Alex Flanagan has been NBC’s sideline reporter for Notre Dame games since 2007. It hasn’t exactly been a joy ride. The Irish went 3-9 during her first year, and the following seasons, which saw Charlie Weis lose his job in 2009, haven’t come close to meeting the absurdly high expectations in South Bend.
So with Notre Dame 8-0 going into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, Flanagan is experiencing her first real dose of Irish fever.
“It’s great,” Flanagan said. “In other years, it could be tough doing that seventh or eighth home game in November. There’s a whole new feel and energy now. There’s definitely a different vibe in the building.”
I had a chance to talk with Flanagan about Notre Dame and Brian Kelly; her duties as a sideline reporter for NBC and NFL Network; her crazy schedule; and the most challenging coaches for a halftime interview.
What has been your experience dealing with Brian Kelly?
He’s been consistent. He’s been the same person from Day 1. He understands the job of being a head coach at Notre Dame, and the politics that come with it. I wonder if (his staff) is surprised in their third year that they are having the kind of success they’re having.
I’ve worked with him long enough where we have a joking relationship. Over the past few weeks, with the quarterback changes, I’m interested to know who’s starting. I was hanging around him before a game, and he looked over at me. I said, ‘I’m waiting to talk to you.’ He said, ‘I know you are.’
How different is it doing the games for one school such as Notre Dame compared to doing a different game each week for NFL Network?
You get to know everybody at Notre Dame. I’m old enough to where I get to know the parents (of the Notre Dame players). I feel like a mother to the kids on the team. A couple of weeks ago I caught up with (Jimmy Clausen’s mother) in North Carolina. I remember her as a mother sitting up in the stands when Jimmy was a freshman, worrying every time he got sacked.
It’s a different experience. Having said that, there are a lot of players in the NFL I knew from when they played in college. You end up pulling for them because you know their stories and background.
You know what the critics say about the value of sideline reporters. CBS doesn’t even use them. What’s your response?
I’m often asked to defend the job of the sideline reporter. I think of myself as an accessory. I don’t know if you can appreciate this, but I tell my female friends, ‘When you get dressed up in that great outfit, the one thing that can top it off is a great accessory. Like a necklace or ear rings.’
Are we a necessity for a telecast? No. But I can see a lot of things that happen on the field that (the announcers) can’t see from up high.
The injury stuff is the big thing. Last year, Ben Roethlisberger looked like he broke an ankle in one of our games. I was able to talk to Mike Tomlin at halftime, and he said it wasn’t as severe as it looked. He wound up playing in the second half.
If a coach is mad, I can hear what he’s mad about. I can say he said this or that. A sideline reporter can help avoid a lot of the speculation.
What about the value of halftime interview with the coach?
It provides a view of what the tone and mood is of the coach. It doesn’t matter what he says as much as you can see how he reacts to a question. You can see his demeanor. I try to provide an insight and view for the person watching at home.
In the NFL, who are the toughest coaches for the halftime interview? The best?
You probably could guess the toughest. The coaches who run a tight ship. Jim Harbaugh can be intimidating. His brother, John, gets intense too. Bill Belichick.
You have to be in the moment with the coaches. At the top of their list at halftime isn’t talking to me about what went wrong in the first half.
With a certain coach, you have to carefully construct what you’re going to ask. Somebody like Jim Harbaugh listens to every word you say. You have to be specific.
Coaches like Jeff Fisher, Norv Turner are great to deal with. Mike Tomlin and Mike Smith. To be honest, every coach in the NFL understands it is part of the job and they are very professional about it.
You have a crazy schedule. You work the Thursday night game for NFL Network; Saturday for Notre Dame home games; and Sunday you cover an NFL game for NBC’s Football Night in America. You live in San Diego and have three kids under the age of 10. How do you manage it?
Yes, it is a challenge. Usually, I leave on Tuesday for the NFL Network game on Thursday. Then we get to South Bend on Friday. On Sunday, I usually fly out of Chicago in the morning to get to my NFL game.
But there are working women who work year around who leave the house every day at 7 and don’t get home until 6-7. I work every day for four months, starting in September. The rest of the year, I try to stay at home.
I like to say that I get the best of both worlds. I get to be a stay-at-home Mom for part of the year and a working Mom for other parts of the year.