Interview sheds light on Te'o's relationship with Tuiasosopo

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Interview sheds light on Te'o's relationship with Tuiasosopo

One of the central unanswered questions surrounding the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax is the linebacker's relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man reported by Deadspin as the mastermind behind the fake persona of Lennay Kekua.

While Te'o didn't speak on the matter Thursday, his great uncle Alema joined Salt Lake City radio station 1280 The Zone and, in a 33-minute discussion, elaborated on Te'o's meeting with Tuiasosopo in Los Angeles prior to Notre Dame's regular-season finale against USC.

Alema Te'o said he met Tuiasosopo in a Los Angeles hotel lobby and quickly felt something was off. Te'o runs a football camp in American Samoa, which Tuiasosopo said he had a hand in planning -- a statement which, according to Te'o, was not the case.

"If hes telling me that he was doing my job, then where the hell was I?" Te'o said.

Te'o detailed how Tuiasosopo had with him a 9-year-old girl called Pookah, which jives with a TMZ report involving a separate meeting with Tuiasosopo and a child referred to as Pookah. Te'o said his great-nephew was "mesmerized" by Pookah and was led to believe she was a cousin of Kekua, when in fact she was one of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's sisters, according to the elder Te'o.

Alema Te'o also said Manti Te'o had previously talked on the phone with Pookah while Kekua was purportedly still alive but too tired to talk.

When one of Alema Te'o's nieces attempted to talk with Pookah, she -- according to Te'o -- didn't speak, only nodding or shaking her head while Tuiasosopo stood over her with both his hands on her shoulders.

Te'o detailed how Tuiasosopo said he was hoping to raise money for a friend of Kekua's, who also had leukemia and attended Stanford, so that person could put herself through college. That hope was characterized as a "dying wish" of Kekua's, according to Te'o.

Te'o said Tuiasosopo continually talked up a charity event for his foundation, and believed at the time Tuiasosopo was attempting to align himself with Te'o to gain notoriety for his foundation.

Te'o minced no words when referring to Tuiasosopo multiple times during the segment, saying: "Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a liar, he concocted the whole thing, he misrepresented whatever program that he was trying to get across to Manti, and shoot, he lied every step of the way. I dont feel its beyond him to hire somebody or bring somebody in to play the role of Lennay to get Manti to buy into this deal."

Still, some questions remain. Alema Te'o believed Manti Te'o and Tuiasosopo had been in contact a few times on Twitter and Facebook -- a claim supported by Deadspin's report -- but the meeting in Los Angeles was the pair's first face-to-face meeting. In one of Te'o's posts on Twitter, he urged Tuiasosopo to meet him Hawaii.

Te'o also said his family has many friends in the Tuiasosopo family, but only has a problem with one -- Ronaiah. Alema Te'o alerted Brian Te'o -- Manti's father -- of his suspicious regarding Tuiasosopo not long after their meeting, which was prior to Notre Dame's game against USC.

Alema Te'o also provided a different timeline of events than spelled out by Notre Dame. He said Manti Te'o received a call from the number he thought to be Kekua on Dec. 26, not Dec. 6 as said by Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. But Te'o then said his great nephew didn't want to blow himself up during college football's awards week, so perhaps he has the dates wrong.

What's interesting here, though, is the first-hand account of a meeting with Tuiasosopo. Alema Te'o registered his concerns about Tuiasosopo to Brian Te'o, who relayed those concerns to Manti Te'o the day after Thanksgiving.

We're still awaiting word from Manti Te'o in all of this, and perhaps he can shed some more light on his relationship with Tuiasosopo beyond their meeting in November. And perhaps we'll get more information on this saga if Tuiasosopo or his family breaks its media silence (CSNChicago.com's attempts to reach the Tuiasosopo family Thursday were unsuccessful).

One thing Alema Te'o was adamant about was the family's issues with Tuiasosopo, specifically regarding the timing of Kekua's purported death. Te'o said the focus in his family shifted from grieving for Annette Santiago -- Manti Te'o's grandmother -- to making sure Manti Te'o was okay, and then grieving for the Kekua family.

"They stole that moment," Te'o said of grieving for Santiago.

For the full radio interview with Alema Te'o, click here.

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Mike Elko's first coaching staff as Notre Dame defensive coordinator is beginning to take shape, with the Irish announcing Thursday the hiring of Clark Lea as linebackers coach. 

Lea spent 2016 as Wake Forest's linebackers coach -- under Elko -- and previously held positions on coaching staffs at Bowling Green, Syracuse and UCLA. 

"Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system -- having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

In 2016, Lea coached Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee, who was the only FBS player with 100 or more tackles, 20 or more tackles for a loss and 7 1/2 or more sacks last fall. Nationally, Lee ranked 62nd in tackles (105), 10th in tackles for a loss (20) and 53rd in sacks (7 1/2).

Lea also worked with former All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers at UCLA. 

The Nashville native and Vanderbilt alum (he earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in political science) was also nominated by FootballScoop for its linebackers coach of the year award in 2012 while working with Elko at Bowling Green. 

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

Chip Long will have 'full responsibility' to call plays as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator

Chip Long will have 'full responsibility' to call plays as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator

Notre Dame on Monday officially announced the hiring of Chip Long as its next offensive coordinator, with coach Brian Kelly clearing any speculation about who will be calling plays in 2017.

"Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football -- Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm -- to name a few.”

The 33-year-old Long spent the 2016 season as Memphis’ offensive coordinator, and despite the losses of coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch, the Tigers’ offense remained productive. Memphis ranked 16th in scoring offense (38.8 points per game) and 34th in yards per play (6.25), and by S&P+ had the 37th-best offensive at the FBS level. 

"It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said. “The challenge to lead at a university with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”

How Long adapts to coaching at a higher level than the American Athletic Conference — which, to be fair, is the best Group of Five conference — remains to be seen, though it's likely both he and Notre Dame will run the ball more than they did in 2016. Memphis ran the ball only 47.2 percent of the time on standard downs (first and 10, second and seven or fewer, third/fourth and four or fewer), which ranked 119th out of 128 FBS programs. Notre Dame’s lack of commitment to the run (55.7 percent standard down run rate, 86th) frequently put too much pressure on quarterback DeShone Kizer; with a first-time starter in Brandon Wimbush lined up for 2017, Notre Dame will have to rely on the run far more than it did in 2016. 

There was plenty of speculation Kelly would take over playcalling duties this fall, especially given the departures of associate head coach Mike Denbrock to Cincinnati and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to Western Kentucky. Denbrock called plays the last two seasons. 

Other brief Notre Dame notes:

-- Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel reported Monday morning that Notre Dame will hire Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea for the same position under newly-hired defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who worked with Lea in 2016. Prior to becoming Wake Forest's linebackers coach last year, the 35-year-old Lea spent three seasons as Syracuse's linebackers coach. Lea will take over the role filled by Mike Elston from 2015 to 2016, though Elston (who's also Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator) is expected to remain on staff in some capacity. 

-- Former Notre Dame linebacker Bob Crable, who played for the Irish from 1978-1981, was among the 13 former players and coaches elected to the College Football Hall of Fame's class of 2017 on Monday. He's the 46th former Notre Dame player or coach to be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and first since Thom Gatewood in 2015. Former Irish kick returner/receiver Raghib Ismail and offensive lineman Aaron Taylor were both on the 2017 ballot but were not elected. 

-- While Notre Dame unveiled a new part of its 2017 identidy in Long, it lost the verbal pledge of a blue-chip recruit. According to Irish Illustrated, four-star athlete Paulson Adebo (Mansfield, Texas) backed off his verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Monday, a move which dropped the Irish out of Scout's top 10 class rankings. With the NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period being lifted on Wednesday, Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class ranks 12th on Scout. Coaches not only will have to work to add to it in the coming weeks, but will have to push to keep what was a strong class together as the aftershocks of last fall's 4-8 season continue.