Buckeyes’ demise has plenty of Irish subplots


It’s been a riveting 24-hours watching the implosion of Ohio State’s football program (and likely its athletic department), as Jim Tressell’s resignation has cratered one of the most storied programs in all of college football.

There are plenty of wonderful articles to read on the subject, namely the Sports Illustrated article that’s been credited for Tressell’s resignation. But as this is a Notre Dame blog, I’ll keep my comments at least focused on the Irish connections to the meltdown in Columbus.

* The new man leading the Ohio State football program is Luke Fickell, a Columbus native and former Buckeye that’s spent nine years with the football program. Fickell was also an Irish coaching target in 2009, when Charlie Weis aimed to bring Fickell in to replace defensive line coach Jappy Oliver. Fickell has long been seen as a up-and-coming coach, but it was likely Jon Tenuta’s connection to his former player that had Weis interested in a coach also known for his recruiting abilities. The Irish ended up hiring Randy Hart and bringing in Bryant Young as a very high profile graduate assistant.

It’s still amazing to see the mishmash of defensive coaches that Weis had under his watch — each coming from different systems with different backgrounds, and — in obvious hindsight — the group struggled to unite and explain one common goal to its players, something the defensive staff led by Bob Diaco has done.

It’d be amazing to see where Fickell would be if he did decide to take a job coaching in South Bend before the 2009 season. I think it’s safe to say he wouldn’t be the new leader (however temporary) of the Buckeyes.

* Of course, if head coach Brian Kelly decided to turn down Jack Swarbrick’s overtures at the end of the 2009 season and stay in Cincinnati, he’d likely be at the top of a very short list for the job in Columbus. Obviously, the timing of Tressell’s resignation makes replacing the head coach with an internal candidate preferable, but there’s little doubt that Kelly would’ve likely had his chance at two very important Big Ten jobs that start 2011 with new coaches. Kelly’s ties to both Ohio and Michigan would’ve likely put him on the very same shortlist that Notre Dame had a year earlier.

* While the spotlight is on Jim Tressell right now, it might shift to his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, a former Notre Dame football player who won a national title with the Irish in 1977 as a defensive end. Smith’s spent 25 years in athletic administration, servings as AD at Eastern Michigan, Iowa State and Arizona State before heading to Ohio State in 2005.

Smith’s in charge of one of the NCAA’s largest athletic departments and while he oversees more than 1,000 student-athletes, the actions of a few very high-profile football players and a coach working directly under him might be too much to recover from, even for a man as highly respected in the industry as Smith. The systems and protocols under his direction clearly failed, especially if the NCAA starts to wonder if there’s a lack of institutional control.

The story by SI and the previous one by Yahoo! are only just the tip of the iceberg, and if guys like Terrell Pryor are still driving pimped out sportscars with dealer tags to meetings announcing his coach’s resignation, well… this might not end well for Smith.

* If you’re wondering, the Irish are chasing over a dozen recruits from the Buckeye State, including running backs Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn, current Buckeye commits. A handful of other recruits that have Ohio State offers like Greg McMullen, Se’von Pittman, Dwayne Stanford and Tom Strobel are high on the Irish’s watch list.

It’s widely regarded as a strong year for Ohio players, which can only help an Irish coaching staff with a ton of local roots in Ohio against a Buckeye program staring at serious instability for the first time in over a decade.

* Final note: That was Notre Dame graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann doing the investigative work for SI that ultimately led to Tressell’s resignation.


Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.