SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox didn’t take losing his job as the starting inside linebacker last month well.
“He was livid,” coach Brian Kelly said. “And then he handled it like a captain, senior, leader — although he doesn’t have a “C’’ on his shirt, he handled it the way that I would expect somebody of his character to handle it. He just went to work and worked on getting better.”
Fox concedes being upset when coaches started Jarrett Grace ahead of him against Michigan State in the fourth game. The fifth-year senior from Rocky River, Ohio, had started nine games last season at the other inside linebacker spot, splitting time with Carlo Calabrese. He had learned to play the position despite missing spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Irish coaches planned to use Fox as both inside linebacker positions, with him and Garrett filling the spot vacated with the graduation of Manti Te’o. With the Irish defense struggling, the coaches started Grace even though Fox was leading the team in tackles.
“Obviously I was mad, but I understood,” Fox said.
Cornerback Bennett Jackson said part of the reason why Fox lost that starting position was a knee injury.
“It caused him to play a little slower,” Jackson said.
Fox wouldn’t talk about that, saying he wanted to stay away from the “injury thing.” He continued to share time with Grace and Calabrese, although his playing time decreased. Despite being upset, Fox said he focused on working in practice.
“I thought you could battle through any adversity. Stick to how you were taught and how the coaches teach you and you’ll be fine,” he said.
He was ready when a broken leg ended Grace’s season midway through the second quarter against Arizona State two weeks ago. Fox responded with a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown that gave Notre Dame a 24-13 lead late in the third quarter. With 68 seconds left, he intercepted a pass by Taylor Kelly and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown, diving into the end zone to give the Irish a 37-27 lead.