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.
Feel betrayed but it is what it is
— iGotJuice (@DexterW_22) February 7, 2015
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.