Kelly hits airwaves in SEC country

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There’s no bigger mouthpiece in the South for college football than Paul Finebaum, who has been a presence in Birmingham and across much of the Southeast for thirty years. Besides his platform as a columnist, he’s also a popular sports-talk personality, and yesterday he had Brian Kelly on his airwaves for an interview.

Here are a few snippets from Finebaum’s conversation with Kelly:

On the adjustments to coaching at Notre Dame:

“Coast to coast, recruiting, 250 alumni groups across the country
and obviously the footprint is national for Notre Dame relative to its
fan base and quite frankly the interest in its program.  I’ve gone from
taking a drive up to Columbus on occasion when I was at Cincinnati to
being on a plane from New York to LA.”

When asked about joining the Big Ten:

“(Laughing) We were thinking the Mountain West.  It’s obviously
shifting out there.  It’s a dynamic time in college football and it’s
never been more popular than it is.  I think we saw that with the
conferences and how it didn’t really affect basketball as much as the
football schools we’re moving.  Clearly we’ve got to keep our ear to the
ground.  Our Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has obviously been in
constant communication with all the players but we’re able to stay in an
independent status right now.  I’d like to keep it but were also
realists and we have to be able to react and have a plan if this turns
into super conferences.”

On handling the expectations of coaching the Irish:

“It’s much like Alabama.  You don’t have much time.  Nick Saban went
into Alabama and transitioned to a championship team in very short
order and we’re gonna have to do the same thing at Notre Dame.  There’s
no patience for it any more so it doesn’t matter what you say.  You
gotta get it done right away and we’re gonna have to get this football
team playing at a national, high level and be a national caliber
football team early.  We don’t have the luxury of waiting around.  It’s
been too long since Notre Dame has been in that picture and we gotta get
it done early.”

On whether it’s hit him that he’s the head coach of Notre Dame:

“If I came in the office everyday thinking I was the head coach at
Notre Dame, Id jump out my window with the expectations.  I’m focused on
the process and the process for me is to work on winning every day. 
All the attention to detail, all the things that are necessary to build a
championship program, that’s really what I focus on.  I did those every
step of the way and I’m gonna continue to do them at Notre Dame. 
That’s all I know.  I’ve got 20 years experience as a head coach and I
don’t know how to do it any other way.  I will rely on my instincts of
working on winning every single day and focus on the process not being
the head coach at Notre Dame.”

We didn’t get anything new out of the BK media playbook, but it was interesting to listen to Finebaum’s reaction to Kelly. If you listen to the interview (audio here), you can hear Kelly actually engage Finebaum, getting laughs when he wanted them and almost immediately turn one of the biggest skeptics in the college football world into believing in him. 

Finebaum, who stated he had doubts after the Kelly hire was announced, seemed to do an about-face after having one conversation with the new Irish coach.

“He is basically a nine year younger version of Nick Saban,” Finebaum said after the interview. “Completely consumed with recruiting and success, has a plan and is not going to take a breath or waste a second.” 

As a Notre Dame fan, I don’t think there can be a bigger compliment paid to your head coach, especially considering Kelly’s already far superior skills with the media.

(H/T: Sports Radio Interviews)

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.