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Mailbag: Digging into some big changes

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We’re going to break up this mailbag into a few different sections as well. With a lot of changes swirling through Brian Kelly’s football program, there’s plenty to cover on a usually slow February weekend.

(Pro Tip: If you haven’t gotten anything done for Valentine’s Day yet, use your lunch break… not your drive home.)

Thanks everybody for the questions. Keep an eye out for more of these later today or over the weekend.

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nateprez4irish: Assuming Kelly’s “ultimatum” to have his coaches competitively paid and money is not a factor, what do you make of the recent carousel? A show of weakness in the ND program for reaching the playoffs, strength of other team’s programs, attrition (although ill timed for so many to leave at once) and move up in opportunity, or a combination of all?

First off, money is always a factor. It is for you, it is for me, it is for a coach making $500,000 or $5 million. So in your first sentence alone, I think you’re throwing two things at me that I don’t necessarily agree with.

Kelly’s ultimatum is a fictional edict likely concocted on message boards and in chat rooms or comments sections. Every coach wants to have their assistants paid competitively. And maybe Kelly’s dalliance with the Eagles helped make that happen, but it was already in progress.

Notre Dame pays competitively. They didn’t used to, but they’re just fine in the general scope of assistant pay — while not getting into the bidding war on million dollar coordinators.

(Of course the beauty of it is that we’ll never truly know for sure what these guys are getting paid because the school doesn’t need to release the information.)

If we’re looking at the three departures, I think different factors were at play for all three.

With LaFleur, he prefers the NFL game. He is not the recruiting type, and that part of the game didn’t seem to be where his heart and energy was. Add that to the fact that he had a chance to reunite with Kyle Shanahan, and go coach with his brother in Atlanta, all while probably get a significant pay upgrade to move back to the NFL, and there you have it.

Kerry Cooks was passed over for the defensive coordinator job. After being a co-coordinator he was essentially demoted to running the secondary. Cooks came to Notre Dame looking for a fresh start after spending significant time at Wisconsin. He’s likely looking at Oklahoma as a similar opportunity to build his resume and earn his way to a coordinator job.

It also sounds like he got a nice little raise. Add that to the fact that he and his wife are both from Texas, and there’s no trumping geography.

Alford’s move is connected to him wanting to be a head coach. And he thinks working under Urban Meyer will help with that. And I agree with him. But I’m more than a little skeptical about his “assistant head coach” title, Larry Johnson (defensive line coach) has the same title for defense. Add in Ed Warinner as offensive coordinator and another co-offensive coordinator and there are too many cooks in that kitchen.

But Alford and Meyer have known each other for a long, long time. And I’m sure there was no easy time to leave for Alford, but after losing out on the Colorado State job (his dream job, I’m told), he’s doing everything he can to be ready for the next time they hire a head coach.

(That got long.)

 

tburke9601: Do you think a recruit should be allowed out of his LOI if the school he signs with has a coaching change after signing day?

No. But I think it’s a really crappy thing for a staff to do–especially if your personal position coach is recruiting you and then they leave without notice.

Here’s the thing. Nobody has to sign on Signing Day. Nobody even needs to send in a Letter of Intent. But there’s no question this year has sparked a massive change in their calendars, and it seems like just about every big staff is making significant changes after the faxes come in, and that’s a little grotesque.

I’m not sure how many times others have said it, but it’s worth repeating (again and again): Don’t pick your school because of the coaches. They will inevitably come and go.

 

djduvall84:Is there any chance ND could steal a PROVEN elite recruiter and get a position of need filled in the same person? I’ve heard multiple reports of different people but none are proven elite recruiters. Shouldn’t that be a top priority?

That’s a good question. And I do think BK needs to find someone who has some connections in the state of Texas, otherwise that’s going to be an uphill battle moving forward.

All that being said, I’m not sure anybody called Tony Alford a proven recruiter before he came to Notre Dame. And if we are to assume Todd Lyght and Mike Sanford are both coming on staff, I really like these facts:

a) Lyght was a two-time All-American at ND. He was a first-rounder, Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl winner, too.
b) Sanford recruited California for Stanford and Boise State and came up on the West Coast. He also served as a recruiting coordinator, too.

There are certainly guys that are considered proven elite recruiters out there. But some of those guys built that reputation the wrong way and aren’t great institutional fits at Notre Dame.

Outside of the LaFleur hiring (and I guess VanGorder still technically needs to prove it), I think Kelly has shown himself to have a great network and has done a very good job bringing in new talent. So let’s see what happens and let’s see how these new hires do before judging them.

 

uptheera44: Now knowing about Sanford, how do you rate his ability as an OC and as a recruiter? Is he more of the former and less of the latter as I am sensing or is he also a proven recruiter?

onward2victory: Are there any substantiated claims that Sanford is being brought in to be groomed as the next HFBC at ND??

Only knowing what I’ve read and heard, he’ll be a dynamic add to the staff. He’s a little bit like Notre Dame’s version of Lincoln Riley, who Kelly kicked the tires on last year, and who just went to Oklahoma to run Bob Stoops’ offense.

But Sanford has more of a ground game in his DNA, and from what I’ve been told he didn’t come to Notre Dame to just let Kelly call the plays and run somebody else’s system. So after watching some of Boise State’s offense and knowing he spent two seasons at Stanford, perhaps Sanford is the type of guy you want to mesh with Kelly.

As for life after BK, who knows? Bu I don’t think you’re hiring a 33-year-old offensive coordinator and then telling him you’re grooming him to be Kelly’s successor. That’s the type of thing that gets made up on the internet and used as rationale by fans of Ohio State (where Sanford didn’t want to go) or Vandy (turned them down, too) as excuses for Sanford not picking their program.

Jack Swarbrick has built a reputation on making sound, solid decisions. Promising the job to someone in their early 30s wouldn’t be one of them.

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”