Everett Golson

Announced or not: Golson is the man for the job


With classes at Notre Dame started and preparation for Navy underway, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly will meet with the assembled meeting for his weekly Tuesday press conference at noon. And while there’s no indication that he’s ready to name a signal-caller for the season opener against the Midshipmen, it’s time to give up the worst kept secret in South Bend: Everett Golson is going to be the starting quarterback.

The talented sophomore has been locked in a camp battle with junior Andrew Hendrix, who worked his way into the rotation last season at quarterback as Tommy Rees struggled down the stretch. But Golson, who sat out last season and saved a year of eligibility, has captivated Kelly with his skill-set, and answered many of the questions the head coach had about his maturity and ability to lead a football team, prerequisites for the quarterback that’ll likely determine Brian Kelly’s fate as the head of the Fighting Irish.

Golson’s redshirt season was one spent adjusting to the college game and the academic rigors of Notre Dame. It was also a season where the young talent needed a healthy dose of humility. Eric Hansen, in the Sunday edition of the South Bend Tribune, wonderfully encapsulates Golson’s freshmen struggles, where is lack of attention to schoolwork and the playbook cost him a chance to contribute last season.

Midway through the 2011 season, Golson and Hendrix were competing for a minor role in the Irish offense — the change-up quarterback.

It was a concept Kelly began toying with, at least in the meeting room, the previous spring after talking to Urban Meyer, who tag-teamed then-freshman Tim Tebow with senior Chris Leak in a national title run at Florida in 2006. But Kelly was slow to employ the concept in a game in the fall of ’11, and had a tough time separating Hendrix and Golson as the top candidate for that role — until Golson sort of did it for him at midseason.

He began to struggle in the classroom, more of a sign of lack of maturity than anything else, and his attention to detail when it came to being on time and focused for meetings, for example, was far from perfect.

“I can admit I wasn’t the best at that,” he said.

Golson then was demoted to scout team for the remainder of the season. His job, at that point, was to learn the opposing team’s plays and run their offenses in practice against ND’s No. 1 defense. The decline, though, started to gain traction all the way back in August training camp in 2011.

“I thought I was ready to compete for the starting spot,” said Golson, the sixth-most prolific TD thrower in U.S. high school history. “Going through fall camp, I kind of saw my reps go down a little bit. I was a little bit discouraged at first.

“It kind of humbled me. Now, that I look back at it, I’m glad I went down to the scout team, ’cause it made me realize I have to start at ground zero and work my way back up.”

The way back up included a breakthrough performance in the annual Blue-Gold Game, where Golson was the most impressive of the four quarterbacks and seemed to show a solid mastery of the offense while also flashing his prodigious physical gifts. But up until that final televised practice of spring, Golson quietly struggled with his role at Notre Dame, so much so that one source tells me he considered transferring for much of the offseason until that performance.

Those concerns are in the past now, with Golson’s work and commitment to football this summer getting him up to speed with the offense. (Also fortuitous to his candidacy was the offseason arrest of incumbent quarterback Tommy Rees, allowing Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin the ability to hit the hard reset after two seasons in South Bend.) That commitment has shown during training camp, where Golson has slowly taking control of the position battle.

Kelly has done his best to stay mum about his quarterback choice — whether it be for strategic advantage or because he’s not ready to make the decision. Yet clues all around the program point to Golson. Whether it’s teammates past and present raving about his athleticism, in-depth profiles like the one Hansen wrote, or the mobs of media surrounding the sophomore at Media Day, if it’s not announced today it’s only a matter of time before the Irish are led by Golson when they step onto the field at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The announcement would be the culmination of ND Nation’s hopes for the young quarterback with dynamic running and passing ability. It will also be the cherry on top of a really impressive fall camp where Golson played his way into the role of starting quarterback.

“We’ve had 126 throwing opportunities with Everett,” Kelly recounted last week, talking about the live 11 on 11 passing snaps for the young quarterback. “He’s had one interception. You build trust. You don’t just give it, you build trust.”

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 ESPN.com.

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 Irish247.com 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.