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Balancing act begins for Kelly

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An early Brian Kelly quote that’s followed the head coach from the moment he uttered it keeps bubbling back to the surface.

“Get used to it.”

That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you watch Irish assistants head out the door for head coaching jobs.

First, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin left South Bend for the Cradle of Coaches, taking over a Miami Redhawks program that is in need of a massive rebuilding job. If there was any despair in Kelly after losing one of his most trusted assistants, it certainly didn’t show.

“I want my coordinators to have an opportunity for leadership positions,” Kelly told Comcast SportsNet. “I do not endorse lateral moves for my coordinators, but if they have a chance to lead a program, I’m excited for them. Miami of Ohio is the cradle of coaches—Bo Shembechler, Woody Hayes, some of the great coaches have gone through there. It’s a great opportunity for Chuck Martin.”

Just eight days later, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco left to take a UConn job that brings him back home to the East Coast. For those that had the pleasure of watching Diaco introduced as the head man in Storrs, the energetic assistant spoke Latin, quoted Rockne, talked about Pavlov’s Dog and Energy Vampires, all while whipping out stats about the Nutmeg state like a tour guide.

The hiring came out of the blue for players and recruits, with Diaco on the road with Kelly recruiting. But one listen to Kelly and again, you don’t get the feeling this is a move that angers or surprised the Irish head coach.

“Connecticut hired the perfect man to lead their football program into the future,” Kelly said in a statement released Thursday. “Bob Diaco possesses every characteristic necessary to be successful. He’s a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of young men and brilliant coach. Bob was arguably the top coordinator in the country as demonstrated by our defense over the last few years. He played an immense role that ultimately helped our program reach four consecutive bowl games, including the 2013 BCS National Championship game.”

We all knew change was coming. No staff stays together forever, especially not one filled with young, energetic and hungry coaches like the group Kelly put together. Both Diaco and Martin had opportunities to leave last year. Martin came close to getting the Northern Illinois job, a pairing with Jordan Lynch that would’ve catapulted Martin quickly. Diaco was on a variety of shortlists, but ultimately wasn’t looking to leave without seeing last season to the end.

Kelly pulled all the right strings during his last staff shake up, letting Ed Warinner, Tim Hinton and Charley Molnar walk from the offensive staff, and replacing them with Harry Hiestand, Scott Booker and Martin.

But with the identity of the defense so aligned with Diaco, how will Kelly respond? Does he turn the keys over to Kerry Cooks, by name the unit’s co-defensive coordinator? Kelly released a statement today from the road, saying that Cooks will coordinate the defense for the Pinstipe Bowl. Or does he promote Mike Elston, who FootballScoop.com reports is Diaco’s first choice for defensive coordinator at UConn.

Lou Holtz seemingly reshaped his staff just about every year he was in South Bend, with Holtz the only true leadership constant. With a quiet period coming in recruiting shortly, Kelly will have time to catch his breath and make some significant hires, by either promoting from within or reaching outside the program.

This is Kelly’s fourth coordinator that’s gotten a head coaching job in four years. With Jeff Quinn and Charley Molnar coming before Diaco and Martin. That’s quite a bit of talent drain.

But with the team’s end of the year awards banquet tonight, and a major on-campus recruiting weekend taking place, expect Brian Kelly to sell his most important message to players, recruits and fans alike.

Get used to it.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.