‘Got it’: Jack Nolan, legendary voice of ND basketball, to retire after 39 years
Alysa Guffey | Tuesday, February 9, 2021
“Don’t be so serious.”
This is what Jack Nolan, longtime Notre Dame play-by-play announcer, would have said to himself at the beginning of his career.
“If I made a mistake or two, or misidentified somebody, I would lose faith and I’d remember it for weeks,” Nolan said.
After 39 years of devoting most of his time to Notre Dame sports, Nolan announced his retirement will begin at the end of the 2020-2021 men’s basketball season.
Nolan said he always knew he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer. Growing up in Boston, he would purchase tickets to Fenway Park and Boston Garden and announce the games into a tape recorder.
Combining his broadcasting passion with his admiration of Notre Dame sports, Nolan found himself in South Bend in 1982.
“I grew up watching Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung announce Notre Dame games on Notre Dame football replay,” Nolan said. “It was on Channel 56 Boston, I think, at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings, so I was certainly very familiar with Notre Dame and it has always been one of the greatest teams in college sports.”
Nolan first landed a job at WNDU, the local NBC affiliate, to do play-by-play for Notre Dame football. His first game was a 28-14 Notre Dame win over Purdue.
A 39-year career in Indiana wasn’t what Nolan envisioned for himself when he first landed the gig. Three years into his job, Nolan said he was in New York searching for an agent. However, he met his future wife around the same time and decided to stay in South Bend.
“I met a young lady named Rhonda Brown, who was a producer and broadcaster for WSBT, and six months later we were married,” Nolan said. “Then, we kind of focused more on how do we make this work, as opposed to where are we going to go.”
Among several Associated Press play-by-play awards and an honorary monogram from Notre Dame in 2013, Nolan made his presence in Notre Dame basketball known through his signature phrase, “Got it,” which Nolan began saying after Irish players would hit a three-pointer. He said he only began using the catchphrase after he was comfortable enough to not fear the risk of being subjective during the games.
“I let those emotions come out and they got louder and louder,” Nolan said.
Nolan said he did not realize how much his broadcast style meant to the Irish team until the day a player off the bench ran over to his desk after making a shot to confirm Jack had followed up with his famous catchphrase.
Nolan said he missed saying it but promised the player he would say it next time.
“There won’t be a next time,” the player responded.
That was when Nolan said he fully realized how important his call style was to the fans and players.
Over the years, Nolan said he has been able to create numerous special relationships that he will miss as he moves on from his career.
“I don’t think there’s a coach that I didn’t like or get along with over my career,” Nolan said.
In a Feb. 4 press conference, men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey described Nolan as “a brother and a great friend.”
“It’s hard for me to picture having chemistry with another announcer,” Brey said.
Brey also said he was amazed at the amount of preparation Nolan did before each game, saying that it seemed like Nolan “watched more film than the assistants.”
“He was a great voice and a respected voice for our program, and we’ll miss that,” Brey said.
Acknowledging his own tendencies, Nolan said he “probably still overprepares for each game“ in his final year.
Nolan’s relationships and bonds were not limited to the Notre Dame sports bubble. He fondly recalled a half-hour conversation with the late John Wooden, Hall of Famer and former UCLA men’s basketball head coach, as one of his favorite interviews.
As well as hearing about Wooden’s pyramid of success, Nolan said that at one point in the interview Wooden turned to him and jokingly placed blame on Nolan for the state of “terrible college basketball.”
“He said, ‘You and all the other sportscasters, when’s the last time you put a free throw on the highlights? When’s the last time you put a good screen?’” Nolan said.
Fellow colleagues of Nolan in the sports journalism world have praised Nolan’s hard work and class.
“Jack has always been the epitome of professionalism. Not only has he always been very smooth as a play-by-play man, but very fair in his commentary — never a homer,” Bill Moor, former sports editor of the South Bend Tribune, said in an email.
After a year unlike any other, Nolan will end his career in a pandemic stricken sports world. He said he misses traveling with the team and sitting courtside, but has felt the call to retire over the past couple of years.
Nolan said he plans to travel and enjoy holidays with his wife and family in his retirement. He will continue to keep up with college sports, if at a bit of a distance.
“It’s going to be hard, but I also have been buoyed by the fact that not one person has said that I will regret it,” Nolan said.
Following an act like Nolan will be challenging, but he feels confident in whoever his successor will be.
“I feel very good about whoever is doing my job next year will get to work with the best people I’ve ever worked with,” Nolan said.