Notre Dame isn’t preparing for a bowl game this holiday season, but that hasn’t stopped the Notre Dame news cycle from spinning in overdrive. Graduate transfers, coaching hires, coaching fires, recruiting commitments, recruiting losses, program changes. You name it, it’s happened in the last two weeks for Notre Dame. With all of the comings and goings, I felt a recap of sorts was in order.
Since the season has ended, Notre Dame has lost four graduate transfers – none of which was overly surprising.
- Corey Holmes – The first domino to fall was the announcement from junior wide receiver Corey Holmes that he was transferring upon graduating. He’ll have two years of eligibility left since he’ll graduate from Notre Dame. Holmes likely was going to be lost in the wide receiver shuffle next year.
- Malik Zaire – In an unsurprising move, Malik Zaire announced that he would not be back for a 5th year at Notre Dame. Reports are that Zaire is looking at Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Baylor. Notre Dame plays North Carolina next season. That could be interesting.
- John Montelus – Reserve offensive linemen John Montelus announced that he would be attending the University of Virginia last week to complete his collegiate career. Montelus failed to crack the lineup during his four seniors at Notre Dame and did not figure to be in the mix for playing time next season either.
- Devin Butler – Butler missed all of 2016 due to a broken foot and a season long suspension following his August arrest outside the ‘Backer. Butler will be completing his eligibility at Syracuse in 2017 and likely would not have been in the mix for Notre Dame regardless.
It’s possible more could be on the way for Notre Dame as well. A few 5th year eligible seniors could find substantially more playing time elsewhere should they so choose. I’ll refrain from throwing out any names, but some of them are obvious.
Other Player Departures
On top of the graduate transfers, Notre Dame has lost two players to professional futures. Again, nothing too surprising here.
- Deshone Kizer – Another unsurprising bit of news was the decision of Deshone Kizer to leave Notre Dame early for the NFL. In a weak quarterback draft class, Kizer’s name is right at the top of the list along with Deshaun Watson and he’s a likely high first round pick. His departure has opened the door for the Brandon Wimbush era at Notre Dame.
- Torii Hunter Jr – The senior wide receiver had a 5th year available to him but he will forgo the opportunity to pursue a career in professional baseball. Hunter came into 2016 with the opportunity to be Notre Dame’s go-to receiver but as has been the case throughout his career, injuries slowed him down. We saw glimpses of what could have been at times in 2016, but after suffering a rough hit against Navy we didn’t see him again. At the time of the hit Hunter went over 100 yards for the first time in his career.
Notre Dame Coaching Changes
Here’s where things started to get wild. Notre Dame has fired one position coach, lost another to a head coaching job, and reportedly made two hires all on the last week.
- Mike Sanford – Notre Dame’s up and coming offensive coordinator left the program last week to be the head coach as Western Kentucky. Landing Sanford two years ago was a coup for Brian Kelly and at the time it was assumed he might not be around very long before getting a head coaching gig. Well, Sanford got it and hopefully becomes a future Notre Dame head coach in training.
- Scott Booker – Much maligned special teams and tight ends coach Scott Booker was dismissed last week after a disastrous year of special teams for Notre Dame. Tight end production has fallen off drastically under Booker’s watch. Booker joined Brian Vangorder as staff subtractions but there could still be more before all is said and done.
- Mike Elko – Brian Kelly needed to nail this defensive coordinator hire and he did. Elko is one of the brightest defensive minds in the college ranks and his defensive schemes fit Notre Dame’s personnel and the style of defense Kelly prefers. Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame hinges on this hire.
- Brian Polian – Kelly did a hell of a job replacing Booker too. Polian is a great special teams coach and an even better recruiter. When he was let go by Nevada, it opened the door for his return to Notre Dame and now Kelly has a proven special teams coach and ace recruiter on his staff.
Strength & Conditioning Changes
Over the weekend news broke that Paul Longo was going to be reassigned to some other role within the program/university. The move means someone new will be in charge of strength and conditioning for Notre Dame football for the first time since 2010 when Longo took over for Reuben Mendoza.
The S&C department at Notre Dame has been a common target any time the Irish have sputtered on the field. Questions about the S&C under Longo were not new this year though. As injuries mounted over 2014 and 2015, questions arose as to whether Notre Dame’s off-season conditioning played a role in the teams injuries.
Kelly needed to nail the defensive coordinator hire and he did. He needs to nail this one too if he is going to have any chance at turning this around.
Recruiting Wins & Losses
- Aaron Banks – On the good news front, Notre Dame landed 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks to complete and impressive offensive line haul yet again.
- Joshua Pashcal & Thomas Graham – On the bad news front, Notre Dame lost 4-star DE Joshua Pashcal and 4-star CB Thomas Graham to Kentucky and Oregon. At one time or another, both were considered to be heavy leans to Notre Dame. On the field performance and questions around the Notre Dame defense likely played a role in both elite recruits souring on Notre Dame.
That is a hell of a lot to happen over the course of a couple weeks but hey, welcome to the Notre Dame football 2017 off-season. There are still more changes on the horizon as well. Notre Dame still needs an offensive coordinator. Rumors have floated about Mike Denbrock’s status with the team. And it’s been reported that at least one assistant will be following Elko from Wake Forest which could mean another departure from the current Notre Dame staff.
Notre Dame has a former head coach and offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly on staff as an analyst in Jeff Quinn. While Kelly went outside the program and his circle for the defensive coordinator, it could make sense for Kelly to turn to Quinn as his OC after the success they had together at Cincinnati. What that would mean for Denbrock though remains to be seen. Kelly could also tap Denbrock as his OC and turn over some of the offensive control to him.
Defensively, the status of interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson is still up in the air. Rumors are he will be retained on staff in 2017 but in what capacity remains unclear. The only defensive position group he’s ever coached specifically is linebacker – the same position group Elko figures to oversee. that is, unless Kelly shifts his coaching assignments and goes with more defensive coaches in 2017 than he has in the past. With all the changes he’s made so far nothing is out of the question.
Notre Dame might not be participating in a bowl game this year, but they are making the off-season much more entertaining than if they were.