Randy Kinder grew up in Spartan country in a house where everyone knew the MSU fight song by heart. Even with such strong influences he was not a college football fan. He did not even know where Notre Dame was, let alone that it was only a mere two and a half hours away. But after some football success in high school and receiving some attention from Division I football schools, Notre Dame very quickly jumped into the picture. After his time at ND, Randy had a brief but exciting NFL career with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. Kinder had the opportunity to play for such legendary coaches as Mike Holmgren, Fritz Shurmur and Ray Rhodes, and to play with childhood role models Reggie White and Brett Favre. Today, Kinder lives with his wife in Washington DC, works for the AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corporation and is pursuing his MBA through the Robert H. Smith business school at the University of Maryland.
Q: Growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, in the heart of Spartan country, how did you become interested in playing football for the University of Notre Dame?
A: “As a kid growing up I had no knowledge of Notre Dame and I was not a huge college football fan. I was born in Washington, DC and when we moved to Michigan when I was five years old I brought my Redskin fandom with me. As I got to middle school I became a Spartan fan. Everyone around me knew the Spartan fight song. My mother went to graduate school at Michigan State and worked at the university for a while, and we lived just a mile from campus — it was very present in our lives. When I realized I was pretty good at football I started to pay attention to other schools. I knew of Notre Dame but was not really interested. I was shocked when I found out it was only two and a half hours away. I never thought it was a possibility for me to play somewhere like Notre Dame until the recruiting process began. I went down to Notre Dame for the Michigan game when Reggie Brooks scored the unconscious touchdown and I thought to myself, this is the coolest place ever. That was a huge deal for me, when I saw that play. If you grow up a Michigan State fan, you hate the Wolverines. It was awesome to see a running back give their all like that and just fall into the end zone.”
“I remember the Cotton Bowl game in January of 1993 against Texas A&M. Jerome Bettis scored a touchdown on a Rick Mirer pass late in the third quarter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43J-4dchKCo After he scored he got into somewhat of an altercation with a few of the A&M players in the end zone. When he got to the side lines you could see Coach Mosley talking to him, telling him that he needed to chill out. After the coach was done talking to Bettis the camera was still on Jerome and you could then see him mouth, “I still got six.” I wanted to be on the team with that guy.”
“I also got to attend the ND football banquet where I had the chance to see the caliber of guys who were leaving: Rick Mirer, Devon McDonald, Demetrius Dubose — and I got to meet some guys that I would be playing with, including Derrick Mayes who was my host and would later be my roommate. He was the best salesman for Notre Dame. It was a typical snowy South Bend weekend when I was there, but the weather did not scare me being from East Lansing. I absolutely fell in love with the guys on the team and the coaching staff (Tom Clements and Skip Holtz). I went to all of the functions that weekend and then the last person I met with was a one-on-one meeting with Lou Holtz. He asked me if I wanted to be a part of “this” (Notre Dame) and I gave him my verbal commitment right then and there.”
“Outside of a short flirtation with Stanford, I never really wavered in my interest of attending Notre Dame. I knew after that weekend that Notre Dame was where I wanted to be.”
“I took official visits to Michigan, Michigan State, Boston College, Stanford, and Notre Dame. My parents had given me an “approved list” to choose from. They wanted to be sure that academics came first and football second. Michigan State had an excellent Public Policy program and the academics at Stanford were fantastic. The schools I was looking at had some excellent football coaches as well…Bill Walsh at Stanford, Tom Coughlin at Boston College, and George Perles at MSU. I really could not have gone wrong at any of those places.”
“My weekend at Notre Dame was not a weekend of wining and dining. It was a real weekend. There was not a lot of pomp and circumstance. I had the chance to spend time in the dorm and get to know the students. It gave me a great feel for what the place was really like. My parents really enjoyed it as well and were happy that it was only a couple of hours from home. Notre Dame pretty much checked off every box that we had made as a family before hand and it did so with flying colors. I felt honored that Notre Dame was even considering me.”
Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?
A: “My freshman class was a top-ranked recruiting class. We had such names as Ron Powlus, Bertrand Berry, and Marc Edwards. The freshman football players arrive on campus five days before the rest of the team comes in and have a freshman orientation. We really came in as a cohesive unit. We had such pride in each other and were very excited to be a part of this thing called Notre Dame football. The camaraderie that we built those five days was incredible. We were so happy, so excited. We all knew we were going to at least attempt to accomplish great things during our time at Notre Dame. That feeling alone is one of my best Notre Dame football memories.”
“As far as on-the-field memories go, the win over Florida State my freshman year was amazing. To go into that game as an underdog and come out on top was a great feeling for us. For me personally, the comeback over Purdue late in my junior year was a huge accomplishment. I scored the winning touchdown in the final minutes of the game (Randy Kinder’s 52-yard touchdown run put down a strong Purdue rally in a 1995 35-28 thriller.). All the trips we took, Air Force, BYU, the trip to Ireland my senior year, we had so much fun as a unit traveling together, getting to visit places we’d never been before. It was a huge part of the experience of playing Notre Dame football.”
“There are some guys who remember every single detail of every play. I am the kind of guy that when the play turns on, my memory turns off. During that Purdue comeback, I remember that Purdue had just scored the go ahead touchdown on a turnover, and when we got the ball back I remember Ron Powlus coming into the huddle and telling us, “We’ve got to get this game back. Let’s do this right now.” And on the next play we ran I scored the winning touchdown and we took the game back.”
Q: Can you talk about the big hit during the Texas/ND game in 1996?
Bryant Westbrook puts a vicious hit on Notre Dame’s Randy Kinder, 1996.
A: “It’s funny, I have a much younger brother who is in high school right now. I was on his Facebook page not too long ago and his buddies were giving him a hard time about the big hit I took during that Texas game in 1996.
Any time someone new comes into my office, the first thing my boss does is rushes them over to the computer to show them the play.”
“But my only thought is this: we won the game.”
“If you look at the play, for years and years people have said to me, ‘Aww man, you must have been mad at Ron (Powlus) because he hung you out to dry.’ A couple of years ago Malcolm Johnson sent me an apologetic email saying that he was supposed to block Bryant Westbrook on that play.”
“When I went to the NFL combine Bryant was there as well. He ended up getting drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions. We ran into each other at the combine and just cracked up laughing. I told him ‘You’re welcome” because that play was run so many times on ESPN that it probably helped catapult him into his NFL career.”
“I don’t have an active memory of that play. I was pretty much done after it. I went in for one more play. A play that I had nothing to do on, but I knew my mother was watching the game on TV in East Lansing and I was sure she was thinking that her son had died so I wanted to make sure she could see that I was okay. I knew it was bad when on the flight home they kept telling me, ‘you should probably stay awake for a while. No sleeping on the plane.’”
Q: What was your biggest challenge as a Notre Dame student-athlete?
A: “Keeping my focus. It is so hard to stay focused and you don’t realize it until you are in a situation which requires focus. To be able to remember, as Lou Holtz always said to us, ‘WIN — What’s Important Now?” What is the most important thing to do first and what gets you to your goal.”
“It’s the first time you are away from home. There are so many distractions outside of football and school, it is easy to lose your direction and get knocked off your path. I got caught up with things that had nothing to do with what my goals were or what should have been my priority. It led to off-the-field issues with student affairs that were unnecessary and mistakes, but they could have been completely avoided. They came from a lack of focus. In the classroom I had the same issue. I loved school. I was not a great student but I always loved school.”
“There are so many demands on you and it’s so easy to let something fall by the wayside. I did not manage my time well at Notre Dame. What I can say now is that through all that I experienced as a student at Notre Dame I have learned a great deal and am much more organized and efficient as an adult.”
“I think about Tim Ruddy. He had over a 4.0 grade point average, was the starting center and was a high NFL draft pick. He was a brilliant guy, a good guy who didn’t suffer on the personal side of things. We should celebrate student-athletes such as that. There are so many ways to take short cuts in life. Any time I hear about student-athletes who make Academic All-American, I think we should do more to recognize those students. We should provide more services to the student-athletes to help them better manage their time and their lives. The more we do to help student-athletes early on, the better.”
“When we arrived at ND staff from the student affairs and counseling offices would meet with us and explain, ‘You’re about to face a lot of demands on your time,’ but we had no idea what was really about to happen. I was so invested in football practice I just blew off the academics. There is so much we can accomplish in college, it’s a shame when a student does not take full advantage of all that is offered. I feel bad that I did not take advantage, academically, of all the things that Notre Dame had to offer.”
“When the university hired Reggie Brooks to be the liaison between the alumni football players and the current football players it sent a huge message to the rest of us. Many of us were disappointed in the way that Coach Willingham had been dismissed and had lost our connection with the university. Coach Holtz had a reunion with us somewhere around 2005, and as we were sitting there in South Dining Hall he reminded us that we own this university, through the blood, sweat, and tears that we put into it; and that we all needed to be active participants in it and not hold on to the bitterness.”
“This message from Coach Holtz along with the hiring of Reggie Brooks (one of us) helped show us that the University was not only interested in reestablishing a relationship with her football alumni but was also interested in getting us involved in mentoring current student-athletes. To get us to come back and help make the University what we want it to be. Reggie’s hiring was instrumental in making that happen.”
“As a student-athlete, you need to have a place where you can go and get some real advice on how to deal with what you are experiencing, from someone who has already experienced it. To have trusted people who you can get advice from. This is what Notre Dame is doing today.”
Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?
A: “I sat at home with my family and we watched both days of the draft. There was some wishful thinking on my part that I’d get picked somewhere in the middle rounds but it didn’t happen. I did get calls from several teams who expressed interest in drafting me and told me that if I did not get drafted that I would get invitations to camp.”
“Ron Wolf, the general manager of the Green Bay Packers called me in the middle rounds of the draft and said, ‘We like you and we have a plan for you.’ He explained to me that they were very interested but were not sure that they wanted to keep me in the running back position, but possibly move me to defense. He was quite a legend, so getting that call meant a tremendous amount to me. Shortly after the draft I received calls from several teams inviting me to their training camps. Mr. Wolf called me again wanting me to come to camp, and there were three other Domers already on the team (Aaron Taylor, Craig Hentrich and Derrick Mayes) so it was a great fit for me. I was very familiar with the team, and they were coming off a Super Bowl win which made them very attractive. Green Bay has a college town feel to it which I liked. They wanted me and they had a plan for me, and so I went up to Green Bay and signed with them.”
“They decided that they wanted to switch me to defense back and I agreed because I wanted to be a part of their organization. They had done it successfully with several other guys, so it seemed like a great opportunity for me. I would spend a year or two on the practice squad and then I’d have the opportunity to join the 53 man roster. After the first game of the season Craig Newsome, their starting cornerback, tore up his knee and so they bumped everyone up on the depth chart. Suddenly I was the sixth corner and was added to the active special teams unit. This gave me a chance to learn more about the system and they’d have the ability to move me back to the practice squad if needed.”
“In my very first game (which was week two of the season), on my very first play, I was one of the gunners running down field towards the kicker. As I got down there I was completely in the zone. I was running full speed ahead and when the punt returner sees me coming he throws up the fair catch signal. I tried to change up my momentum but by that point I was already too close and I ended up slide tackling into him. I headed over to the sideline, sure that I was going to be cut or sent home, but they were totally great with me. ‘Randy, we love your enthusiasm, but don’t do that again.’”
“I played a lot of special teams in Green Bay. In November of that season I was moved back to the practice squad and was then picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. This was great for me because my Dad was from Philadelphia and my grandparents lived there and were able to come to every game, along with my cousins and Uncle and Aunt. I spent the offseason in Philly and then was cut at the end of the following training camp, and aside from a short offseason stint with the Indianapolis Colts that was the official end of my NFL career. I could have gone and played in Europe or Canada, but I decided not to pursue that and to begin the next chapter of my life instead.
“I can’t complain at all. I got to play with Reggie White and Brett Favre, two of my childhood role models, and a lot of my childhood dreams came true. It was a wonderful opportunity/experience for me.”
Q: Where did life take you after football?
A: “After my time with the Eagles I lived in Chicago for a bit but eventually settled in Washington, DC with my wife. I work with a company called the AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corporation. I work in marketing and investor relations for a series of funds that invest union pension dollars into commercial real estate and into the stock market. Our whole main idea is to use union pension dollars to create jobs and a secure retirement for our workers. In our commercial real estate fund, if we build anything, it is built with union workers. And if we own buildings, they are serviced by union workers.”
“There is a big industry conference that I go to every year for union trustees, the International Foundation, and a few years back it was in New Orleans and Lou Holtz was the guest speaker. Within ten minutes of the big announcement that Coach Holtz was going to be the speaker I already had several emails from colleagues, ‘can you introduce me to Coach Holtz?’ So I sent an email to Coach Holtz’ secretary, Jan, letting her know that myself and Bryan Flannery both work in the industry and that we’d love to have dinner with Coach Holtz after his speech. Almost immediately Jan emails me back saying, this is great but it’s too far off in the future. The next day I get an email from Coach Holtz, ‘Randy, whatever you and Bryan need, I will do it for you.’ And that was Coach Holtz.”
“‘Give me four years and I’ll give you forty.’”
“He was coming to the conference from Bristol, Connecticut (he had been working at ESPN headquarters) but because of a blizzard his flight out of Hartford was cancelled and so he had to drive to NYC to fly out of La Guardia. They were closing roads left and right on his route and a state trooper ended up guiding him down the road. He makes it to his flight and gets to our luncheon and could not have been more gracious. He stayed with us for 90 minutes after his speech, signed autographs, never once complaining that he had been up all night trying to get there. And for him, we were able to raise money for his foundation, Lou’s Lads. Years later he is still very much a part of our lives, and we are in his as well.”
“When he arrived at the conference, the first thing he said to me was, ‘How’s your family? How are your folks? How’s your sister?’ Even years later, he still had a vested interest in your life, success and well-being.”
Q: Can you tell us more about Lou’s Lads and your involvement with this charitable foundation?
A: “Lou’s Lads is a charitable foundation set up by his players, dedicated to Coach Holtz and designed to preserve his legacy. He did so much for us, we are more than happy to give back to him through this foundation. We based the foundation on the same idea as Leahy’s Lads. Their foundation started out mainly as a way for them to stay together — to get back to campus and stay in touch. We started not only with this concept but directly with the idea of doing charitable work and giving back to the students. We wanted to not only take care of each other, but to give back as well.”
Our Mission: Lou’s Lads Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to preserving and supporting the legacy of Coach Lou Holtz and his players while providing a platform to provide financial assistance for the educational needs of underprivileged students and legacies as well as support charitable and educational activities and organizations within the communities of its members.
“I have been involved in a project that the foundation is supporting in Haiti. http://haiti.nd.edu/
Reggie Fleurima, Jeff Burris, Brian Hamilton, and I made the trip to visit the ND Haiti program to see how we could use our influence to help an existing program at the school. We had been introduced to the program through Brian Hamilton and it’s director Father Thomas Streit and we got a chance to see firsthand the amazing work they are doing down there.”
“There is so much work to be done in Haiti you have to force yourself to be extremely focused. The Notre Dame Haiti Program, founded in 1993, seeks to achieve the historic goal of eliminating Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) in Haiti by 2020. In an area where there are issues with clean water, the disease is spread through mosquito bites. The disease is the second leading cause of long-term disfigurement and disability worldwide, which primarily presents itself as elephantiasis. The social stigma associated with the disease is often as bad as the disfigurement itself. Once you contract the disease it is not reversible, however it is possible to eliminate it through mass drug administration and the distribution of co-fortified salt. What the Notre Dame program is trying to do is get the medicine to the people. Haiti is one of the few countries that does not have an iodized salt program, so they decided why not put the medicine along with the iodine into the salt and you’re killing two birds with one stone.”
“The work that Notre Dame is doing is remarkable, and once successful in Haiti they hope to use their model in other developing nations.”
“After we had a chance to see the work that Notre Dame is doing in Haiti firsthand, we are now trying to figure out how we can be ambassadors for the program and get Lou’s Lads behind it. The potential of what we can do is limitless. I am very excited about what lies ahead.”
Q: What advice would you give current student athletes?
A: “It is important that young people are able to focus in on, as Coach Holtz says, “what’s important now,” but I think in order for these young men to get the fullest out of their experience in college they have to make it a priority that they get the most out of each part of their collegiate life. They need to make sure they don’t sacrifice one for another. Football is important, but it’s just one facet of college life. The opportunity that you get to attend a university such as Notre Dame goes way beyond just playing football. Take advantage of everything that college has to offer, the services, faculty, fellow students. I did not take advantage of all that Notre Dame had to offer when I was a student.”
“In college you are becoming the person that you are going to be in the future. Student-athletes need to really explore that in their personal lives — to meet other people and to figure out what kind of person you want to become. If you put one of the facets of college life aside, if you let any one of these fall by the wayside, you’ll know it and regret it later on.”
“The only person you hurt by not taking advantage of all that college has to offer is yourself.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: “Coach Holtz had this way of breaking you down so that he could build you back up. He was a psychology major in college and he used every ounce of that degree in coaching. My freshman year he had me convinced that I was the dumbest player that he ever recruited from the state of Michigan. We had worked on my stance and it was still a half-inch off and he kept yelling at me — why could I not get it right?”
“Then one of the upperclassmen Pete Chryplewicz told me not to worry, that he was the dumbest player recruited out of the state of Michigan the previous year.”
“My favorite Coach Holtz story happened the week before the Florida State game in 1993. It was the Wednesday prior to the game and I don’t think one pundit had picked us to win. They were this gargantuan power and we were the lowly guys who should not even be on the same field as them, with a quarterback who did not even come close to competing with their amazing Charlie Ward.”
“Coach Holtz called us in to the defensive meeting room in the ACC. He then started going through our team, player by player, down the starting lineup and compared each one of our guys with Florida State’s corresponding player. He explained why Florida State had no business being on the field with *us* and how our players were more talented than each one of their players. It was the best psychological exercise I’d ever seen. It was so clear to us. I think every one of us walked out of that meeting convinced that we had already won the game and that we didn’t even need to play it. We knew that we could beat them and that we would beat them.”
“We meditated before every game. Coach Holtz was big on making sure you were in the right mental space before taking the field to play the game. The power of your mental psyche over what you can do physically is amazing. It’s like flipping on a switch in your head.”
“At that meeting before the Florida State game I saw really how good he was as a coach.”
I’d like to give a big thank you to Randy for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became” available for purchase on August 1st.