Notre Dame’s Recruiting on the Right Track

(Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

As tough as Notre Dame’s 2014 season nosedive was to swallow, diehard college football fans know how a program fares on the recruiting trail is equally as important as what it produces on the field, and how the outcome of one influences the other. Case in point, Notre Dame owes its upcoming elite talent – such as running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant – to the undefeated 2012 regular season, but the opposite also holds true. Losing five out of the last six contests the way the Fighting Irish have this season can unravel a recruiting class in a hurry. Surprisingly, head coach Brian Kelly and staff have done an outstanding job of keeping Notre Dame’s No. 8 ranked recruiting class together despite an unexpectedly disappointing season.

Notre Dame hosted a large contingent of its committed recruits the second weekend of December for the football team’s annual sports banquet. Gathering the class together in one place provided an excellent opportunity for the commits to continue to develop relationships with one another, an important ingredient in keeping recruiting classes intact, particularly with quarterback commitment, Brandon Wimbush.

Wimbush is a Rivals 4-star quarterback and is listed as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country. What makes Wimbush so vitally important to this class is his unique skill set, skills that are desperately in need at Notre Dame. Current Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has struggled with reading defenses, which has led to a seemingly unstoppable surge in turnovers. Sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire is athletic and proficient at running the read option but came from a run-first high school program, which limited Zaire’s passing experience heading into college. Wimbush represents the perfect blend of both worlds.

The New Jersey native completed nearly 76-percent of his passing attempts in high school for 2,700 yards and 31 touchdowns compared to only 4 interceptions. While Wimbush is still years away from seriously contributing at the college level, knowing Kelly has landed a dual-threat quarterback with a high completion percentage and a low turnover rate is welcome news for the Fighting Irish program.

Notre Dame accomplished more than simply solidifying its class with its sports banquet, however, and managed to make a serious run at remaining elite prospects in the process. The Irish played host to 4-star tight end Aliz’e Jones, a UCLA commitment and the kind of athlete that Notre Dame has not had at the position since Tyler Eifert’s departure. The trip to South Bend left an impression on the current Bruins commitment and placed Notre Dame in the mix for his services moving forward.

Notre Dame’s banquet may have also played a role in a Rivals Top 100 player decommitting from a BCS program. Ronald Jones, a 4-star running back committed to Oklahoma State, backed off his pledge from the Cowboys mere days after visiting Notre Dame. It is widely speculated that Jones has narrowed his list of options to Notre Dame and USC.

Brian Kelly also managed to put his best foot forward with Michigan safety commitment, Tyree Kinnel. Kinnel, a 4-star prospect, enjoyed his time in South Bend and reconnected with current Notre Dame commitment – and one-time Michigan Wolverines commitment – Shaun Crawford. Kinnel’s connection with Crawford could prove to be a wildcard in Kinnel’s recruitment, though Kinnel has made it clear he’s waiting to see who replaces recently terminated head coach Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Kelly’s recruiting efforts thus far involves his handling of Notre Dame commitments that have shown a wandering eye. Offensive tackle Jerry Tillery is the crown jewel of yet another stellar offensive line class for Notre Dame. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound prospect represented a monumental achievement for the Irish when he gave his verbal commitment in June of 2013, marking the first recruit Notre Dame had landed from Louisiana during the Internet recruiting era. Prying elite talent from the heart of SEC country is no easy task, and Kelly has had to overcome repeated overtures by the likes of LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss to keep Tillery in the fold. While non-binding, Tillery has signed financial aid paperwork for Notre Dame, a very good indicator that Tillery intends to stick with his commitment.

Kelly and staff also took a proactive approach with the news safety commitment Prentice McKinney is planning to visit UCLA in January. Notre Dame wasted no time in offering 4-star safety Mykelti Williams, who committed the moment he was offered by defensive line coach, Mike Elston. Williams’ commitment creates depth at the position while the Irish continue to recruit McKinney to stay on board.

The 2014 football season may have been a bitter disappointment, but the Notre Dame coaching staff has done a superb job on the recruiting trail. If Notre Dame can find a way to defeat LSU in the Music City Bowl on December 30th in Nashville, the Fighting Irish will have another recruiting weapon to add to its arsenal.

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

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  1. Now we are the fifth best football power in the Midwest behind Michigan , Michigan state, ohio state, Louisville and northwestern .

  2. The recruiting prowess is impressive. Ironically, when BK was hired, many people thought he’d be good at coaching games but there was a question as to whether he could recruit nationally. At the moment, it looks like his recuriting is very good, if not excellent, but coaching has been an issue (at least based on the on field results, which is ultimately all that counts). He can recruit, but he is going to have to translate that on the field, probably by next year. I still believe BK can do that, but he has to get back to what made him successful in the past at other schools.

    It’s important not to forget Charlie Weis also could recruit. That was the lone thing Weis had brought to the table for ND, bringing recruiting back up to where it should be for ND. But he was not able to turn that into results.

  3. Harbaugh is expected to become college football’s highest-paid coach, earning more than the $8 million per-year salary that was originally reported, sources told Rapoport. Nick Saban is the highest-paid college coach at $7.2 million per year. Harbaugh’s number could reach as high as $9 million per year, according to NFL Media’s Albert Breer.

    play to win

    1. Harbaugh’s base salary is around 5 million a year. If he reaches all of his incentives he can reach 8 million a year. Nicky boy is still the highest and will never coach at ND even if you gave him 11 million a year. He won’t have total control and ND won’t allow him to recruit borderline academic athletes. Face it bj, no one wants to coach at ND with what you are asked to do.

  4. NFL teams like Kelly because he fits their image of being more CEO than hands on coach.
    Many NFL teams also know he has restrictions at ND that he wouldn’t have as a NFL head coach. Always keep in mind that Kelly’s other job has been a politician. Owners and GMs consider that a huge asset.

  5. For the life of me, I don’t understand why everybody keeps harping about Kelly talking to the Eagles. He didn’t take the job, did he? The Eagles interviewed a dozen guys. Hell, maybe the GM told somebody to get him Kelly and he got the wrong one and went thru with the interview. It’s possible that BK told Swarbrick and they agreed to have BK interview just to see what it would be like. BK said as much. Maybe he looked and said this is not for me. Saban, Holtz, Spurrior, and a number of others have done it.

    I think owners are starting to come back around to NFL coordinators. Harbaugh failed, regardless of what was being said about the impact his personality was having on the team. He made a mistake on a fair QB from a lower tier school who had enough talent for one year and then they caught up with him. Kapernick is a backup at best. Chip Kelly didn’t make it to the playoffs and defenses are starting to catch up. Now he has some rebuilding to do.

  6. If Kelly flirts with the NFL all these recruiting efforts will be for nothing. Can’t believe there is a GM who actually wants him. All you have to do is watch a couple ND games to see he isn’t the offensive wizard we have all been led to believe. Plus his math isn’t to good.

  7. I wouldn’t count on any recruit’s committment til they sign on the dotted line. And agree with jack, if there is talk about Kelly and NFL coaching jobs it could wreak havoc on a recruiting class.

  8. Harbaugh to Michigan is a drag. It is very challenging with the decline of the midwest to have BK, Harbaugh, and Meyer cannibalizing each other over a shrinking regional talent base. Ohio still plays relatively good HS ball but these guys all have a tough job on their hands.

      1. He uses different names depending on mood. Said mood is born out of the amount of morning Thorazine he injects into his groin. Just an FYI…

  9. We need to commit more to the running game. Kelly falls in love with tossing the ball around the park 40+ times a game and it’s a recipe for losing. Championship teams play great defense, run the ball well and have very good special teams. We currently do none of that well and until we do we’ll be nothing more than a 7-9 win team each season. GO IRISH!!

  10. With the hiring of Harbaugh at Michigan and other hires ND will have its usual 2-3 decommits over January especially if the get throttled tomorrow in the bowl game. Also, if BK flirts with the NFL in the next month. I don’t think BK translates well to the NFL, but a lot of new GM’s

      1. It means we obviously have some pretty good talent and if the coordinators can’t do the job get someone who can. Like you said we supposedly have “stellar” OL classes then it’s got to be the coaching.

        OL, Special teams are not up to it. Play to win! These people make so much money and are pathetic. Find people to do the job period! Quit making excuses!!

    1. “If” Stanley stays, and we have Elmer, Quentin Nelson, McGlinchey and Barrs all healthy next year, and we can’t control the line of scrimmage. Then we have a real tough problem which would indicate Hiestand is a great recruiter and not a very good coach.

      1. so you’re assumign that 3 new starters, 3 players that weren’t good enough to beat out this year’s porous line, is going to control the LOS. Whatever you’re smoking, please let me have some.

      2. Not smoking anything, I din’t say they will perform. Simply pointing out that if Stanley is a 1st round talent, Barrs is the “best BK has seen in 25 years talent wise, Nick Martin returning, etc. That it is safe to say there is something wrong with Hiestand.

  11. Our recruiting has been good but it needs to be better. The elite ones will not come to Notre Dame to win 8 games a season. The one season we actually played like a elite program we had several 5 star athletes commit. We didnt keep them all but thats another issue completely. This program still hasnt recovered from losing some of those recruits that left for whatever reason.

    I like BK, I think he knows how to build a program but he has been average head coach minus 2012. With the schedule we play every year we have to start getting the elite prospects. There is NO REASON why Notre Dame cant be in the top 5 every cycle in recruiting. You have to give the elite kids a reason to come to South Bend because they could care less about tradition, they want to win football games and have a shot at going pro.

    I am sick of being average every single year.

    1. “We didnt keep them all but thats another issue completely.”

      I think that’s been the primary issue this season. Not just in terms of talent and experience, but leadership. Think of what happened when Joe Schmidt got hurt. No leadership. No upperclassmen there to carry the torch. That will change next season with Schmidt, Russell, Smith, Day, Jones, Rochell, and Luke all returning. There’s gonna be a lot more leadership, and very hungry and taught up unit.

      ND was put in a situation designed for them to fail. No leadership, loss of major talent, loss of major experience and 1st year in a new defensive scheme. It doesn’t take a football expert to see where that’s going.

  12. Recruiting success is absolutely essential and all good. However, Kelly has taken stellar recruits and produced mediocrity.

    Until that changes, it’s hard to get too excited about recruiting

    1. I don’t know where you’re getting your info from. Didn’t ND just have 8 players drafted in the 2014 draft? I’d say he’s doing a good job of developing his players. The issue right now, is that a lot of players from those 2011 and 2012 classes aren’t currently on the team. They either left early for the draft/are suspended/transferred/or are injured. You can’t fault Kelly for not developing the current players on the team because they’re mainly underclassmen with zero leadership due to the crumbling junior and senior classes.

    2. The article raves about a guy who is “still years away”? I wish Kelly had held onto Gunner Kiel. He had a fine year with Cincinnati.

    3. I agree. But it’s a classic “chicken – egg” scene. Do you need success to land great recruits, or is it possible to land recruits on a program’s potential? Answer is both, but the proportion of each is something that is fun to analyze. Unfortunately tough to work with and use.

    4. “Stellar recruits?” Who? Other than on the defensive side of the ball? Kelly has dealt with more uncertainty than any other ND coach. Last year-starting QB that took us to a National Championship… Off the team. This year, 3 starters-off the team before the season even starts. I would say the guy deserves a medal for getting the most out of the talent he has. Blaming the coach is easy. Plenty of programs do it. Lets be like Michigan and change our coach every 3 years.. Thats great for recruiting! Blame Kelly all you want, but Kelly didn’t turn the ball over 5 times vs ASU. That was Golson. Golsons turnovers coupled with injuries on defense killed this season. Maybe Kelly should coach his players to not get injured. Maybe he should coach his players not to get caught cheating. Maybe he should coach his players (Golson) not to turn the ball over 22 times in 7 games. Those are the reasons ND failed this year, not because he didn’t get enough from his “stellar recruits.”

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