against NC State and Stanford before their bye.
Hudson had also played a "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" clip in a meeting this week, according to players, but they weren't exactly sure what the message was. Then again, they didn't really understand the Ric Flair intro, either, but that's besides the point, as they got a second wind from the gimmick anyway.
"You gotta love Ric Flair," senior end and captain Isaac Rochell said, laughing. "There's nothing to say -- he’s just like, Ric Flair. I guess he just loves Ric Flair. And I do too. Why not?"