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: What Brian VanGorder set out to do, and where his defenses failed

Notre Dame: What Brian VanGorder set out to do, and where his defenses failed

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Two and a half years ago, the hiring of Brian VanGorder was billed as the natural next step to take for Notre Dame's defense after the departure of Bob Diaco and his bend-don’t-break scheme.

Notre Dame’s recruiting was picking up steam entering Year 5 of the Brian Kelly era — its 2013 class was ranked by Rivals in the top five nationally — and with more athletic playmakers coming to campus, the hope was an aggressive, multiple defense stuffed with sub packages and NFL tenets could bring the Irish consistent success.

On Sunday, Kelly fired VanGorder following 30 games of inconsistent, largely ineffective defense. Looking back on what was expected of this defense — and the results that followed — it’s clear to see why that decision was made.

“We have a great base, and we have now developed what we consider a demeanor on our defense and an expectation, and now we're going to take it to the next level defensively,” Kelly said prior to spring practice in 2014, “and Brian is going to be able to take our defense to that next level.”

When Kelly hired VanGorder in January of 2014, he pointed to a few things. First, he said VanGorder was “one of the very best teachers, if not the best teacher, that I’ve ever been around.” Second, he said VanGorder “understands player development.” Third, he pointed to VanGorder’s reams of experience, like his winning of the Broyles Award while Georgia’s defensive coordinator and his four seasons of experience as the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator, too. And fourth, Kelly pointed to VanGorder being an enjoyable person to be around who’s “the right fit for me and my staff.”

Above all else, VanGorder’s defense was supposed to be fun — as in, it’s one that allows players to make plays, whereas Diaco’s defenses heavily relied on two-gapping, playing off coverage and waiting for an opposing offense to make a mistake. Diaco’s defense was a college defense; VanGorder’s was an NFL one.

There was little questioning the immediate buy-in to VanGorder's scheme. Nose guard Jarron Jones, now a fifth-year graduate student, explained back in April 2014 what the defense set out to do:

“You're part of a new defense and you're playing more to your advantage and showing off being more aggressive instead of being more disciplined," Jones said. "You're the attacker, you're not the one having to read the attacker."

So when Kelly fired VanGorder on Sunday, and pointed to a lack of “energy and enthusiasm and fun,” it represented one of the bigger shortcomings of this defense. And outside of a handful of games in 2014 and 2015, Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t the attacker — it was being attacked.

“The whole philosophy is that we don't want the offense to dictate how we play defense,” former defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said in April of 2014.

In four seasons under Diaco, Notre Dame’s defense averaged 26.3 sacks, 51.5 passes defended, 67.8 tackles for a loss and 19.8 turnovers per season — which comes out to 2 sacks, 4 passes defended, 5.2 tackles for a loss and 1.5 turnovers per game.

Over VanGorder’s 30 contests, Notre Dame’s per-game averages: 1.7 sacks, 3.7 passes defended, 3.9 tackles for a loss and 1.4 turnovers. Statistically, in no relevant aggressive area was Notre Dame’s defense better under VanGorder than it was under Diaco.

“You're gonna have some big plays but you're gonna make a lot of big plays too," Cooks said of VanGorder’s defensive expectations two years ago, "so it's a little give and take there."

Notre Dame indeed allowed more big plays under VanGorder: In total, 13 plays of 60 or more yards (0.43/game) and 64 of 30 or more yards (2.1/game). In Diaco’s four-year tenure, Notre Dame only allowed five total plays of 60 or more yards — as many as the Irish have allowed in 2016 alone — and 55 plays of 30 or more yards (1.1/game).

This isn’t to say Diaco’s defense was perfect and Notre Dame needs to go running back to something similar to it — the Irish defense ranked 48th in S&P+ in 2013 and was gouged by Michigan and Oklahoma that year. But that was far and away the worst year Notre Dame’s defense had under Diaco (in S&P+, it ranked 10th in 2010, 11th in 2011 and 8th in 2012). Notre Dame’s best year under VanGorder was 2015’s 35th-ranked defense by S&P+ — that group was stocked with captains, upperclassmen and NFL talent — and he was fired with Notre Dame sitting at No. 78 in defensive S&P+ in 2016.

A common critique of VanGorder’s system was that it was too difficult and that it threw far too much at student-athletes also balancing classwork. Players pushed back on that notion last week, as did Kelly during his teleconference on Sunday. But something had to be behind all the poor fits and blown coverages, right?

“There's not too much defense,” Kelly said. “There's probably too much analysis maybe, and we're going to streamline it and we're going to keep it fundamentally sound, certainly and we're going to allow our kids to play fast and free, and have some fun at it.”

But whatever the reasons for why this defense didn’t work, the over-arching fact of the matter was that Brian VanGorder’s defenses didn’t work. They set out to create havoc back in 2014 and fell entirely short of that goal.

Said VanGorder in March of 2014: “I think my mindset is to, especially in today’s game, is to take more and more control on defense by being aggressive and it starts out there. That’s where you start your decisions as a coach.”

Notre Dame, outside of a few games that look like outliers on a troubling trend line, rarely controlled a game with its defense under VanGorder. It’ll have to hope Greg Hudson, or the next guy who comes into that role, can at least accomplish that.

Otherwise, those three losses in which Notre Dame scored at least 28 points could only be the beginning in what may wind up being a disastrous year in South Bend. 

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

After allowing 40 points in an embarrassing road loss at Brigham Young three years ago, Texas coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz, whose defense only had one sack at the time of his firing, was replaced by a defensive analyst with coordinator experience. Sound familiar?

In-season, high-profile coordinator firings aren’t completely unheard of at the college level, but they are rare. So with Notre Dame replacing Brian VanGorder with Greg Hudson on Sunday, we can look back at Texas’ 2013 season as a rough blueprint for setting expectations for the Irish defense going forward. 

And the expectation is this: A mid-season firing of a coordinator probably won’t fix a broken defense. It didn’t necessarily do that at Texas. 

Like VanGorder’s 2015 defense, Diaz’s group in 2012 was inconsistent and prone to debilitating showings: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all scored 40 or more points against the Longhorns, with Texas losing three of those four games in a 9-4 season. 

So with championship expectations still on Brown at Texas, and a defense clearly in regression, Brown fired Diaz — who earned $700,000, about $400,000 lower than the salary ESPN reported VanGorder earned in 2014 — just two games into the 2013 season. Here’s how Texas fared after jettisoning Diaz and promoting former Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to that post in Austin:

Lost, 44-23, vs. Ole Miss (allowed 6.24 yards per play)
Won, 31-21, vs. Kansas State (allowed 5.74 yards per play)
Won, 31-30, at Iowa State (allowed 6.01 yards per play)
Won, 36-20, vs. Oklahoma (allowed 4.46 yards per play)
Won, 30-7, at TCU (allowed 3.90 yards per play)
Won, 35-13, vs. Kansas (allowed 5.19 yards per play)
Won, 47-40, at West Virginia (allowed 4.81 yards per play)
Lost, 38-13, vs. Oklahoma State (allowed 6.13 yards per play)
Won, 41-16. vs Texas Tech (allowed 4.95 yards per play)
Lost, 30-10, at Baylor (allowed 5.52 yards per play)
Lost, 30-7, vs. Oregon (allowed 6.90 yards per play)

Texas still struggled to stop the Big 12’s most powerful offenses in Oklahoma State and Baylor, as well as Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. That win over Oklahoma certainly was impressive — the Sooners went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl — and this group did do better in terms of putting pressure on opposing offenses, but for the most part, Texas’ defense was still an up-and-down group. 

Its defense did well against Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech but struggled to stop Ole Miss, Iowa State and West Virginia. Robinson didn’t magically turn Texas into a reliably-competitive defense: The Longhorns finished 44th in defensive S&P+, 57th in scoring defense (25.8 PPG) and 62nd in yards per play (5.48). It wasn’t good enough to allow Texas to compete for a Big 12 championship (of course, it's worth noting Texas' offense wasn't, either). 

Notre Dame’s circumstances are different, with the Irish possessing a much better offense this year than Texas had three years ago (Case McCoy and a banged-up David Ash were largely ineffective) but less talent on defense (both Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed totaled double-digit sacks; Notre Dame only has one sack as a team through four games). 

But the lesson here is that a mid-season coordinator change shouldn’t be expected to completely fix a defense. For Notre Dame’s sake, it has to hope Hudson can, at least, inject something into this defense to marginally improve it enough to get the Irish to six wins and bowl eligibility.