Former student-athlete, coach, administrator Brian Boulac dies at age 79
Greg McKenna | Friday, June 5, 2020
Brian “Bou” Boulac, who served Notre Dame athletics for over 50 years as a student-athlete, football and softball coach and devoted administrator, has passed away at the age of 79, according to an obituary published by the University’s athletic department late Thursday afternoon.
Karen Croake Heiser, a professor in the University’s Film, Television and Theatre department, announced that Boulac died late Wednesday night in a tweet shortly before noon on Thursday, and more tributes from former players and colleagues on Twitter soon followed.
Current ESPN radio personality Mike Golic Sr., a defensive tackle and captain for the Irish in the mid-80’s who played eight seasons in the NFL, tweeted, “RIP Brian Boulac … [he] was one of my coaches at ND, coached for years there, such a big deep voice, you always knew when he was around … such a great coach, such a great man … thank you for helping me become a man.”
Known for his humble and unassuming demeanor off the field and his vocal intensity on it, Boulac often worked away from the spotlight and was beloved for his commitment to forming relationships with Notre Dame student-athletes.
When Boulac retired in 2009 after more than a half-century of service to the University, athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a press release said, “Considering his long and valuable efforts as a player, a coach and as an administrator, I don’t think it’s possible to find anyone on campus who has made more contributions to athletics at Notre Dame than Brian Boulac has made over the past five decades.”
Boulac was born on May 8, 1941 in Walla Walla, Washington. His dream to play football at Notre Dame began at the age of eight, when he watched Notre Dame defeat Washington 27-7 on Oct. 1, 1949 en route to a third national championship in four years. An accomplished high school athlete in the state of Washington, Boulac earned 10 varsity letters while playing football, baseball, basketball and track. He earned all-state honors in both football and basketball while captaining both squads.
Boulac enrolled at Notre Dame in 1959, when freshmen were still ineligible to play for the varsity team. He then played three years as a tight-end and two-way player for the varsity team from 1960-62. He earned a monogram in 1960 after making 21 tackles and recovering a fumble during his first varsity season.
The Irish struggled during the early ‘60s, going 12-18 in Boulac’s three seasons as a varsity player, but he would have the chance to help lead the drastic turnaround following the hire of Ara Parseghian. After graduating in 1963, Boulac returned to the team as a graduate assistant and was retained when Parshegian arrived in ‘64. One of Parshegian’s first innovations was to become possibly the first college coach to commission an off-season weight-training program, a task he delegated to Boulac, according to a John D. Luckas story for ESPN.
As a student, Boulac was also a member of the University’s ROTC program. After serving as an assistant freshman coach from 1966-67 (the varsity team won their first national championship under Parseghian in ‘66), Boulac fulfilled his active duty commitment with the Army Medical Services at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas from June 1968 through January 1970.
Parseghian brought Boulac back to the staff in 1970 as offensive line coach. Over the next thirteen years, Boulac would coach both the offensive and defensive lines, the receivers, and special teams under Parseghian, Dan Devine and Gerry Faust, the release said. His affinity for one-on-one communication made him the natural choice to be Notre Dame’s first recruiting coordinator, one of the many roles he held in his last seven years as a football coach. His work on the recruiting trail would even be highlighted in a 1975 article for Time Magazine titled “Brian’s Pitch.”
Boulac also became an administrative assistant under Devine and assistant head coach under Faust. On both Notre Dame’s 1973 and ‘77 national championship-winning teams, he served as the offensive line coach.
In 1983, Boulac transitioned into the athletic department administration at the request of athletic director Gene Corrigan. Boulac served as an administrator for 14 different programs, but he had a “particular affinity” for fencing. As an offensive line coach, he appreciated the sport’s emphasis on footwork.
With Boulac’s assistance, the men’s and women’s fencing programs each won a national title in 1986 and ‘87, respectively, before the national championship for fencing was combined. The program would win three more titles during Boulac’s tenure. He was a member of the NCAA Division I Fencing Committee (for which he served as chairman from ‘96-97) for eight years, a member of the US Fencing Association college and high school advisory committee, and worked the fencing venue during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA.
The move to administration did not signal the end of Boulac’s coaching career. Boulac became the “founding father” of Notre Dame’s softball program, serving as the program’s first head coach from 1989-92. Despite having just two scholarships at his disposal, he led the Irish to four 30-win seasons. After the program’s inaugural season, Boulac was named the Midwestern Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year. Under his leadership, the team won back-to-back conference tournament titles in 1990 and ‘91 before capturing the regular season title in ‘92.
Later in his career, Boulac served as both assistant athletic director and general manager of the Joyce Center, among other roles, before his retirement in 2009. According to a 2009 program article for the Notre Dame-Boston College game, while Boulac’s job titles often changed, his underlying commitment to “helping student-athletes adjust to college life” never wavered. In 2006, he received the James E. Armstrong Award for distinguished service to the University and had a plaque bearing his name placed on a football locker in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, according to the obituary.
Boulac also became a member of the Edward W. Moose Krause Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and began chairing the scholarship committee in ‘85. In 1991, he was recognized by the Chapter for his contributions to football, the obituary said.
Boulac is survived by his wife Micki (ND Law ‘83) and his four Notre Dame-graduate daughters — Dawn (ND ‘89), Denise (‘90), Debbie (‘93), and Dyan (‘94). According to the program article, both the 6-foot-4 Boulac was notorious for his dancing ability at athletic department functions throughout his career.
Boulac also found time to coach each of his daughters in softball over the course of 17 years with the Chet Waggoner Little League, the article said. Both Dawn and Debbie would go on to play under him at Notre Dame as well.
Upon his retirement in 2009, Boulac expressed gratitude for his mentors at Notre Dame and for the privilege to serve the University.
“Many men have a dream come true, but I have been fortunate to live my dream for more than 50 years,” he said. “Notre Dame has given me so much more than I could ever give back. I learned to be a coach under Ara Parseghian and moved into administration under the wing of Gene Corrigan — the most talented and respected mentors one could ask for in athletics. From my perspective, being a Notre Dame employee is not a job. It is a vocation. To be a part of the Notre Dame family and tradition is a God-given opportunity that I have been blessed to share with so many tremendous athletes and co-workers over the years.”