Whenever there is a coaching change, stories come out that never did while the coach was there. With Brian Kelly now out at Notre Dame after bolting for LSU, those stories are starting to come out about Kelly at Notre Dame. One doozy came out last night on Chris Zorich’s podcast where longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming claimed that Kelly was never interested in recruiting at Notre Dame, and it cost them big-time talent in the process.
After Zorich said it sounded like Kelly wasn’t a good recruiter, Lemming quipped, “He’s good in the house, but he likes to golf more than he likes to go out and recruit.” He would add, “Show me a coach who is a prolific golfer and I’ll show you a lousy recruiter.”
Yikes. For years we had heard that Brian Kelly wasn’t the most aggressive recruiter compared to his counterparts like Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, etc, but that was the most damning statement to date on Kelly’s level of involvement in recruiting for Notre Dame.
There had been talk among recruiting analysts that Kelly had picked things up over the last couple of years, but Tom Lemming kept some receipts, and he laid them out last night.
Lemming mentioned a 5-star quarterback who was previously committed to Oklahoma but followed Lincoln Riley to USC without mentioning his name, but he was clearly talking about Malachai Nelson. Lemming claimed that there was interest in Notre Dame from the family early on, but Notre Dame wasn’t aggressive early while Riley was. So it’s no surprise that Nelson then followed Riley to USC.
At the crux of Lemming’s criticism of Kelly’s recruiting at Notre Dame was his reluctance to visit powerhouse programs around the country regularly – specifically the Catholic schools. “If Brian Kelly would go visit the top 12 Catholic schools in the country – and they’re bunched together. The quarterback at Alabama, Bryce Young, came from a Catholic School – Mater Dei and Notre Dame didn’t recruit him,” Kelly said.
Lemming also mentioned DeMatha high school outside of Washington DC. “Bill McGregor and I have been friends for 40 years, he’s the head coach at DeMatha, and I asked him, ‘how come Notre Dame didn’t get Chase Young?’ And he said, well Kelly’s never visited the school – DeMatha Catholic School,” Lemming said. “Kelly never went there so Mike Elston and whoever preceded him was there, but Nick Saban comes every year, and all those schools tell me Saban comes every year.”
According to Lemming, Kelly is one of the few big-name coaches at big-time programs that didn’t do this. “Saban did it, Urban (Meyer) did it, Pete Carroll did it constantly. All the great ones always do. (James) Franklin is a great recruiter, and he does that at Penn State. That’s why a lot of times he’ll beat Notre Dame head to head because he calls the kids while the assistant coach at Notre Dame’s been calling them.”
Reminder, Notre Dame lost out on top-100 running back Nicolas Singleton this year to Penn State after it looked like the Irish had led for Singleton’s services over the summer.
There will undoubtedly be more stories like this that come out about Brian Kelly regarding his time at Notre Dame. Stories like this always do. There were a bunch of negative stories about Charlie Weis after he left, too, that no one ever mentioned before his departure. So, take it with a bit of a grain of salt.
Still, the fact that there were whispers for years that Kelly didn’t put in the effort on the recruiting trail that other top coaches did, combined with Lemming’s specific examples, does paint a bit of a clearer picture of a head coach who maybe didn’t need more resources as some have claimed. Perhaps all he had to do was work as hard as other head coaches who have won national championships for him to get Notre Dame over the hump.
We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Kelly also did a lot of good for Notre Dame football. Remember, before he came to South Bend, 10-win seasons were few and far between. Now they are commonplace with five straight as the program is on much better standing than 12 years ago when he arrived. That said, perhaps what the Irish need at head coach to get them to take the final leap that has been alluding the program for more than 30 years is a head coach who will be a tireless recruiter. A coach like Marcus Freeman.
Oh, and if what Lemming said is accurate and that carries over with Brian Kelly at LSU, where he’ll be playing Alabama and Texas A&M every year, well, then good luck Brian. You will probably need it.