Digger Phelps

Richard Frederick "Digger" Phelps (born July 4, 1941) is an American former college basketball coach, most notably of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from 1971 to 1991. For 20 years, from 1993 to 2014, he served as an analyst on ESPN. He got the nickname "Digger" from his father, who was a mortician in Beacon, New York.[1]

Digger Phelps
Digger Phelps cropped.jpg
Phelps on ESPN's College Gameday broadcast
Biographical details
Born (1941-07-04) July 4, 1941 (age 79)
Beacon, New York
Playing career
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1966–1969Penn (assistant)
1971–1991Notre Dame
Head coaching record
Overall419–200 (.677)
Accomplishments and honors
NCAA Regional – Final Four (1978)

Coaching careerEdit

Early careerEdit

Phelps began his coaching career in 1963 as a graduate assistant at Rider College (now Rider University), where he had played basketball. After a move to St. Gabriel's High School in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, he obtained his first full assistant job in 1966 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

His first head coaching job came in 1970 at Fordham University in The Bronx, where he coached Charlie Yelverton and P.J. Carlesimo, the athletic director's son. Phelps led the Rams to a 24–2 record in the 1970–71 regular season and a #9 national ranking.[2]

Fordham received an at-large bid to the 25-team NCAA tournament, where they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and won the consolation game for third place in the East regional.[3]

In May 1971 at age 29, Phelps was named head coach at the University of Notre Dame.[4]

Notre DameEdit

During his 20 seasons (1971–91) at South Bend, Phelps' Notre Dame teams went 393–197 (.666), with 14 seasons of 20 wins or more. In 1978, Notre Dame made its only Final Four appearance to date. His most-remembered game occurred in 1974, when the second-ranked Fighting Irish scored the last 12 points of the game on January 19 to upset top-ranked UCLA, coached by John Wooden, 71–70, ending the Bruins' record 88-game winning streak.[5][6] He shares the NCAA record for most upsets over a #1 team at seven with Gary Williams.

Date Opponent Score
January 19, 1974 UCLA 71–70
March 5, 1977 San Francisco 93–82
February 26, 1978 Marquette 65–59
February 27, 1980 DePaul 76–74 (2ot)
December 27, 1980 Kentucky 67–61
February 22, 1981 Virginia 57–56
February 1, 1987 North Carolina 60–58

Broadcasting careerEdit

Phelps began his broadcasting career when he served as a commentator for ABC Sports' basketball coverage at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1992, he continued broadcasting career when he announced color commentary for that year's NCAA tournament for CBS. He joined ESPN the next season and worked for them until 2014 as a college basketball studio and game analyst.[7]

During the April 7, 2014 broadcast of "College GameDay", Phelps announced that he was leaving ESPN.

"I spent 20 years at Notre Dame as a coach and now 20 years here at ESPN doing a great job with all you people. And now it's time for me to move forward, and this will be my last time on TV," Phelps said.

Phelps added: "It's been a great run. Twenty years is always my target for everything, and it's time to move forward."

Off the courtEdit

After retiring from Notre Dame, he briefly worked for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the administration of George H.W. Bush and also served as an observer in the 1993 elections in Cambodia. In 1995, he made what was considered then to be a farcical announcement he was running for president.

Phelps is a great fan of opera. The well-rounded former coach made a cameo appearance in the Notre Dame student opera performance of Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld". Phelps played the part of Bacchus, the God of Wine, in two performances in April 2006.

A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, Digger has thrown out numerous Ceremonial first pitches at Wrigley Field and has sung 7th inning stretch for 20 consecutive years as of August 2017.

Phelps released his memoirs in 2007, titled "Undertaker's Son: Life Lessons from a Coach." Phelps co-wrote the book with Jack Colwell, and the book details Phelps' upbringing, professional success, life principles and even lists his "Top 20" songs of all-time. In 2017, Phelps wrote the book "Father Ted Hesburgh: He Coached Me," co-written with Tim Bourret. The book chronicles the remarkable life of Father Theodore Hesburgh, who served as Notre Dame's president from 1952 until his retirement in 1987 and was a key figure in the civil rights movement.

Personal lifeEdit

Phelps resides in South Bend and has three adult children. His eldest, Karen, was married to baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer.[8] He is a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Rider College.[9]

Phelps was instrumental in the restoration of various programs at John McDonogh High School in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. His gifts helped to restore the sports program and helped to launch a four-year Culinary Academy in partnership with the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation and the Recovery School District on December 15, 2010.[10]

Cancer battleEdit

In April 2013, Phelps was diagnosed with bladder cancer.[11][12] On July 1, 2013, his doctor declared him in remission.[13]

Head coaching recordEdit

Statistics overview
Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Fordham Rams (NCAA independent) (1970–1971)
1970–71 Fordham 26–3 NCAA Regional Third Place
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (NCAA independent) (1971–1991)
1971–72 Notre Dame 6–20
1972–73 Notre Dame 18–12 NIT Runner-up
1973–74 Notre Dame 26–3 NCAA Regional Third Place
1974–75 Notre Dame 19–10 NCAA Sweet 16
1975–76 Notre Dame 23–6 NCAA Sweet 16
1976–77 Notre Dame 22–7 NCAA First Round
1977–78 Notre Dame 23–8 NCAA Final Four
1978–79 Notre Dame 24–6 NCAA Elite Eight
1979–80 Notre Dame 22–6 NCAA Second Round
1980–81 Notre Dame 23–6 NCAA Sweet 16
1981–82 Notre Dame 10–17
1982–83 Notre Dame 19–10 NIT First Round
1983–84 Notre Dame 21–12 NIT Runner-up
1984–85 Notre Dame 21–9 NCAA Second Round
1985–86 Notre Dame 23–6 NCAA First Round
1986–87 Notre Dame 24–8 NCAA Sweet 16
1987–88 Notre Dame 20–9 NCAA First Round
1988–89 Notre Dame 21–7 NCAA Second Round
1989–90 Notre Dame 16–13 NCAA First Round
1990–91 Notre Dame 12–20
Notre Dame: 393–195
Total: 419–198

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ www.phelpstek.com, Brian Phelps. "Richard "Digger" Phelps". www.phelpsfamilyhistory.com. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
  2. ^ "Both wire service polls agree -- UCLA is best team in country". AP, UPI. March 16, 1971. p. 2B.
  3. ^ "UCLA squeaks by; Penn blitzed". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. March 21, 1971. p. 1B.
  4. ^ "Notre Dame, Penn name new coaches". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. May 5, 1971. p. 3D.
  5. ^ McDermott, Barry (January 28, 1974). "After 88 comes zero". Sports Illustrated. p. 18.
  6. ^ "It's all over: Irish win by one". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. January 20, 1974. p. !D.
  7. ^ "Digger Phelps". ESPN MediaZone. Archived from the original on 2014-04-03.
  8. ^ Bingham, Jacqueline W. "Alumni Association to honor Karen and Jamie Moyer". Notre Dame. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  9. ^ Frater Appointed to President's Council on Physical Fitness, tke.org; accessed January 1, 2015.
  10. ^ Profile, nola.com; accessed January 1, 2015.
  11. ^ "ESPN". ESPN.com.
  12. ^ Daley, Kaitee. "Digger Phelps' biggest victory". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  13. ^ "Digger Phelps declared cancer free". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 19, 2013.

External linksEdit