Kelly talks bye week

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Having not met with the media since his emotional press conference after the Tulsa game, Brian Kelly spent roughly 20 minutes answering questions as the Irish prepare to take a well-deserved weekend away from football.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Unfortunately, Kelly’s suspicions are confirmed, and Armando Allen has played his last football game in a Notre Dame uniform, with the damage to his hips extensive.

“Armando had surgery today in Tennessee, and it was a specialist. Had only one of the hips repaired. He’s going to have to have another one,” Kelly said. “There was a lot of things in there that showed that maybe this was an injury he’s had for many, many, many years. They’re talking about the timetable to be between 3-4 months.”

Allen exits Notre Dame with the fifth most all-purpose yards in school history, behind Julius Jones, Autry Denson, Allen Pinkett, and Tim Brown, and just in front of Raghib Ismail and Golden Tate, pretty illustrious company.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Allen’s football career, and I suspect that the NFL team that gambles on signing or drafting Armando won’t regret it. He’s a versatile guy, has a nice burst, and if Ryan Grant’s NFL success showed us anything, it’s that a Notre Dame running back doesn’t have to have great collegiate success to have a rock solid NFL career.


With Dayne Crist out for the season, Kelly has moved true freshman Andrew Hendrix into the third quarterback position. When asked if Hendrix was ready to be thrust into game duty, the answer was pretty emphatic.

“His head is spinning. It’s a lot,” Kelly said. “We really tried more than anything else to slow it down. He’s not involved much right now in game-planning. It’s more about just understanding the big picture. Want to make sure he can get the snap, hand it off, if he needs to do that. We’re really going slow with him at this point.”

Hendrix may turn out to be the quarterback of the future for the Irish, and his work on the scout team this year has been impressive by all accounts. But Crist’s injury exposed one of the biggest worries Kelly had going into the season, a gaping lack of depth at the quarterback position.


During the off week, Kelly held a scrimmage for the guys who haven’t gotten a lot of playing time, almost a development report for those freshman and sophomores that haven’t broken into the two-deep. Kelly pointed out a number of players that stood out.

“A number of players. Cam Roberson did a very nice job,” Kelly said. “Alex Welch. Christian Lombard. Kendall Moore was all over the field. To name a few. I was really pleased. Louis Nix, a very difficult guy to block. It was good to see some of those kids play.”

Irish fans expected a guy like Louis Nix to potentially see the field as a freshman, but Nix didn’t show up to camp in optimal shape, and Kelly and his staff have been wise not to play too many young players along the offensive and defensive lines, saving some much needed eligibility.

I was really impressed with what I saw out of Roberson in preseason camp, and with the running back depth as thin as it is with Allen hurt and Gray not yet getting on the field after suffering a knee injury, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see Roberson work his way into the two-deep.


With the Irish getting an extra week of preparation for Utah, Kelly was asked if now-starting quarterback, true freshman Tommy Rees, has taken a more vocal role as “the man” running the Irish offense. Kelly laughed the question off.

“None of that. I would’ve liked to have him walk in and say, coach, don’t worry about it, I got this thing, it’s on my back, let’s roll,” Kelly almost jokingly said. “He’s still a true freshman. He’s got really good savvy, he’s got a great understanding of our offense in a very short period of time, but let’s make no mistake about it. He’s a true freshman that has had one game, and he’ll continue to get better. He loves the game, he’s a great, competitive kid, but we have to take into account that he’s a young player.”

Rees really impressed me with his ability to throw the ball on the short completions, with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated pointing out that Rees went 11 for 11 on passes that covered five yards or less, but missed on every throw that went over 20 yards.

(Let’s hope Utah doesn’t notice this trend.)


While many traditionalists would revolt, sign me up for the Irish changing the natural grass in Notre Dame Stadium to field turf. And while Kelly tried to be diplomatic about it, it sounds like he wouldn’t mind the change either.

“The offense, obviously, is such that we like to play fast. And I think it’s pretty clear that that surface plays very fast. It’s not going to be my decision,” Kelly said. “I know that I’ll have my say, and that’s all it will be. I want the best for our football players. I want the best for our team and the best for the kind of offense that we run. I know we’ve been able to play really fast on those surfaces. Don’t know that that’s going to be enough to push it over the top, but it’s more about the kind of team we’re putting together.”

I’ve been pretty vocal in my complaints about the grass in Notre Dame Stadium, and every game you seem to see the turf monster reach out and tackle someone, often times to the detriment of the Irish. I’m not advocating a big Jumbotron or Muscle Milk advertisements on the stadium walls like USC does, but Michigan made the switch to field turf and nobody seemed to really notice.

The Irish offense is going to be predicated on speed and the Irish have done a very good job upgrading that part of the football team, and will continue to do so under Kelly. It only makes sense for Notre Dame to consider changing the surface, considering that the grounds crew hasn’t found a good way to keep the grass in good condition for even half a season, let alone an entire year.

Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.