Coach Kelly is on the move


Some people questioned Brian Kelly’s commitment to recruiting in his first days as the new head coach at Notre Dame. These next few weeks should quell any concerns.

Kelly will log more miles than Ryan Bingham (an Up in the Air reference, anyone?) these next two weeks as he and his coaching staff work to secure the signature of the players currently committed to the Irish while also looking to tack on a few more players at positions of need.

Sunday saw Kelly in the home of blue-chip defensive end recruit Ego Ferguson. Kelly brought with him defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, linebackers coach Kerry Cooks, and d-line coach Mike Elston with him, emphasizing the fact that Ferguson was a top priority for the new Irish coaching staff.

“Coach Kelly said the reason he brought the entire staff is because J.R. is such a dynamic player,” Ego Ferguson Sr. told “Nobody brought the entire staff to see us first of all. You could see if this was from a local standpoint like a Maryland or Virginia, but to bring the entire staff from Notre Dame is very impressive. Secondly, just the expectations of him, that was quite impressive also.”

Kelly utilizing multiple members of his coaching staff was an effective tool for Charlie Weis and company, and Kelly’s attention to detail and ability to connect with a recruit that had become especially close to the former regime should be comforting for fans that were worried about the new staff.

Monday evening saw Kelly slide up the East coast to Hazelton, New Jersey, visiting with wide receiver Bennett Jackson and his mother. Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar followed up the work of Bob Diaco, who kept Jackson from feeling the need to take an official visit to Pittsburgh.

“When Coach Diaco came in he pretty much cleared everything up with me so I just canceled it,” Jackson told about the potential visit.

Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar finished the deal Monday evening, and before they left New Jersey they had a relieved wide receiver confident in his decision to join the Irish.

Yesterday, Kelly found himself in Florida, courting five-star linebacker Christian Jones as well as Irish commit Gio Bernard, according to various reports on the net. The fact that Kelly could get in the door with Jones, who has offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, USC, and just about every other high-profile team you could think of, means Kelly isn’t afraid to go to battle with the other giants of college football when chasing down a player. And while Kelly’s visit with Bernard didn’t stop him from considering offers from North Carolina and Oregon State, where his older brother played, all reports suggest that Kelly’s message was well-received by both recruits.

Today, Kelly will find himself across the country, looking to convince safety Dietrich Riley to join him in South Bend. He’ll spend the night in Los Angeles, and then visit top-shelf athlete Anthony Barr, and try to convince Barr to follow his father’s footsteps to Notre Dame.

If we’ve learned anything this week, its that Kelly and his staff have an ambitious plan to keep this recruiting class together and continue building it as well. Whether it was Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks ability to keep Prince Shembo in the fold, or Kelly and the staff convincing Manti Te’o and Robby Toma’s former teammate Jeremy Ioane to schedule an official visit, the new staff won’t stop recruiting until all the Signing Day faxes are in.

T minus 14 days and counting… 

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.