Jack Swarbrick

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…

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
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It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.