Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Justin Thomas

Mailbag: About Schmidt, CJ, the QB (and that open job at USC)

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Thanks for the good questions, everybody. I did my best to pick ones that matched up with a slew of similar ones… and pick ones that I thought I’d enjoy answers.

(Why? Why not, I thought.)

Here goes nothing:

 

IrishDodger: Keith, please offer your opinion on the play of Joe Schmidt. We all love Joe’s story but he seemed to lose a step after his injury and even let Navy neutralize him. I’m afraid he’ll be further exposed this weekend and against Stanford. Why is it the less talented players seem to pick up the defense better than the 4-star phenoms?

I’ve gotten a half-dozen questions about Joe Schmidt’s play and this one from IrishDodger seemed to cover most of the angles. My opinion on his play? It’s been… a mix of very good, okay, and once or twice slightly disappointing.

As I look at Joe’s PFF grade—a website that knows a ton about football and literally grades and charts every play—I kind of see what they see. A disappointing performance against Virginia (I believe I tweeted that Joe overran a few tackles) and subpar play against Clemson, when Schmidt only had one tackle. (A quick plug for PFF. If you are a college football junky you should absolutely pony up the $$ to see their premium stats. It’s an incredible service, and it’ll help your fantasy team, too.)

Some have asked why Joe is playing. That answer is simple: He’s Notre Dame’s best middle linebacker. Brian Kelly said it point-blank in a press conference a few weeks ago and he’d likely say it again.

Dodger, you should know me well enough by now that I’m going to chuckle at your 4-star recruiting mention. Those rankings mean about as much as the gold star I gave myself for an excellent column last week. Just look at Greer Martini. He was a guy that Irish fans wondered why he was even being recruited. Now he’s my odds-on-favorite to be the starter next season.

Is Joe a perfect player? No. Is he a step slower than last year? I’m not sure, but we sure are ignoring the fact that he’s been playing with a cast on his thumb since Game One. Schmidt’s been asked to handle some of the toughest jobs on the field. And if he struggles at times doing that, you can bet that Nyles Morgan will, too.

There’s a lot of good football left in Notre Dame’s captain and leader. And I expect to see it during the second half of the season.

 

wisner74: Keith – C.J.Prosise’s spectacular development at RB is one of the big stories this year, and freshman RB Josh Adams appears to be coming along very nicely. At the same time, ND’s talented D-backfield seems not to be meeting fans’ expectations. What, if anything, do you think that says about the relative performance of two of the new Irish position coaches, Autry Denson and Todd Lyght?

Notre Dame’s secondary is still a work in progress. But Kelly commended Elijah Shumate’s solid play of late on Thursday and expect to see Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell begin to find a rhythm now that the option football is behind them.

Again, fan expectations aren’t necessarily reality. And saying Autry Denson is doing better than Todd Lyght because C.J. Prosise is a freak of nature isn’t necessarily a sound logic jump. But the Irish are still struggling at the safety position, and amidst all the box jumps and Instagram training videos we might have forgotten that Russell didn’t play football or even practice for a full calendar year, so expecting him to go from the shelf to lockdown status was a stretch.

 

ndlv: Keith, you have just been hired as a head coach. Whom do you hire as your defensive coordinator – Diaco or Van Gorder?

I think you do exactly what Brian Kelly did. Hire Bob Diaco.

Diaco is a builder. He took a group that was literally laughed at and made them believe they could be the best defense in America. When Irish fans heard the defense chanting “B.I.A.” you couldn’t miss the snarkiness. Two seasons later, Diaco had the Irish defense leading Notre Dame to the BCS title game. No they weren’t the best defense in America. But I think they were second or third.

All that being said, I think VanGorder gets a bum rap. You could have brought Bill Parcells, Buddy Ryan, or any other defensive guru in football history in last November and I’m not sure they’d have been able to make chicken salad with that group. Notre Dame’s front seven was decimated, and you just can’t defend if you’re getting blown off the ball and playing kids who have no clue what they’re doing.

That’s not to say that VanGorder has been perfect. I do think sometimes his group gets too scheme reliant. This group also has some maddening lapses—big plays that go for quick scores and a softness in the red zone that still scares me. But Notre Dame has played some good defense this year, save a handful of series. And they’re doing it without their starting nose tackle, and primary nickel and dime backs.

 

blushirts88: How comfortable are you with Kizer at QB? Do you feel he can handle this game at home?

I’ve been really impressed, haven’t you? And if you haven’t, maybe you didn’t see Kizer in the Blue-Gold game this spring. He was—and he admitted as much to Jac Collinsworth for our Stay Gold podcast—horrific, and basically hit rock bottom as he wondered if football was even the sport for him.

But his poise has been excellent. He throws a pretty ball and has no problem getting it down field. He has yet to have that “lost freshman” look, and that includes in a pouring rain storm in Death Valley.

He’s missed some throws. He’s forced some others. But his leadership and demeanor is contagious, he’s a really conscientious kid. I think he’s doing more than just keep Malik’s seat warm, he’s creating competition in the ranks and also helping the Irish stay on track to achieve their goals.

 

blackirish23:

KA – 2 Questions:

1. If you could have ONE of our injured players back for the bowl game (hopefully the playoffs), who would it be and why?

I’d want Jarron Jones back and healthy. That’s kind of an easy one for me, though I’d love to see what Tarean Folston would do behind this offensive line.

2. In the process of writing an article, does it ever cross your mind which way the comments thread will go? If so, does it ever affect your writing/wording for the article in any way?

Ha. I can safely say that I’ve never worried about what you guys were going to say. Maybe my mom has, but I know that behind every faceless commenter on the internet who writes mean things, there’s really just somebody who wants to be loved.

(I tell myself.)

 

andy44teg: Hey, Keith, saw on ESPN the other day that BK’s name was possibly out there for replacing Sark. Is that just some blow-hard trying to get interweb clicks or is there any juice to that at all?

I’ve got no clue. But here’s how I view it: There wasn’t a writer in town who wasn’t shocked when Sark no-showed for Sunday practice and created this mess. So if you’re telling me that in the 24 hours between his indefinite suspension and his firing that all these reporters went and hit the phones and started talking to anonymous sources, I’d be really surprised.

That said, Brian Kelly is going to be on every list for job openings until he eventually leaves Notre Dame or decides to retire in South Bend. He’s a successful coach who runs a program the right way, is a professional and has a reputation for building programs—and he’s currently doing it at a really difficult place like Notre Dame.

When BK went and visited with the Philadelphia Eagles, he gave certain people, some Notre Dame fans among them, a lifetime pass to believe he’ll be gone at the first chance he gets. But watching him on Showtime and seeing how he’s grown comfortable in his job, I don’t get the feeling he’s a guy looking to uproot his family. Rather, I think he’s a confident coach committed to winning a title at Notre Dame, knowing that alone will allow him to do whatever he wants.

 

 

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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Receiver Corey Holmes is transferring from Notre Dame. The junior, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, will look for a new program after earning his degree this summer, Tom Loy of Irish247 reports.

Holmes told Irish247:

“It’s just the best decision for me. I’m graduating this summer and I’m just going to find the best fit for me to finish things up.”

Even after a strong spring, Holmes saw little action this season, though he played extensively against USC in the season finale. He had four catches against the Trojans, a large part of his 11 on the year, also his career total.

That Holmes wasn’t able to find a consistent spot in the rotation is likely a big reason why he’s looking for a new opportunity. After opening eyes after posting a 4.42 40-yard dash during spring drills, the Irish coaching staff looked for a way to get Holmes onto the field. But after losing reps at the X receiver on the outside, Holmes bounced inside and out, never finding a regular spot in the rotation, playing behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Kevin Stepherson on the outside and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot.

Holmes has two seasons of eligibility remaining, redshirting his sophomore season. Because he’ll earn his degree this summer, he’ll be able to play immediately next year. Irish 247 reports that Holmes is looking at Miami, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and North Carolina, though he’ll have a semester to find other fits.

 

Mailbag: All about BK

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17:  (L-R) Sam Kohler #29, head coach Brian Kelly, Grace Kelly and Hunter Bivin #70 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Welcome to a fairly action-packed Mailbag. Why didn’t one of you guys remind me to do these more often?

This one, as the title suggests, is all about Brian Kelly.

 

@chrise384: Do you think that silence from Swarbrick this week means anything or do you think it’s status quo and BK is back in ’17?

I think Swarbrick’s been silent because there’s nothing else to say. He made his comment to ESPN that Kelly would be back in 2017. Why would it benefit him to say anything else?

Kelly also made comments—10 feet away from his boss—that he’d be back and doesn’t want to go anywhere. So other than releasing a 2:37 a.m. tweet reiterating Kelly’s intentions—and essentially calling B.S. on the reports that BK was looking to get out—there’s no reason to respond to the noise, when there’s a ton of work to do and big decisions still to make.

Speaking of those…

 

Domer521: Keith – The banquet is next Friday evening. Do you expect any announcements regarding recruits or DC/assistant coaches before then?

I don’t. For a variety of reasons, I think Kelly is waiting to make any formal moves on his staff until after that evening. And in reality, any college assistant that’s going to come to Notre Dame is probably coaching in a bowl game, and won’t leave his program until after that game is played.

(That doesn’t mean that BK isn’t lining things up. I expect that he is.)

So while the idea of getting a coordinator on hand now might be ideal, the reality of the situation is that you need someone ready to hit the recruiting trail after the New Year, taking the world by storm for that final month and closing stretch until Signing Day.

 

@GhostAKG: Many are saying Charlie Strong for our new DC. Is that good/realistic? And what are some of the names you’ve been hearing more?

I was one of the people to speculate, but the more you think about it the less it makes sense. Charlie Strong is a head coach. And a good one. Any return to South Bend would feel incredibly temporary, with the circus following every job vacancy that opens up—with fans and media speculating, “Is this the one to get Strong back to the head job?”

That’s not a headache BK and company would want to deal with, especially when you consider how much this collective fanbase sweats out coordinator hires or parallel moves.

(Remember when Tony Alford left after Signing Day and it felt like someone died around here?)

Charlie Strong is a good man and a good coach. But that’s the wrong type of hire for ND. I think he’ll probably take a year off to examine the landscape, continue to cash those fat checks coming from Austin, and then get back into it next year.

 

irishwilliamsport:

Keith, I know this is an exercise in futility but I’ll ask a mailbag question… What would you guess BK’s combined job approval rating is among all fan bases ?

You’ve got me. No clue. Does anybody have a good job approval rating?

At this point, I don’t think anybody’s approval rating is all that high at 4-8, to the point that Jack Swarbrick—a guy who might be the most powerful and intelligent athletic director in the country—has seen fans turn on him as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what you were getting at with your question about “all fan bases,” but maybe you were talking about the perception of Kelly both inside and out of the program? If so, I thought Colin Cowherd’s take on Kelly, at least from a national perspective and a guy who watches a lot of college football, is interesting. (It’s a perspective that’s pretty common, I must say.)

 

codenamegee: 

What has Brian Kelly done to make you think he can win a championship at Notre Dame. Looking at his FBS coaching resume his teams have never beaten a top 5 team. I just don’t get why everyone thinks he’s a good coach. Notre Dame is poorly coached (too many mental breakdowns), offense lacks imagination (Running plays are too predictable, no tail back screens, no delay draws, lack of counters and traps). Yet all I hear how Brian Kelly is this great coach or Brian Kelly is a great offensive mind. If he is, he hasn’t showed it since he’s been in South Bend.

Well, first off—and this is a biggie—he played for one. So let’s not ignore that. And he was maybe one play away from getting invited to playing for another last year, a game-winning, last-second field goal against Stanford knocking the Irish from the playoff.

Now I get that playing for one isn’t the same as winning one. And when it comes to comparing this program to Alabama’s, frankly I don’t think Notre Dame has a chance to get to that level until Nick Saban retires… or the NCAA finds something illegal in his program. So if that’s the bar you’ll set, I’m not sure he can get there. And I’m not sure Notre Dame is willing to do what it takes to get there. And frankly, that’s something I’m okay with—especially as you

Last point for you—have you really heard anybody calling Brian Kelly a good coach lately? Is anybody following Notre Dame saying Kelly’s done a good job this season? Has the coach himself even said that? Have I?

Listen, I get it. Losing seasons are terrible. They are really painful and this one came out of nowhere, making it worse. Then throw on top of that just how close the games were—each week a decision here or there, or a blown assignment or missed opportunity sometimes the singular difference between a win and a loss.

That all adds up. And it certainly will carry into next season, a direct reflection on the coach’s job status, regardless of the length of his remaining contract.

 

irishdog80: Can Brian Kelly truly survive and thrive as head coach at Notre Dame or is his best opportunity a fresh start at a new school or pro team?

I don’t think Kelly would’ve stayed if he didn’t think he could thrive. He could get another job if he wanted one. And I don’t think Swarbrick would’ve let him stick around if he didn’t have comfort that the football program—a team that he spends more time around than anybody outside the players and the coaches—was in good hands, and that this was a bad season, not a bad program.

That’s a really good question though, Irishdog. We’ve seen Bob Stoops rally. We’ve seen David Shaw bounce back, though neither pulled a four-win season. And for now, I think Kelly can, too. But it’s worth pointing out that the rumor everybody seemed to be fired up about, three-win & nine-loss Mark Dantonio, would be a huge coaching upgrade over Kelly is funny, considering Dantonio just took a College Football Playoff team and drove it off a cliff.

 

 

irishcatholic16: With reports that Brian Kelly is seeking job opportunities outside of Notre Dame then shortly after saying that he’s committed to Notre Dame along with him bolting Cincinnati in the same fashion (saying he would stay then leaving), do you think he will lose the trust of his team and could we see more decommits as a result? Will the team trust him knowing that he isn’t fully committed?

I have no belief that those reports are true. And I have no reason to think that Kelly’s team—seven years in—would have their trust of the man leading the program hinging on reports from national media pundits.

Are we still talking about the way he left Cincinnati? Because it sure looked to me an awful lot like every coach leaves their program—Tom Herman just the latest example of a coach left in an unwinnable situation, with the media ready to pounce by asking unanswerable questions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that Kelly’s agent was talking to teams. He was. He’s the same guy that reps Herman, and a handful of other top-shelf coaches. But that’s what agents do. They talk about their clients, 99% of the time without the client ever having any idea he’s doing it.

 

 

bjc378:

I’ll ask the obvious question. Sorry, I didn’t listen to the podcast.

Do you (still) think BK should be the Irish coach next year? If so, how long of a leash do you give him next year and what changes would you demand? If not, or if he decides to coach elsewhere, what’s your wish list look like?

No apology necessary, first off, on the podcast. It’s supplemental, but listen for John Walters’ wisdom, it’s basically like telling your friends you subscribe to Newsweek.

As for BK, yes I do think he should be the coach next year. I don’t think Notre Dame is a program that should fire someone for a single bad season—period. I didn’t like it when they did it to Ty (in retrospect it was the right thing to do), and I wouldn’t like it if they did it to Kelly, a year off a ten-win season and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

(Also worth noting, they don’t do it in hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, or any other sport.)

As for the leash? That’s hard to say. I think we’ll know quite a bit about this team at the end of next September. They’ll have played Temple (the potential AAC champ coached by one of the nation’s underrated head coaches in Matt Rhule), Georgia, Boston College, Michigan State and—don’t laugh—Miami (Ohio), who has got it going now under Chuck Martin. So if that month goes sideways and the season does too, I won’t have any problem with Swarbrick trying to upgrade and make a change.

As for the wish list? No clue. Not at this point. I’ll take Jon Gruden off of it, so cross him off before anybody asks me. And any other NFL head coach.

But I’d start by looking at someone like Willie Taggart, a young Harbaugh protege who coached at Stanford and has now done good work as a head coach at both Western Kentucky and USF.

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.