The reports that Brian Polian will join Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford can’t be looked at as good news for the Fighting Irish. While Polian was in charge of a special teams unit that drew the ire of some Irish fans for its inconsistent play, he was also Charlie Weis’ ace recruiter on the West Coast, doing battle with some of the top Pac-10 and national programs and coming away victorious on a number of key recruits, most notably linebacker Manti Te’o. Polian will replace one-time Notre Dame graduate assistant DJ Durkin, who is leaving Stanford to go to Florida, reportedly as the special teams and linebackers coach.
As Jim Harbaugh continues to resurrect the Stanford football program and raise their recruiting profile nationally, the Irish and Cardinal have found themselves competing for many of the same players the past few seasons. Current Notre Dame commit Blake Leuders, an Army All-American, just planned an official visit to Stanford, not exactly a heart-warming proposition for a Irish recruiting class that already lost its premiere edge player in Chris Martin. While Leuders says he’s still committed to the Irish, meeting with Harbaugh, an aggressive recruiter, and the familiar face of Brian Polian might be enough to pry another key recruit away from the Irish.
While coach Brian Kelly’s decision to let Polian go was said to be one of his hardest, it could come back to haunt him for the same reasons Florida hires Greg Mattison and Steve Addazio hurt the Irish. Having a coach on staff with extensive experience at Notre Dame gives you the ability to tell recruits what Notre Dame can’t do for you, and why a university well known for its academic and disciplinary challenges, isn’t a good fit for perspective student athletes. I have first-hand knowledge that Mattison and the Florida staff used negative tactics to help win recruiting battles against the Irish, swaying key recruits like Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter away from their commitments to Notre Dame before National Signing Day.
Polian already spoke candidly about some of the drawbacks of coaching at Notre Dame, and while he was honest and open about how much he loved his time at the university, it’s common sense for him to relay some of the challenges that student athletes encounter — whether it be Residence Life and du Lac, weather, or diversity issues — to recruits chosing between Notre Dame and Stanford. It’s never good to have someone that knows the Notre Dame recruiting playbook better than any guy currently on staff, and for Stanford that’s now the case.
Still, as a Notre Dame fan you have to be happy for Brian Polian, a coach that gave a lot to the university and logged a lot of tough hours trying to help the Irish win. Stanford is a great place — a tremendous university with elite academics — and Polian looks to have landed on his feet.
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.
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.
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.”
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. FootballScoop.com 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.