Weekend notes: Buyouts, schedules, and more

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It was only a matter of time before somebody did a public search of Notre Dame’s tax records and found out just how much Charlie Weis actually got paid to walk away from Notre Dame with six years left on his ten-year contract extension.

Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune was the first to do the digging, and the number he uncovered was certainly a big one — with Weis getting paid $6,638,403 as a “termination payment,” after Weis was relieved from his duties after the 2009 football season.

The official wording on Notre Dame’s Form 990 tax return:

“Termination payment of $6,638,403 was made during the reporting period to Charles J. Weis under a separation agreement that includes much smaller annual payments through December, 2015.”

The dollar amount made waves across the internet today with main-stream media members and anonymous message-board posters alike taking some type of pleasure in an odd sort of gallows humor, as if Weis was somehow better off getting the severance payment than the six-years left on his deal. A deal that for the longest time was just assumed to be guaranteed, with numbers like $18-$20 million being thrown around by major media outlets as the cost of firing Weis back when he was on the Irish hot seat.

No doubt, the seven-figure check the Irish cut to Weis certainly hurt the bottom line (and supposedly isn’t completely over), but that’s the price of doing business with high-level executives, which is certainly something that the head coach of Notre Dame can qualify as.

If you have any sort of animosity, direct it at former athletic director Kevin White, who negotiated an unprecedented extension midway through the debut season of a first-year head coach.

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If you’re looking for required reading, head over to the Notre Dame student newspaper, where Douglas Farmer, the Editor-in-Chief of the Observer, got an exclusive sit-down interview with athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

Swarbrick was incredibly candid about a ton of hot-button issues, including a revamped — and much more difficult — football schedule, the potential for a Notre Dame Network, the conference realignment that almost swallowed the Irish, and the demands on his time.

Here’s the greatest hits if you’re too lazy to click over and read:

On toughening the football schedule:

If you’re going to be independent, if you’re going to give yourself the flexibility of building your own schedule, you have to embrace that. You have to try and build one that’s really good. I also think that if one assumes that the current BCS format remains in its current form or something like it, it’s really incumbent on Notre Dame to be able to make the case at the end of the year that it’s played the toughest schedule in the country, because there will be a strong presumption in favor of the SEC champ, the Big Ten champ, the Pac-12 champ, or the Big 12 champ to be in that championship game. If we want to be there, we better be able to make the argument that no one in the country played a tougher schedule, and so that’s how we’re going to build them.

On the potential for a Notre Dame Network:

We are very focused on building our digital media capacity. It’ll probably take a slightly different form because we work with a different set of assets than Texas. I think that Texas’ model is a great one; I think they’ll be hugely successful. But it is based on the remarkable passion for that school in a geographic area, so it fits over a cable footprint. I don’t have any market like that. I have interest everywhere, but not a concentration of it in one place. And so our opportunities will really come as broadband delivery increases and as you all are consuming media on a more content-by-content basis rather than a network basis. So as those two things evolve, that’s really going to play to Notre Dame’s favor, and what we want to do is position ourselves to take full advantage of it. So as broadband delivery on an a la carte basis, if you will, becomes the future of media, Notre Dame’s going to be really well-positioned.

On the conference realignment that reshaped the Big Ten, Pac-10, and Big 12:

I was consumed by it. I spent all my time it. The staff understood — it’s like the football search. When you make a change in football coach, you get with your senior staff and you say, ‘I’m out of here for a while. I have to put all my energy on this.’ Conference expansion was a lot like that. We had to stay very engaged. We had to make sure we understood what was going on, we had to conduct an internal evaluation to reaffirm our priorities, and so we worked on that every day.

This is incredibly interesting stuff and a great job by Farmer and the Observer. If there’s something that doesn’t surprise me, but confirms a lot of what I heard when it was happening, it’s that Swarbrick was one of the leading voices during Jim Delany’s potential Big Ten power-play, which very nearly changed the face of college football as we know it. Some people discounted Swarbrick’s role in all of this, but it’s pretty clear from his comments that he was far more involved than many people realized.

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It’s that time of year again… Yep, it’s “Watch List” season, and Braxston Cave is the first of (potentially) many Irish names to find themselves on one.

The 42-man list (which is listed in its entirety here) includes only David Molk from the Irish’s upcoming schedule. It’s a good honor for Cave, who was singled out repeatedly by head coach Brian Kelly for his improvements throughout the season and spring practice.

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Lastly, a special bit of congratulations to all the seniors at Notre Dame celebrating their graduation. It feels like yesterday (or maybe, the day before yesterday) when I was complaining about the cheesy license plate holder gift, trying to talk my parents into skipping my Business ceremony, and feeling really hung-over after a long week of partying. It’s a great celebration for families and students, the culmination of four great years in South Bend.

Now let me beat your parents to it: Go get a job…

Rochell drafted in 7th round; three other former Notre Dame players sign

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All the unnecessary draft conversation may have centered on DeShone Kizer, but the quarterback was not the only former Notre Dame player watching this weekend’s NFL Draft with rapt attention. Aside from Kizer, only Isaac Rochell heard his name called. The San Diego Chargers picked the defensive lineman in the seventh round Saturday with the 225th overall pick.

Rochell finished his Irish career with appearance in 49 of 51 possible games and 167 tackles, including 22 for loss and 4.5 sacks. In 2016, he recorded 55 tackles, good for sixth on the team, with seven for loss.

By the end of the evening, three more former Notre Dame starters had signed on with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. It should be noted, many argue the route available for undrafted free agents is preferable to that of late-round picks. An undrafted free agent can choose which of a handful of situations is preferable to him for whatever reason. A late-round pick does not have that luxury, but still makes a comparable salary.

Linebacker James Onwualu opted to join Rochell with the Chargers. Defensive lineman Jarron Jones signed with the New York Giants. Cornerback Cole Luke latched on with the Carolina Panthers.

Onwualu began his Irish career as a receiver before moving to linebacker before his sophomore season. He finished his career with 143 tackles, including 75 in 2016 with 11.5 for loss and three sacks. His 75 tackles finished behind only now-rising senior linebackers Nyles Morgan’s 94 and Drue Tranquill’s 79.

Battling injuries throughout his Notre Dame career, Jones made 105 tackles with 45 in 2016. His 11 tackles for loss were outdone only by the aforementioned Onwualu total.

Luke made 152 tackles in his Irish career, including 48 last season, and eight interceptions.

Three more players from past years’ Irish rosters could yet find an NFL home—long snapper Scott Daly, defensive lineman-turned-tight end Chase Hounshell and running back Tarean Folston. If any or all do not sign, they can still join teams for rookie mini-camps in hopes of making a positive impression.

RELATED READING: Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

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After months of pointless chatter and a night spent waiting, DeShone Kizer’s NFL Draft experience ended Friday night when the Cleveland Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round, the No. 52 overall selection.

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Kizer will have the opportunity to earn the starting job for the franchise less than two hours from his hometown. The Browns trotted out five different quarterbacks in 2016, only two of which remain with the team. Rookie Cody Kessler played in nine games, throwing for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception while fellow rookie Kevin Hogan threw for 104 yards and two interceptions in four games.

The Browns have since added Brock Osweiler in a trade with the Houston Texans, though that trade was largely-viewed as a cash-for-picks swap, with the Browns “paying” for picks by taking on Osweiler’s contract in which he is owed $47 million over the next three seasons, including $16 million this season.

A year ago, the No. 52 pick (linebacker Deion Jones to the Atlanta Falcons) received a four-year, $4.546 million contract with a $1.506 million signing bonus.

Hall of fame running back and Browns legend Jim Brown announced the selection of Kizer at the draft festivities.

Speculation a year ago pegged Kizer as an early first-round pick. As the draft approached, projections of his slot varied widely, many including a second-round status. Despite first-round theatrics leading to three quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks Thursday night, Kizer had to wait another day before learning where he will start his NFL career. (more…)

Friday at 4: ‘Attention to detail’ includes Notre Dame Stadium

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Brian Kelly proselytized multiple abstract concepts this spring. By the end of the 15 practices and subsequent media sessions, even the Irish coach knew some of his references to “grit” would be met by muted eye rolls from the press. If a questioner included the word in their query, Kelly reacted with tongue-in-cheek approval, “You’ve been listening.”

In his press conference the day before spring practices commenced, Kelly used the phrase “attention to detail” six separate times. While he was referring to his players on the football field, Kelly could have also been discussing the ongoing—but supposedly close to finished—construction at Notre Dame Stadium known as Campus Crossroads.

The three buildings around the exterior of the Stadium, the added suites and the video board above the south end zone have garnered the headlines. On a macro level, those are the changes of note. On a micro level, however, other details have trickled into the public stream of knowledge as the work nears its conclusion.

Over the weekend—and now reignited by a column from the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel—the image of the newly-added visitors’ tunnel delighted Irish fans. Vorel likens the narrow entry to “the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.” Assuredly, Vorel is going for dramatic effect, and it must work considering its citation here, but even a realistic view of the tunnel’s effects bodes well.

If nothing else, Notre Dame players should enjoy something of a psychological boost when racing out of their adult-sized tunnel and seeing their opponent trickle out of a tunnel seemingly-sized for ants. (Yes, the north end zone tunnel is at least three times bigger than the visitors’ tunnel.)

That pale, slanted staircase holds none of the luxuries of the home team’s entrance, something Kelly went out of his way to praise after using it in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. (more…)

Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

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You want complete honesty? The linebacker version of this series includes no revelations, no unexpected developments, no surprising spring performances. There is an allusion to a position switch, sure, but this piece became much simpler with the rover being discussed separately Thursday.

The idea was to capitalize on the NFL Draft for the morning and let the linebackers slip by in the afternoon, noticed only by those twiddling their thumbs through the last hours of the work week. Alas, former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was not drafted in the first round and a brief recap of his draft destination will need to await at least another day. Programming note: The NFL Draft reconvenes tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. ET. The Green Bay Packers are on the clock. They will not draft a quarterback.

But back to the linebackers. This piece may have been intended to slip by with little fanfare, but that is not indicative of the Irish linebackers. Where Notre Dame was is so similar to where Notre Dame is simply because two experienced senior captains lead the way at linebacker.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
Aside from questions about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rover position, only one question stood out about this linebacker group: Who would start alongside senior Nyles Morgan: senior Greer Martini or junior Te’von Coney?

A year ago Coney recorded the fourth-most tackles on the team with 62. Martini finished fifth with 55, and his seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, dwarfed Coney’s 1.5. Yet Coney technically started nine games compared to Martini’s four.

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

With the rover often lining up essentially as a linebacker, there would only be space for one of Martini or Coney in most formations.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
In his first season with the Irish, Elko will have quite a luxury in referring to Coney as a backup linebacker. In some respects, that designation was inevitable as soon as Martini was named a captain. Nonetheless, Coney will see plenty of playing time.

The two captains—along with fellow captain, senior Drue Tranquill at rover—will be counted on throughout the summer and fall camp to continue the defense’s growth in Elko’s system. Elko said he installed “close to 50 percent” of his entire defense throughout spring practice. The linebackers must deal with the most difficult aspects of that learning.

“There’s been a noticeable improvement in terms of this starting to look like the defense we want this to look like as spring has gone on,” Elko said a week ago. “… Linebacker probably more than any other position, linebacker and safety, where the scheme takes some time to get used to, how you see it, how you fit it, how you feel it. Those guys have gotten better with that which has then allowed them to play faster as the spring has moved on.”

Sophomore Jonathan Jones will likely provide any further depth that may be needed in 2017, unless either of the incoming freshmen, David Adams and Drew White, excel from the outset. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated sophomore Jamir Jones (no relation to Jonathan, but is former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ brother) may be destined for time on the defensive line, in large part to Jones’s continued growth. Junior Josh Barajas let the spring come and go without mandating he be involved in these conversations, which may as well count as removing himself from the conversation in most regards.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame Was, Is & Could Be: Rover