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Buckeyes’ demise has plenty of Irish subplots

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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.

 

Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill
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Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.

 

Postseason Mailbag: Now Open

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the start of their game against Army in a NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.

Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.

 

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If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters. 

 

Report: Zaire set to depart with graduate transfer

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The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.

Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.

With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.

When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.

Tillery apologizes for actions during USC game

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Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.

Tillery wrote on Twitter:

“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”

While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.

“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”

Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.

Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.