Choosing The Right Notre Dame Quarterback: The True Story Behind Powlus Over McDougal ’93

The true story behind Powlus over McDougal in 1993 Kevin McDougal was the last Notre Dame quarterback to lead a National Championship caliber football team. Like many Irish fans, he has some pretty fond memories of the 1993 season that nearly finished with another title. McDougal joined former Irish teammate & classmate, Oscar McBride, on his podcast this week.  The two offensive starters from that 11-1 squad rehashed some of the greatest days in Irish gridiron history. All that we remember as fans was dangerously close to never taking place on the field of play if legendary Head Coach Lou Holtz had gotten his way that autumn.

This post focuses on the conversation about the QB controversy between McDougal and incoming freshman Ron Powlus. McBride & McDougal shed brutally honest light on the locker room in the wake of freshman Ron Powlus’s injury at the end of Fall Camp. Kevin is quite candid on his thoughts about Coach Holtz’s initial decision to not start him at QB that season and Oscar echoes the team sentiment. The full interview, which jumped off an on different topics, displayed an inside look at how McDougal impacted so many aspects of the team through his leadership and attitude between the lines.

Below is a partial transcribing of a 10 minute exchange (full portion available below) as they discussed Lou Holtz’s decision to start Ron Powlus and the reaction following Powlus injury before the start of the season   

Oscar McBride: So we got the most heralded #1 recruit in the nation, Ron Powlus, coming in …  Lou Holtz [before Powlus has even arrived] is telling us in a Spring Ball team meeting that he’s going to be ready to start as soon as he gets on campus. This is without a mention of Kevin McDougal at all. I know I speak for all my teammates – that pissed us off. K-Mac, how did that make you feel for Coach Holtz to introduce the fact that Ron Powlus was going to be his starting quarterback?

Kevin McDougal: Hurt … Hurt. Simple as that. I think since I was a freshman I’d led over 18 full drives and almost every one had ended in a touchdown … I thought about it and I’d had a great spring season almost every year, so for him to say that and not even give me a chance? … When you’ve given me my chance to shine, I’ve shined. How can you not give me a chance my senior season? That motivated me even more, even though I was already very motivated.

Oscar McBride: So we’re scrimmaging 1s vs 1s and Jim Flanigan comes free for the sack and breaks his (Powlus) collarbone (right before the start of the 1993 season). I’m not a mean-spirited guy … but I think at that moment our team became solidified. Ron was a meek dude … remember Ron would cry when Coach Holtz would yell at him – a really sensitive kid. When he (Powlus) went down, it was a sign for all of us that things were the way they were supposed to be. So what did it mean to you to FINALLY be the starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame?

Kevin McDougal: Well I’d have to go backwards … Our freshman class was the greatest class ever assembled … when you looked at our Senior year to see where everyone went … you gotta realize Jerome Bettis & Tommy Carter were in our class and went to the NFL early … then to finally get that chance (to lead the team) it was unbelieveable … to lead a group of guys that you knew some people would be Hall of Famers. So, it was just time to go. That’s what made me work so hard was not wanting to let you guys down … once I became the starter it was unbelievable … it was a feeling you can’t explain.

Oscar McBride: I think that’s what made that team special … I didn’t want to be that guy (that made the big mistake).

Kevin McDougal: (interrupting) No way I was gonna be the guy!        

Oscar McBride: No way that was gonna happen. MY guy wasn’t gonna make a tackle in the backfield … and K-Mac let me tell you – you NEVER EVER let us down. We wanted the ball in your hands more.  

Above are just highlights from a 10 minute portion of the show. I can’t stress enough how much it’s worth a listen. Coming up later will be similar posts from this interview regarding the 1993 Florida State game, Boston College game, and other extremely nostalgic stuff.

As Notre Dame heads into another Fall Camp with a QB dilemma, it’s important to remember that players in the locker room have likely chosen sides with friends and/or classmates. As Brian Kelly approaches this decision, it’s been easy to forget how improperly Lou Holtz analyzed his own choice 19 years ago. If not for a rare full contact scrimmage leading up to the 93 opener, much of what we affectionately recall would have never been.