Deontay Greenberry Head

It’s panic season in recruiting


For a small, but fanatical subset of college football fans, this is the most stressful time of year. Forget autumn Saturdays — where sixty minutes determine who wins and who loses. This is way more serious. Two years of work — evaluating, wooing, relationship-building — all coming down the stretch, as coaches try and convince 17- and 18-year old kids that their college is the best one for them. Yep, it’s panic season for hard core college football fans. And with the Irish involved in some of the most heavily recruited players in the country, it’s time to buckle up and hold on tight.

Over the weekend, Deontay Greenberry led his Washington Union team to a state championship, adding to his California-record setting receiving numbers while making an interception on defensive and recovering an onside kick to will his Fresno high school to victory. That alone should garner headlines, as the likely California state player of the year all but put on a cape and rescued Lois Lane this weekend. But the internet wasn’t abuzz with his performance, but his decision, along with his cousin blue-chip cornerback Tee Shepard, to visit USC while they were down in Carson for the game.

That Greenberry and Shepard would step foot onto USC’s campus alone isn’t surprising — both have said they planned on visiting all along. That it would happen this late in the game, and just before a recruiting dead period, has Irish fans shaking in their boots. Greenberry told this weekend that no matter what, he and his cousin were going to college together. And with Shepard early enrolling at the college of his choice, we’ll likely know in a matter of days where the talented duo ends up.

Keeping Notre Dame fans (and coaches) sane are the quotes that accompany Greenberry’s acknowledgement of the package deal:

“Tee said he is really interested in them so my boy wants me to go out there and check them out so that’s what I’m going to do,” Greenberry said.

“They want me. I’m going to keep it open. Right now I’m solid to Notre Dame so that’s where I’m at right now. Right now I’m 100 percent solid to Notre Dame.”

Greenberry, who had a touchdown catch, a fumble recovery and an interception in Washington Union’s victory, has said throughout his recruitment that he wanted to leave California for college but the Trojans – and many other teams – have continued to recruit him.

He said he’ll definitely listen to what USC offers on the visit.

“Like I said at the beginning of my recruitment, I wanted to leave the state so that’s where my mind is still,” Greenberry said.

“It’s not just Notre Dame. I just want to get away from home and experience some new things.”

Since the visit, news has been scarce, but that hasn’t stopped fans from worrying. For those with a doomsday attitude, the timing is horrendous for the Irish. Entering a quiet period, Lane Kiffin and the USC staff essentially had the last word with Shepard, who would have the chance to enroll at Southern Cal on Wednesday for the early signing period. For skeptics, they’ll point to Shepard using the official visit for a free flight to watch his cousin (and what should have been his teammates if not for a transfer hiccup) play and get a visit that’s long been on their list of places out of the way.

Greenberry might be the most important recruit on the Irish board, especially with Michael Floyd departing. On paper, there’s no question that the fit at Notre Dame is better for him, with a depth chart wide open compared to Robert Woods and Marquise Lee. The same can be said for Shepard, who will watch Gary Gray and Robert Blanton play their last games at cornerback next week and the depth chart behind them unsettled.

Irish coaches had a chance to speak with Shepard and Greenberry last night and feel in good shape with both. Of course, they’re used to this kind of thing, working in an industry where your performance is directly tied to trusting the word of 18-year-olds. But the rest of us, we’re just along for the ride. If that means having your hair turn grey because Ronald Darby plans on visiting Clemson or Urban Meyer is taking a run at Taylor Decker, get used to it, because this coaching staff has.

Unlike previous regimes, there is no protocol with verbal commitments or looking at other schools. This staff will continue to recruit who they want, whether it’s Nebraska commitment Jordan Westerkamp or all-everything recruits like Nelson Agholor. They’ll win some and they’ll lose some, but it’s been a practice that’s been more than kind to Brian Kelly and his staff. Last year, it landed guys like Everett Golson, who was committed to North Carolina, Aaron Lynch, who was set to enroll at Florida State, and Stephon Tuitt, who had switched his commitment to Georgia Tech just days before Signing Day. A guy like Troy Niklas wasn’t a sure thing until his fax arrived in South Bend that snowy Wednesday morning.

It’s that time of year — panic season for a college football fan. Two years of following recruits, high schoolers many of us have only seen in YouTube highlight reels or with stars attached to their name, all coming to a boil in that first week in February. For the Irish coaching staff, they’ve decided to roll the dice with a ton of high profile players. It’s a strategy that paid off last year, and one that’ll likely determine the fate of this year’s recruiting class.

That’s the price of admission when you’re trying to build a BCS program, and it’s a strategy recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, and the entire coaching staff, have embraced. But for those fans watching nervously in sideline, take note. As they say in the movies, if you’re scared — buy a dog. With high stakes recruiting, if you’re scared — follow Northwestern.

Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


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)

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.