Author: Keith Arnold

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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.

Notre Dame lands Cal graduate transfer Avery Sebastian

Mike Jensen, Avery Sebastian
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Brian Kelly hinted that Notre Dame wasn’t finished adding players to the roster on Signing Day. And on Thursday night, Kelly and the Irish coaching staff shored up one of their major deficiencies by adding Cal graduate transfer Avery Sebastian.

Sebastian has a fifth-year of eligibility remaining after spending the past four years in Berkeley. An achilles injury cost him most of the 2013 season and he played just seven games in 2014 as well. But after graduating in December and spending the past few months at home in Georgia getting healthy, Sebastian is set to play out his eligibility in South Bend.

He’ll immediately add veteran depth at a safety position that looks like the last remaining question mark on the Irish roster. A graduate of Eagle’s Landing Christian High School, where defensive end Isaac Rochell also matriculated from, Sebastian connected with the Irish coaching staff and chose to finish his career at Notre Dame, even without visiting campus.

“I’m extremely blessed to have this opportunity to become a part of the Notre Dame family,” Avery told me, via text. “I look forward to becoming a leader on the team and helping the team get to a national championship.”

That was likely the sales pitch from Brian Kelly, who is still looking to make another roster addition if we’re to take him at his word from last Wednesday. And after being busy reshuffling his coaching staff over the past week, he’ll give whoever is coaching the Irish secondary another safety to work with come June.

Here’s a game-highlight reel from one of Sebastian’s most productive Saturdays in his career, a 14-tackle effort against Arizona State in 2012.

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Boise State’s Mike Sanford reportedly joining Notre Dame’s staff

BSU Practice
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Just days after losing Tony Alford, it looks like Brian Kelly is making a large move on his offensive coaching staff.

Multiple reports have Boise State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford joining Notre Dame’s offensive staff. First reported by Steve Wiltfong at 247 Sports, Sanford will reportedly be taking the offensive coordinator job, per Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

In just one week since Signing Day, Notre Dame’s offensive staff has transformed. After losing Alford to Ohio State and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur to the Atlanta Falcons, Kelly has reportedly added former top assistant Jeff Quinn, who was fired as Buffalo’s head coach seven games into last season. His role is still to be determined.

While most kept an eye on hiring a running backs coach, Sanford’s hiring — especially if it’s as offensive coordinator — would be a big change. Last month, Sanford interviewed with Urban Meyer, and then chose to stay with the Broncos.  At 32, Sanford is viewed as one of the best young minds in college football, with Boise State’s offense ranking ninth in scoring last season, on their way to a 12-2 finish and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona.

Sanford has roots on the West Coast, spending three seasons as an assistant at Stanford, likely a key to recruiting California. His father, Mike Sanford Sr., is the head coach at Indiana State, served as a head coach at UNLV and coordinated Gary Andersen‘s offense at Utah State. He also served as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah in 2003 and 2004, when the Utes went 21-2.

Sanford was a quarterback himself at Boise State from 2000-04. He served as Stanford’s recruiting coordinator and coached and coordinated recruiting efforts at Yale, so he knows how to work at a school with high academic standards.

There is nothing official out of South Bend, with the university’s HR process notoriously thorough. While most expected the next hire to be a running backs coach–likely former Irish running back and current USF assistant Autry Denson–Sanford seems like a perfect rabbit from the hat of Kelly, with many wondering how he’d respond to losing a key cog like Alford.

Current offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock just turned down the head coaching job at Central Michigan, making a potential move of Sanford to coordinator a curious one. But Denbrock has filled multiple roles on Kelly’s staff, serving as his defensive coordinator at Grand Valley, coaching defensive line on an interim basis when Mike Elston was seriously ill and working with receivers, offensive linemen and tight ends as well.

 

Mailbag: Now Open

New Mailbox
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Wasn’t this supposed to be a slow week?

We’ve got coaching searches, potential transfers and so much more going on. Spring practice begins in three weeks.

Let’s get a mailbag going. Drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

 

Will Alford haunt Notre Dame on recruiting trail?

alford
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Tony Alford is off to Ohio State, with nothing but class displayed. The long-time Irish running back coach and recruiting coordinator joins Urban Meyer as his running backs coach while padding his resume with an assistant head coach title as well.

That reality means Notre Dame’s best recruiter is now just one state away chasing after some of the very best prospects in the region (and country) for a rival program. And after having a behind-the-curtain look at Notre Dame under two head coaches, Alford built a reputation–and likely the playbook–on selling a university that sometimes needs a sales pitch far different than the one most 17- and 18-year old recruits want to hear.

Irish fans will find out (likely the hard way) how Alford will tweak his sales pitch now that he’s selling something far different than Notre Dame. And–probably more importantly–we’ll find out how he handles battling the Irish staff for recruits, something Urban Meyer has done from the moment he turned down Notre Dame and headed to Florida.

One of Meyer’s best weapons during his recruiting battles with Charlie Weis during his Florida run was defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison coordinated Bob Davie‘s defense before being retained by Ty Willingham as a defensive line coach. Paired with Meyer, nobody recruited against Notre Dame better.

Meyer and Mattison became Notre Dame’s worst nightmare. Long-time commitments seemed to have a bullseye on their backs, with the duo flipping key defensive line recruits like Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter, two names that go down in Irish recruiting history as big fish that got away.

It’s worth pointing out that Alford’s experience in South Bend was far different than Mattison’s. For one, he wasn’t fired twice, as Mattison was as part of Davie’s staff and as part of Willingham’s.

(Alford also didn’t come up in the Michigan football program, where Mattison served as coordinator before coming to South Bend. He returning to the program under Brady Hoke and continues to recruit against the Irish for defensive prospects under Jim Harbaugh, now as defensive line coach.)

Alford leaves with immense respect for not just Brian Kelly, but also for Jack Swarbrick and Rev. John Jenkins. It’s fair to say that the relationship between Mattison and the previous university regime wasn’t quite as cordial.

Even since Meyer declined a ride on the university plane in Utah, Notre Dame fans have taken every move he’s made as a direct target at Notre Dame. That might be more the gun-shy manner of Irish fans after a tough 20 years than a fair reality of the situation, considering just about every top program in America feels like Meyer is gunning for them.

Yet it’s hard to see Meyer’s hire of Alford–his third direct poach from Kelly’s coaching staff–as anything but strengthening the Buckeyes staff while weakening Notre Dame’s. And now Kelly is tasked with a crucial hire, both for their coaching acumen and their ability on the recruiting trail.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out what Notre Dame did in building Alford into the coach he is now, as well. While the former Louisville assistant had built a nice reputation on his way up the ladder, he exploded on the national scene after arriving at Notre Dame. Most salesmen are only as good as their product, and in South Bend, Alford found a perfect product to sell, blending with the coach’s moral compass to make a perfect fit.

It’s that integrity that Alford has displayed that will likely keep things respectful as the two programs continue their chase of the 2016 recruiting class. With big boards that’ll likely have significant crossover, whoever Kelly hires (or assigns) to recruiting running backs and Florida will go up against Alford, who will now be selling a national champion and Midwestern power, but a university with little in common with Notre Dame.

 

Let the games begin.