The calm before the storm


Last night turned quite eventful with the reporting of the Jimmy Clausen sucker punch/bar fight mess, and usually the lag between Monday morning and Tuesday press conference leaves us with not much to talk about. That certainly isn’t the case this week, with speculation rampant and an entire season to look back on and dissect.

Yet reality has to have brought an eerie calm to the football offices. The coaches know very clearly that their fate is no longer in their hands and that they’ve probably entered the calm right before the impending storm. It’ll be interesting to see how the Irish respond this Saturday. There is nothing left to lose. The defeat to UConn solidified any decision on a decent-tier bowl game, and also probably made Jack Swarbrick’s decision making process easier. The emotions of a final game at home, a final gut-wrenching loss, all of those things are already purged, and all that’s left is a final game of football, something that was supposed to be the reward for all the hard work and long hours put in over the course of a year.

I traded emails with ESPN’s Bruce Feldman yesterday night and we discussed the negativity that is hanging over the program. Feldman compared it to the end of the Ed Orgeron era at Ole Miss, where he was embedded with the coaching staff for his book Meat Market. Feldman mentioned that by the end, the environment was toxic. The pressure on the coaches compounds, and in turn the heat turns up on their families, the players, the players’ families, and it makes the air heavy around the entire football program, suffocating everybody. That was at Ole Miss. I can only imagine what it must feel like at Notre Dame.

I read a thread yesterday on a message board asked what the players thought about the coaching staff. Many Irish fans were surprised that down to a man, the players blamed themselves for the failures of this team. (Even many parents of players blamed their sons not the coaching staff, which is pretty incredible when you think about it.) That correlates with just about every conversation I’ve had with players who played for Weis, whether it was a member of the BCS teams or the 3-9 disaster. Even looking back at my conversation with Ryan Harris before the USC game, when Harris volunteered the opinion that he wasn’t sure there was a better coach in college or the NFL that gave his players a better shot to win that Charlie Weis.

But looking past the fact that Charlie Weis is the man we all see squarely on the hot seat, many people are forgetting about the group of assistant coaches that are caught up in the jet wash. Coaches without multi-million dollar buyouts and guaranteed contracts. Whether it’s a guy like Brian Polian, who spoke candidly last week about how much he and his wife enjoy living in the community, or guys like Randy Hart and Frank Verducci, two long-time professionals that uprooted and came to South Bend to help build a winner, these coaches are the ones that are going to go through the most personal upheaval if a change is made.

I can only hope that the feeling of inevitability lifts the weight off everybody’s shoulders, and the team can go out and play to their potential, something that hasn’t been happening lately. In the end, it’ll give Charlie Weis and the Irish a chance to beat a rock solid team with a fashionable coach many Notre Dame fans are clamoring for.

It may not save their jobs, but it’d be a well deserved win for a coaching staff among the hardest working in all of college football. 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach


Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”




Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

ASU Sports Information

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.