Notre Dame Fans Need to R-E-L-A-X

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A week in college football that is supposed to be known more for National Signing Day – where recruits officially sign the dotted line on their future college destinations – was instead a week of anger and frustration for Notre Dame fans. Between head coach Brian Kelly attending the Super Bowl with his family rather than being on campus to meet a visiting safety prospect and the loss of three assistant coaches, Irish fans would have you believe the Notre Dame program is on the brink of disaster.

Now might be the time to take a page out of NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ playbook: r-e-l-a-x.

Questioning Kelly’s work ethic for spending time with his family at the Super Bowl – watching the team he grew up cheering for, no less – instead of being on campus to visit a safety prospect is laughable, particularly when Kelly had traveled over 4,600 miles recruiting for the safety position alone the previous week. While Notre Dame did swing and miss at safety on National Signing Day, blaming that outcome on Kelly’s Super Bowl appearance is based more on trying to find an outlet for disappointment than reality.

What ultimately caused Notre Dame to fall short at the safety position was the eleventh hour decommitment of safety prospect Prentice McKinney and the loss of secondary coach Kerry Cooks to Oklahoma shortly before National Signing Day. If anything a tip of the hat should be given to Kelly and staff for nearly signing UCLA safety Nathan Meadors while the search for Cooks’ replacement was ongoing, and despite being a late entrant for Meadors’ services.

Kelly informed the media on National Signing Day that Notre Dame is considering its options at safety moving forward, including following in the footsteps of the successful Cody Riggs experiment with a fifth year senior transfer.

Ripples of panic have also been created due to the losses of Notre Dame’s two best recruiters in Cooks and running backs coach/recruiting coordinator, Tony Alford. The fear isn’t without merit. Cooks has become a recruiting force in Texas, plucking away seven players in a state Notre Dame has struggled to infiltrate. Cooks’ recruiting prowess expanded this offseason by signing two players from Louisiana, the first time Notre Dame had managed to sign a recruit from the Bayou State since cornerback Albert Poree in 1999.

Tony Alford was an even bigger weapon on the recruiting trail for Notre Dame, particularly in the State of Florida where Notre Dame has enjoyed tremendous recruiting success in recent years. Alford’s departure was immediately felt by Notre Dame’s latest running back signee, Dexter Williams, a 4-star Florida native.

The loss of Cooks and Alford are undeniable setbacks, but also represent overall positives for the status of Notre Dame’s football program. Oklahoma relies heavily on Texas talent and has found it increasingly difficult to pry away recruits with the ascension of programs like Texas A&M, Baylor and TCU. Needing to step up their competitiveness in the area, the Sooners raided the Notre Dame coaching staff in order to do so.

Tony Alford’s situation closely mirrored that of Kerry Cooks. Ohio State lost running back coach Stan Drayton to the Chicago Bears after running back Ezekiel Elliot dominated Oregon in the National Championship game. Head coach Urban Meyer needed to replace Drayton’s status as one of the best recruiters on the Buckeyes staff, and did so by offering Alford the position.

If the defections of Cooks and Alford are painful to Notre Dame fans it’s because it’s been a long time since Notre Dame’s coaching staff was considered worthwhile to raid. And Kelly has played a large role in getting his staff to that point. Kerry Cooks was an unknown commodity that drew little fanfare when first hired onto the Notre Dame coaching staff. It took time and development before Cooks became one of the top recruiters in the country. And Kelly has shown an ability to replace staff positions with upgrades.

When offensive line coach Ed Warinner left South Bend to become the offensive line coach at Ohio State, Kelly surprised many by hiring Tennessee’s offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand, who had largely struggled in Knoxville. Since that hiring Notre Dame has managed to secure several of the best offensive line recruiting classes in the country, and Hiestand has been named one of the top recruiters in the nation.

The staff changeover is a temporary setback but Kelly has an eye for coaching talent and is the process of reeling in some intriguing names. Former Notre Dame great and All-American Todd Lyght has been named Cooks’ replacement, and rumors are circulating that Jeff Quinn, former head coach of the Buffalo Bulls, will be hired on as Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach. Quinn has coached alongside Kelly for twenty-one years as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, and has won with Kelly at every level. The addition of Quinn would be the equivalent of bringing on a trusted adviser, and the most prolific offenses in Kelly’s career were game-planned in collaboration with Quinn. Given the depth of talent for Notre Dame on offense, the Irish have the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the nation in 2015.

It was a week of transition for Notre Dame, but Kelly has been here before, and there is no reason to believe he won’t do it again.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. I like Kelly a lot but please dont compair to the Great Lou Holtz, everyone knows he should have had 3 champoinships instead of one, and look at all his years of 0 to 3 lose years, Notre Dame can never replace that mistake

  2. every game we lost last year we scored 4 touch downs or more, only USC did we not score 4 only 2 touchdowns, our defense has a lot of great guys but are not coached well, this is the 6th year for Kelly, no reason not to have a good offense and defense every year. Not saying have to win every game but come on.

    1. I agree with you 100% regarding the offense. If you eliminate all of the turnovers (and the USC game), the offense put up a Lot of points each game.

      As for the defense, I think that the transition to BVG’s NFL defense was bound to take more than one year to install. Ultimately, for the defense to live up to that NFL potential, you need to have all of your players capable of not only doing their task, but also able to read the offense, know instinctively where they need to be, and work together as a seamless whole, no matter what the offense throws at you.

      That was not going to happen in one year with all the first and second year players on the defensive side. I remember one of the rare after game interviews with BVG when the defense was at its peak and had everyone’s attention. He was asked if the defense was performing better than he had anticipated. He replied in a way that made it clear he was surprised at how well they were doing.

      I believe that the reason the defense did so well in the early games was because of two key players who acted as dual quarterbacks for the defense. Collinsworth in the backfield, and Schmidt in the front seven. They were able to get all the young’uns in the right spot, making up for not yet being able to read the offense on their own.

      When those two defensive quarterbacks went down to injury, things went south.

      That is why I think it is so important that BVG be given a second year to fully install his NFL defense. In so doing, we will not only benefit from all the victories that defense will support, but will also make recruiting top caliber defensive recruits easier.

  3. I dont get it will most of your comments the Offense looks to be amazing come next year and was real good last year. Im i missing it, the Defense is our main issue and no one is really talking about that.

  4. I read that article, BJ. Kelly finally having a solid year next year with both a stellar offense and a solid defense, and maybe contending for a playoff spot would indeed send a message. And hopefully he can keep him if he pans out.

  5. Slow news day? There’s no lack of conversation re: the loss of assistant coaches and there will continue to be more “analysis” on various ND social media sites. But I’m not detecting panic by ND fans, the team, the incoming recruits or Kelly. And the relative few who were upset by his attendance at the Super Bowl rather than being available 24/7 for a potential recruit have already calmed down. Still, a good try on your part to first dramatize and then lecture the Irish over yet another South Bend challenge. We’re kinda used to it by now.

  6. Being a ND fan, you accept that you’re the nations favorite punching bag. You accept that there are a LOT of recruits that you have no shot at strictly due to the high academic standard. This isn’t an issue. What is an issue is a seeming trend of losing good coaches/recruiters to other schools that ND shouldn’t be losing coaches to. Promotional coaching changes happen, and you thank the coach & wish him well. Lateral coaching moves to a lateral school is tough to swallow though.

      1. Just having some fun with our boy from Ohio. He was looking for a fight but didn’t get one. I was looking forward to someone taking the bait but alas it did not happen.

      2. Appears his credibility is starting to rank right up there with johnson & johnson, imbasil, and the wayward warrior.

  7. I’m not knocking Alford. He obviously is a great recruiter. However, did he develop the RB’s once they got here? Not sure about the answer to that question.

    It may be possible to attract a better RB coach, who could better develop his players??? Putting more RBs in NFL would help recruiting in this area…just like HH has done on O-line.

  8. Absolutely R-E-L-A-X. Sit back and enjoy this season–with an Irish team that could be one of the best since Holtz era. It’s been a crazy off season with coaching changes in all the top programs not just Notre Dame. The most important 2015 recruit for ND may be Justin Yoon. This kid will be called upon to win games that will get ND to playoffs , NC game or to 11 wins.

    1. Good call, Southie. (sorry – a Boston neighborhood) Justin Yoon is wicked-impressive, kicking at a nearby prep school rival of mine. (albeit 30-y/ago, but who’s counting?) Saw Justin split the uprights 3x in the Underarmor game and I am really excited. (Reggie Ho was a classmate of mine, too) GO IRISH!

  9. Quinn would be a great hire, but not at qb coach. no expierence. Quinn would be a great O-line coach and as OC. Keep in mind Quinn never has been in charge of calling any pays under Kelly. BK calls his own plays. Kelly needs to replace more staff members. Fire a few. BK needs to reassembe his UC staff. Bring back Molonar as rec coach and pass game cord. Greg Forest as qb coach, remember the success Forest had with qb’s? 2 of his payers duked it out ths year in CFL championship game. Martin and Diaco will be fired by end of 2015 so BK can get them back next year. BK’s biggest enemy is his pride.

  10. The departure of so many assistant coaches leafs me to believe they know Kelly wants to go somewhere else, grand valley state ?

  11. This isn’t the end of the world. Winning will make everyone’s job easier, no matter who’s coaching or recruiting.

    Just gets annoying watching Urban Meyer poaching ND any time he feels like it with ND seemingly powerless to stop it.

  12. I’m much less concerned about recruiting and more concerned about the product on the field. Kelly more-and-more has proven 2012 was a aberration. Who really cares if ND signs the best class every year, Kelly hasn’t shown he knows what do with a sports car anyway.

  13. Let’s move beyond the blame game- there’s enough of that in national politics.
    I appreciate this post reminding us the cup is still at least half-full, not bemoaning what’s missing from what used to be or could have been. #Look forward. . . at what can be. The 2015 roster and staff that remains isn’t chopped liver. I also concur that an athlete who chooses a school based on a position coach and without a commitment to strive to be a student-athlete, or can’t recognize what the payback is and the impact of ND on his life will probably not make it at ND. We don’t still know what motivated Cooks to leave, but Alford was clear.Alford said as much in his exit interview, reminding us that he, like the athletes he recruited to ND, experience ND changing their lives beyond the field. Alford stated his move is like the risk he asks of Florida recruits, and wept during his farewell meeting with Golson. His loss impacts the young men he recruited and coached, but will not be forgotten by them. I wish him the fulfillment he seeks and appreciate all he did as a recruiter, a role-model, and a coach, and more importantly, I’m sure they do and will for years to come.
    # Looking forward to RKGs joining the staff that fill the half-full cup left by the departure of Cooks and Alford.
    One man’s departure, however significant, becomes another’s opportunity.

    1. Well put Michael! Very eloquent. it’s post like these that remind me why I sift through everyone’s bitches, gripes, and complaints. he was a great recruiter and an excellent man! He will be missed! remember folks, it wasn’t in the end of the world when Disco left.

  14. Yes, you don’t want to cultivate a personal relationship as the primary attraction for a student athlete. If they’re not saying ‘Come to ND and get to know all the talented coaches’, you’re not on the right track.

    I think coaches in particular would be an easier sell in terms of the benefits of ND, considering that they have a more mature and balanced perspective career-wise and are not looking for things like ‘easy classes’ and such.

  15. Successful staffs are always raided for assistant coaches. It’s a sign the program doesn’t suck – to put it bluntly. The top tier programs experience it all the time, yet still manage to maintain their level of productivity.

    This is no different. With that being said, this is a great opportunity to ND to hire some assistants with ties to the SEC and ACC. Alford had to build ND up in those regions. So instead of starting over at 0, I’d like to see some hires that already have connections to the talent rich states.

  16. I definitely agree. BK is a good football CEO and many coaches with ambition will consider joining this staff – especially this year with the upgrade in talent and experience. I think the additions of successful Notre Dame alumni to the program is a great idea, also. Losing Alford is tough because he is such a great guy in addition to being a good coach, but he wants to be a head coach and needs to fill up his resume to reach his goals. The coaching losses have not led to any athlete defections, yet, which is a testament to the way the school is sold on the road.

    1. ND is not even in the top 25 for recruting what does that tell you.
      Boise St and San Jose st both beat ND in recruiting . So much for ever winning a championship .NEVER with BK

  17. I think kelly would be wise to hire quinn and let him have total control of the offense,play calling, philosophy, scheme,etc. This would free kelly up to oversee the entire team. Even meyer and saban have oc who run the entire offense.

    1. Not gonna happen. I do believe Kelly will eventually hand the playcalling reigns over to Denbrock or Quinn, but at the end of the day, it’s Kelly’s offense, always has been, always will be. Having Quinn on staff, will make it run a lot smoother though, as he seems to be the missing cog in Kelly’s offensive machine.

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