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Floyd returns: How Brian Kelly brought back his star receiver

Jan 12, 2011, 3:08 PM EDT

Michael Floyd 3

Apologies to Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, and Ishaq Williams, but the Irish coaching staff landed their biggest recruit of the offseason with Michael Floyd’s return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

Armed with a PowerPoint presentation, a plan to have Floyd graduate next December, and a detailed focus on how he’ll be used in the second iteration of the head coach’s offense, Brian Kelly and his offensive coaching staff essentially re-recruited the 6-3, 227-pound junior from St. Paul in a closed door meeting yesterday, bringing back the most important member of the Irish roster for a season basically nobody saw coming.

“This was one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make in my life,” Floyd said.

Heading into the holiday break, many assumed Floyd had said goodbye to South Bend. Reports on the internet quoted his dislike for the city and weather (never mind that he’s from Minnesota), his lukewarm relationship with Kelly, and his family’s modest economic standing as reasons he’d all but decided to forgo his senior season at Notre Dame and enter the NFL Draft.

But Monday’s initial reports that Floyd was already set to announce his intent to leave misunderstood the key elements that went into Floyd’s decision to return for a fourth season in blue and gold.

“I’m returning to Notre Dame for three reasons: to earn my degree, return Notre Dame to the top and improve myself as a player,” Floyd released in a statement. “First, I promised my mom I would graduate from Notre Dame and I am 40 credit hours shy of attaining that goal. I chose to attend Notre Dame in part because I knew it was a 40-year decision and not a four-year decision. Graduating from Notre Dame will help me for the rest of my life. Second, I want to get Notre Dame back to a BCS game. I believe we are very close to returning the Irish to where we belong and I want to be part of something great. Lastly, I want to show everyone in the country that I’m the best wide receiver in college football in 2011. There are many things I need to improve, but I feel with the coaching I have at Notre Dame, I can become the best at my position in this game.”

The desire to graduate from Notre Dame can’t be understated. Both Floyd and his mother, Theresa Romero, put great value on getting a Notre Dame degree, and the Irish coaching staff put in detailed plan in place that would help Floyd earn the 40 credit hours needed. He’ll have the spring semester, a summer session, and next fall to meeting the university’s obligations before leaving school next December with a diploma to begin preparations for the 2012 NFL Draft.

But if Floyd’s decision came down to anything, it was the thawing of a relationship between the team’s star wide receiver and his head coach.

Barely a month after Kelly’s hiring at Notre Dame, his star wide receiver was caught up in an embarrassing underage drinking fiasco, after a fight on the University of Minnesota campus over Christmas break. From there, whether it was real or perceived, Floyd often felt he was the scapegoat for the previous regime’s inability to win games, a dangerous tactic to take with your offense’s most important player.

During Kelly’s first media day with the national press, he took a shot at a consensus preseason All-American.

“Michael Floyd… I thought Michael Floyd was over-hyped. I thought he was, at times, average,” Kelly said. “He ran down the field and they threw it up. He wasn’t a precision route runner. He wasn’t asked to be. He was a match-up guy. You never saw him in a position to run the dig or the drive or one-on-one where he had to beat press coverage on a slant on 4th and one. All those things that go to winning football games, I didn’t see that. Maybe it’s because they had Golden Tate and he did all that for them. So my evaluation of Mike was based upon the film I’ve had.”

(Looking back now, that statement reads almost like a tactical strike against Floyd. Preseason kudos? Undeserved. Physical abilities? So what. Anybody big and strong can go up and get the football. When the team needed to win last year, they didn’t call #3′s number, they looked to Golden Tate. Go ahead and look for yourself, the film doesn’t lie…)

If that statement was meant to be a message to his star wide receiver, Floyd apparently received it loud and clear, making it a personal mission to work harder than everyone throughout the spring and summer months. Even though Floyd was used to the special rules Charlie Weis had for him, Golden Tate, and Jimmy Clausen, and was confused why his head coach would take dead aim at a player that was responsible for carrying most of the offensive load, he grinded on, showing both his teammates and a new coaching staff what kind of player he truly is. In the days before the season started, it was clear that Kelly noticed.

“In my 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd has worked,” Kelly said in August. “And I mean that. He has out-worked everybody on the offensive side of the ball to the point where he has single-handedly set the bar for where everybody else needs to bring their play.”

From there, Kelly learned that while he might not have seen what made Floyd special on tape, his opponents did. Complacent to keep Floyd stationed in one place, he watched as Dayne Crist struggled to connect with his best receiver. Against Purdue, Floyd was only targeted seven times, with three completions going for less than 10 yards. Against Michigan, more than half the throws to Floyd went incomplete, and his five catches for 66 yards were inconceivable numbers against a ravaged secondary that Floyd lit up the year before in Ann Arbor. It took until Notre Dame’s decisive loss to Stanford for Floyd to break the 100-yard mark in a game, the longest stretch since his freshman year to reach that number.

But as the season evolved, both receiver and head coach understood what Floyd meant to the offense, and his 13 targets against USC were critical to the Irish beating the Trojans for the first time since Bob Davie coached Notre Dame. After his six catches, 109 yards and two touchdowns torched a talented secondary, it sounded as if Kelly knew keeping Floyd for another season would be difficult.

“We have a young man here at Notre Dame that has given everything to Notre Dame,” Kelly said of Floyd. “If he decides it’s in his best interests to come back next year, we’ll be very, very happy for him. But we want what’s best for Mike Floyd. Today he showed why he’s a championship football player.”

It turns out that both Floyd’s best and personal interests brought him back to Notre Dame. While reviews of his draft stock were mixed, the easy thing for Floyd to do would have been leaving for the NFL. Whether it was bottom of the first round money or third round money, it would’ve done enough to instantly change the life of both him and his mother.

“This was a tough decision because my dream has always been to play in the NFL, but I didn’t think that this was the best time to make that jump,” Floyd said. “Ultimately, I wanted to be at Notre Dame for my senior season because you never get college back.”

That senior season will likely see Floyd break just about every major receiving record in Notre Dame’s history books. He already sits atop the books in receiving touchdowns and yards per game, as well as holds a slew of freshman records from his 2008 season. With Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, TJ Jones, and Cierre Wood back, Floyd will also have diversified set of skill players that’ll help take the focus off the senior receiver as well as a quarterback (playing behind a veteran offensive line) that has likely played significant minutes.

What’s next for Floyd likely will be determined by the relationship that he and his head coach forge over the next nine months. Floyd returned to Notre Dame in many ways in spite of his relationship with his head coach, not because of it. Yesterday’s meeting, a candid session between Floyd and Kelly, could have been the breakthrough needed for both parties to leave the past behind and begin building a team that’s well positioned for a BCS run.

“We had a great meeting yesterday,” Floyd said in his statement explaining his return to school. “I felt (Kelly) was very truthful and candid in our conversation and I really appreciated that.”

Whatever was said behind those doors in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex resulted in Notre Dame’s most prolific wide receiver passing up the NFL for the chance to take a shot at some unfinished business.

If Notre Dame is going to take the leap from good to great next season (see Auburn’s jump from 8-5 to BCS Champions), they’ll need their head coach and star receiver to be on the same page. After a rocky start, Floyd’s unlikely return to Notre Dame is a sign that after wondering what might have been with stars like Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph, the stars could finally be aligning above the Golden Dome.

  1. bradwins - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Boom. I love being right. (See my comment on Keith’s previous entry that I made simultaneously with him posting this Floyd story.) Great job, Keith.

  2. whisk3yjack - Jan 12, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    Awesome story, Keith. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering why you were taking so long to comment on news that broke hours ago, but now I see why. Well worth the wait.

  3. jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 12, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    This was a decision that speaks volumes about the character of both MMF and his Mother. To forego the allure of big bucks to get that degree (which sounds like it was his Mother’s primary motivation) is really an extraordinary decision to make. How many of us would choose the same? After all, the reason most of us go to college in the first place is to improve our employability and ultimately, our lot in life. When you already have the promise of the big paycheck, it takes a lot of character to come back and play your senior year. It will be awesome to watch what he does with this special opportunity to create an insurmountable legacy as ND’s most prolific receiver ever. I have to say, I had a hunch he might stick around. Toward the end of this season, there was an almost palpable feeling that the players realized this thing is finally turning around. 2011 might truly be something special. I hope it is and I hope Floyd gets a Heisman, not so much for his skills (which are amazing), but for his character as well.

    • whisk3yjack - Jan 12, 2011 at 5:05 PM

      Let’s hope whoever our QB ends up being has the chops to make that a possibility. A Heisman for Floyd could happen if Dayne/ Rees has a decent season. It would break my heart if Floyd limps into another NFL draft because of our instability at QB.

  4. tedlinko - Jan 12, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    I don’t know Michael Floyd personally. I’ve never met him. But as someone who graduated from ND 20 years ago, this quote rings true at a deep level for me.

    “Ultimately, I wanted to be at Notre Dame for my senior season because you never get college back.”

    In one sense JerseyShore is right. We do to college in part to improve our employability. But I do think it’s more than that. The degree means something but so do the experiences along the way, and the four years in South Bend were special.

    Unlike Jimmy Clausen, for whom ND was just a stepping stone to the next level, Floyd clearly gets that. He wants that degree and all that goes with it. He also sounds determined to return ND to the top. And you know, with his talent combined with that determination, he just might.

    I for one can’t wait to watch. Next year could be special.

    • scardino - Jan 13, 2011 at 3:40 PM

      Jimmy Clausen was probably just a bit scared. A new coach that many said wasn’t qualified was coming on board and he expected a ‘rebuilding’ year that would be damaging to his doomed draft stock. I’m sure he’s kicking himself.

      Though it doesn’t do anything to invalidate your point, it should be noted that Jimmy Clausen did get his degree before he left.

      • kidmarc - Jan 14, 2011 at 6:03 AM

        Jimmy Clausen was on record of finishing early [end of Junior year]. Many of the players use college as a stepping stone to the Pro’s, including Floyd.

        A bit scared? It made no sense for Clausen, a Pro-style QB, to stay and play in a spread offense for a coach who can’t help him prepare for the Pro’s.

        Peace

      • whatever82 - Jan 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM

        That’s right. Clausen is attending classes at ND in the off season to finish his sociology degree.

  5. 1historian - Jan 12, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Great decision, Mike. Both for yourself and for your fans out here.

    Brian Kelly is the RIGHT man for the job – well done, coach.

  6. 1historian - Jan 12, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    233 days to go until the season starts.

  7. 1historian - Jan 12, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    Let me say this again – Brian Kelly is THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB.

  8. tlndma - Jan 12, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    I’m left wondering if Clausen’s and Tate’s less than spectacular rookie seasons had any influence on MMF? Regardless, this is a good day for Irish fans.

  9. mpkennedy3 - Jan 13, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    Thank God, MMF you rock. I love the fact that he wants to come back to graduate and to help put ND back on the map. I am sure it was hard to pass up the money, but I am glad he did

  10. danno27 - Jan 13, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    I get a bick kick out of this part – “armed with a powerpoint presentation…”. You have to give it to Kelly – the guy is doing absolutely everything in his power to bring ND to the top, and “recruiting” Floyd to stay another year with a plan for his graduation in December and a presentation of how they will use him in the offense is a big piece. He leaves no stone unturned.

    Seriously, Mister Mike Floyd, you are the man.

  11. mattnef - Jan 13, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Glad to have him back for the 2011 results, but was hoping he would go pro. Too much uncertainity with a whole year and he has had injury problems in the past. Praying he has a stellar, healthy year.

  12. fitzp - Jan 13, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    Absolutely brilliant news – Thank You MMF!!!
    Great sign for the next season and will definitely help in team morale.
    He made the right decision – shows his class.

  13. ndfootballfan4life - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    I thought Floyd made great strides in his work ethic from his sophomore to junior year. I can’t wait to see how he performs in 2011. I have a feeling he is going to come into next season with a huge chip on his shoulder and completely dominate. Hopefully, some underclassmen take note from Floyd and his decision in that choosing to come to ND is not just about a stepping stone into the NFL. A degree from ND is priceless and it says something about one’s character when you choose to stay to help build a program. It was definitely a decision that could affect Notre Dame football program years down the road. Floyd coming back makes me completely forget about Rudolph leaving early. Eiffert stepped up and ND played pretty well after Rudolph went down, so I don’t see them having many problems on the offensive side of the ball. (Just a potential QB controversy that will hopefully be resolved in the spring). Let’s hope the D carrries the momentum of the last four games into next year and the Irish come out firing on all cylinders in 2011. GO IRISH!!

  14. irishfan2791 - Jan 13, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    OK, seriously? Look at ND’s offense……..is their a weakness anywhere? cause I don’t see one, our Line played well in the last 4 games, Cierre Wood showed he could make some thngs happen, our supporting cast at receiver and tight end look dangerous, and o yeah that #3 he can catch anything thrown within 10 feet of him. So, whoever gets the keys to the car Crist, Rees or other should put up some awesome numbers. And, then with another set of spring practices this should be a fun thing to watch on saturday afternoons. They will be exponentially better then they were in these last four games next year, prediction: Notre Dame finishes the season in the top 5! Go Irish!!!!!!!!!!

    • kidmarc - Jan 14, 2011 at 6:07 AM

      Blocking… blocking by the RB’s. That’s why Allen played mostly until the injury.

      Peace

  15. fitz79 - Jan 13, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    Oh hell yea! Notre Dame news doesn’t get any better than this. Thank you so much Micheal for believing in this team and program. This choice shows that Michael is a total class act, his ma too! It’s been awhile since I can recall a receiver being up for the Heisman but I honestly think Floyd will be on a lot of peoples lists next year! I think with Floyd back we start out in the top 25 next season too. Go Irish!

  16. servant119c - Jan 14, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    I don’t see why Notre Dame can’t be national champions next year. With all those good receivers, a maturing offensive line, a fledgling quarterback, and what could be one of the best defenses in the nation. Offense wins games, defense wins championships.

    And don’t forget, their coach knows how to win. People like to be critical but I remember when he was winning more then 20 straight at GVSU with 2 national championships in a row. Very few coaches can win 20 straight on any level, including high school. That’s what dynasties are made of. And he left GVSU at the top of his game. In his final three seasons at GVSU he was 41-2. Ever since then he has been rebuilding programs as he’s climbed the ladder to N.D. In only his third year at Cincinnati they went undefeated during the regular season.

    So keep that in mind. Notre Dame will be national championship contenders ASAP, maybe even this next season. Who cares about GETTING to a BCS Bowl? Kelly wants to be national champions, and I hope it happens soon.

    • kidmarc - Jan 14, 2011 at 6:22 AM

      He did not rebuild the program at Cincinnati. It was already in a turn around when he got there. His predecessor was recruited by Michigan State to implement a pro-style system there, who beat him [Kelly] this year.

      Oh… you can win 20 straight if your ducks are all in a row. At one of my high schools, we had over 20,000 students in the district. The school was then divided into 3 high schools because of the obvious, the least of which they dominated in sports. At one point the schools in the league had to play all 3 schools in a row. The first school, broke them down, the second school mashed them into pieces, and the third school wiped them off of the field. This odd scheduling for 2 years made it easy for the second and obviously third in line to rack up unprecedented wins.

      Peace

  17. kidmarc - Jan 14, 2011 at 5:51 AM

    “… Brian Kelly and his offensive coaching staff essentially re-recruited the 6-3, 227-pound junior from St. Paul in a closed door meeting yesterday, bringing back the most important member of the Irish roster for a season basically nobody saw coming.”

    C’mon! “… nobody saw coming.”? Someone is selling tickets.

    “If that statement [EDITOR's NOTE: “Michael Floyd… I thought Michael Floyd was over-hyped. I thought he was, at times, average...”] was meant to be a message to his star wide receiver, Floyd apparently received it loud and clear, making it a personal mission to work harder than everyone throughout the spring and summer months.”

    Seriously?! That statement was BK being honest. He didn’t think much of Floyd; Floyd is not a WR he would have recruited; doesn’t fit his spread offense. BK just learned the hard way that he needed to go to Floyd if he wanted to “win football games”.

    It’s simple. BK is trying to cover his butt; he made some mistakes with his gambler attitude. He needs some breathing room. Conditions have changed around the league giving him a shot to pull off another UCinci.: 1. 2011 schedule much easier with the difficult games spread out over the season. 2. New coaches at teams on that schedule that beat you, give a sigh of relief. 3. Good group of players to work with. 4. NFL Draft uncertainty with many WR’s having better stats/year and media attention. When your ducks begin to line up in a row, it can be easy pickin’s.

    You only have to point out the higher probability of achieving a BCS game because of the schedule and coaches, an NFL Draft that is likely to see Floyd go lower in the rounds (low stats and media coverage), the degree is a given, and that if you [Floyd] return, the entire 2011 season will be dedicated to winning a BCS championship with you [Floyd] as the ring leader, to get a super high probability Floyd will return. If nothing else, he should at least be in contention for the Heisman and have great stock going into the 2012 NFL Draft. The personal goal: 200+ yard games for Floyd. Main goal: BCS Champions.

    Peace

    • bradwins - Jan 14, 2011 at 10:19 AM

      kidmarc, don’t forget to take your meds, bud.

      Peace.

      • whisk3yjack - Jan 14, 2011 at 11:45 AM

        Angry Bearcat fan trolling our boards.

      • kidmarc - Jan 14, 2011 at 3:11 PM

        Ad hominems?! Who would have thunk?

        Peace

    • ndfootballfan4life - Jan 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM

      as fas as calling the 2011 schedule much easier, I would wait and see what happens in 2011 before saying that. Everyone complained about how “easy” ND’s 2010 schedule was before the year started. They ended up playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country.

      Also, I dont’ see how your “new coaches”arguement holds any water considering Kelly himself will only be in his second year at ND and still playing with all of Weis’ recruits.

      • kidmarc - Jan 14, 2011 at 3:46 PM

        I called the season much easier because of teams and the spacing between the better ones. On the Facebook page last Spring/Summer, we (2 ND fans (myself and another) and one Michigan fan) called the 2010 season 8-5 at best and gave reasons. [7-5 for the season; 8-5 with a bowl game] I would say we were pretty close with our predictions.

        New coaches argument holds with them being newer head coaches of their respective new teams than BK, so some ironing of kinks is in order; newer programs than ND’s program.

        Peace

  18. kevinrohling - Feb 11, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    Floyd is awesome.

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