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Friday (night) notes: Doctors, coaches, and awards

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A few weeks after head trainer Jim Russ announced his departure, there’s more major change in the medical department of Notre Dame athletics.

From the official release at

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Dr. David Bankoff and Dr. Willard Yergler, who have combined for 66 years of service to the University of Notre Dame athletics department and most notably to the football program, are retiring as team physicians for the Irish athletics program. South Bend Orthopaedics made the announcement today.

Dr. Bankoff started working with Notre Dame athletics in 1981 and with the 2010 football season concluded his 30th year of service to the University’s sports programs. Since 1983, he has served as Associate Director of Sports Medicine and also as a football team physician. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary membership in the Notre Dame Monogram Club, which is comprised of individuals who have earned the University’s varsity athletic insignia for their athletic or team support endeavors…

In the fall of 2010, Dr. Yergler quietly announced his retirement after 36 years – working with seven different Irish head coaches – as a Notre Dame football team physician. In 1974, Dr. Yergler started with the football program and also has treated athletes from all the sports. Besides a legacy of treating injured athletes, Dr. Yergler also personally sponsors a senior student athletic trainer award each year. In 2001 he was inducted into the Notre Dame Monogram Club as an honorary member.

For those keeping track, that’s nearly a complete clear-out of the medical staff in South Bend just a year after Brian Kelly took over in South Bend, something that’s far from coincidental. Both Bankoff and Yergler have spent literal decades in South Bend treating Notre Dame athletes, so this is a true changing of the guard.

Expect this to be an opportunity that’s fully embraced by the athletic department and some significant changes in the medical team that’s in charge of operating on Irish athletes in the future, as very few of the top athletes on campus had major surgeries performed by Bankoff or Yergler and instead looked to specialists.


The buzz surrounding offensive line coach Ed Warinner and the Nebraska offensive coordinator position seems to have subsided, as Warner reportedly told Nebraska he wasn’t interested in the job.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

One name that surfaced as a potential offensive assistant last week — Ed Warinner — said Tuesday that he’s staying at Notre Dame. Warinner would not confirm or deny that he had been contacted by Nebraska.

Warinner worked with Husker running backs coach Tim Beck at Kansas in 2007, when the Jayhawks went 12-1, averaged 42.8 points and finished No. 7 in the AP poll. Beck is the leading candidate to call plays for Pelini.

Warinner said Beck would excel in any role.

“He’s a hard worker, he’s good with the kids in terms of motivation and preparation,” Warinner said. “He’s able to handle pressure on Saturdays well. He’d a solid, solid football coach. Solid guy.”

If Pelini hands the offense to Beck, Nebraska is likely to embrace the no-huddle, spread principles that swept through the Big 12 the past five years.

“It’s high-speed football,” Warinner said.

I would’ve been surprised if Warinner exited South Bend just a year after openly lobbying for the offensive line position at Notre Dame, and after spending some time with Warinner last summer, he was incredibly happy with all things Irish. As for the job Pelini is filing, CFT’s John Taylor passes along the news that Pelini looked to Rich Fisher to fill the void, who walked away from a prep school football coaching gig and running a golf academy to join the staff.

Scott Frost, the former Cornhuskers quarterback, reportedly turned down the same position that Warinner did and decided to stay at Oregon as wide receivers coach, leading to the assumption that the opening was less of a coordinator position and more of a position coach.


One of the unsung coaches on the Irish staff, football intern Scott Booker was selected for the NCAA Football Coaches Academy, where he’ll be one of 30 coaches invited to the workshop Booker works along with coaching intern Bill Brechin, and graduate assistants Jon Carpenter and Michael Painter, supporting the coaching staff.

The mission of the NCAA Football Coaches Academy is to assist ethnic minority football coaches with career advancement through skills enhancement, networking and exposure opportunities while raising awareness regarding the substantial pool of talented ethnic minority coaches.

The objectives of the program are to: increase the understanding and application of skills necessary to secure head coaching positions, increase the understanding and awareness of competencies necessary for success in head coaching at the intercollegiate level, motivate assistant coaches and coordinators to pursue careers as head coaches at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, introduce ethnic minority coaches to senior-level coaches and administrators, raise public awareness of the existing talent pool of ethnic minority coaches and promote the coaching profession to student-athletes, graduate assistants and others.

The Football Coaches Academy is designed to improve and reinforce various aspects of securing, managing and excelling in head football coaching positions at the intercollegiate level. Recognized football coaches, leaders in athletics and higher education will serve as faculty for the three-day workshop.

Coaches must apply to attend the workshop and are required to have at least three years college football coaching experience. The NCAA also offers a Future Football Coaches Academy for recent graduates interested in the coaching profession as well as an Expert Coaches Academy that requires at least eight years of college football coaching experience.

Booker had been a position coach at the D-I level for five seasons, at his alma mater Kent State as well as Western Kentucky. He was a four-year letter winner as a safety at Kent State and is an impressive guy, getting some diversity on his coaching resume as he works with the offense after spending five years on the other side of the ball.


Former Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe was honored Thursday by Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory who announced that it was Chinedum Ndukwe Day in the city, in celebration of his public work and service in the community.

“It’s an honor, a humbling experience for them to think enough for the work that my foundations done in the city of Cincinnati. To give me a day that will forever be here, long after all of us are gone,” said Ndukwe.

For a nice video of the honor, click this link.


Speaking of awards, WNDU’s Jeff Jeffers, who has spent over three decades covering the Irish for the local NBC affiliate was honored at the “You Can Lend a Hand” fundraiser at St. Mary’s College, which has raised over $8 million for Michiana’s Catholic Schools since 1982.

“To say I’m humbled is a great understatement,” said Jeffers. “I’m shocked, I’m surprised, I’m feeling great. This only adds to my mental recovery, which is of course questionable at best.”

That Jeffers is back at events after suffering a stroke in 2010 is great news. Here’s one guy wishing him continued success on his road to recovery.

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)
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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.


Irish suffer first recruiting defection with Donovan Jeter


After five losses, Notre Dame suffered their first consequence of a poor season in recruiting. Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive lineman, has stepped away from his verbal commitment.

Jeter made the news public on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to send Irish fans into a tailspin.

The sky isn’t quite falling. Jeter called the Irish his top school, likely just getting ahead of the news that he’ll start taking official visits to other schools, something Notre Dame’s recruiting staff has worked well to slow down the past few cycles. Also helping the Irish’s cause is his proximity and connection to fellow Western Pennsylvania prospects David Adams, Kurt Hinish and Josh Lugg.

Still, after making it through last recruiting cycle without a defection, finding a way to win back Jeter is priority No. 1, a versatile defensive lineman who had an elite offer list and picked Notre Dame after basically dismissing them over the summer. The Irish have done it before, getting Stephon Tuitt back in the fold after Georgia Tech sold him on staying home. They won a battle with current defensive coordinator Greg Hudson when he was at Florida State for Aaron Lynch, though Lynch only lasted a season in South Bend.

Usually a decommitment—especially this time of year—isn’t ground for a news story. But as all eyes focus on Brian Kelly and his grasp on the Irish program, this serves as ammo for those looking for cracks in the foundation.


Jeter posted a Tweet that essentially confirmed my speculation. And also should serve as a reminder—DO. NOT. TWEET. AT. RECRUITS.