Notre Dame v Arizona State

Kelly’s clear: “Unfinished business” at Notre Dame


Brian Kelly is all in. For as many times as you’ll hear his name mentioned for an NFL coaching position, the Irish head coach isn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve made it pretty clear what my choices are. I want to be in college football. And I want to take Notre Dame back into being a consistent player,” Kelly told SVP & Russillo. “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re getting closer to it. We’ve got unfinished business. And I’ve got unfinished business at the college ranks. And I want to finish that business off with a national championship. That’s my focus. That’s where I want to be.”

It doesn’t get much more clear-cut. And it doesn’t get any more logical. As we just saw with Jim Harbaugh, it is possible for a head coach (even one as oddly wired as Harbaugh) to experience life coaching on Sundays and make the decision to come back to college.

Kelly has made comments like this before. He’s talked about his preference to act as general manager and head coach, essentially what he does at Notre Dame. And as you look at some of the openings that come around every offseason, the foundation Kelly has built in South Bend looks better and better compared to some of the vacancies in the NFL.

That should make it easy to turn the focus to 2015. With Kelly already doing the calculus on the balancing act that’ll happen next season at quarterback, the offensive future looks bright, especially if Ronnie Stanley returns. (Even without him, things should be just fine.)

On defense, a miserable second half can be erased by building depth, and all those snaps taken by freshmen — not to mention the return of Joe Schmidt — can solve those struggles. Throw in KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams (and maybe even a healthy Jarrett Grace) and a few more impact players certainly won’t hurt Brian VanGorder’s second unit.

So while Kelly’s media rounds on ESPN this week are less preferable than having the Irish still in the conversation, a committed head coach means confidence hasn’t wavered even after one of the most difficult Novembers in recent memory.

So if Kelly wants to leave South Bend and test his luck in the NFL after winning a title, it’s likely Notre Dame will wish him well and get to work on adding another statue outside the stadium. Until then, there’s work to do.

Report: Hanratty undergoing concussion testing

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Senior Conor Hanratty has a final year of eligibility remaining. But before he explores whether to continue his football career, he’ll undergo medical testing after suffering three concussions in the last calendar year.

Per a report from Lou Somogyi ($), Hanratty will be undergoing tests at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to determine the severity of these brain injuries with Dr. Joseph Maroon, who also works with the Pittsburgh Steelers and is one of the leading voices on concussions. According to Somogyi, Hanratty suffered a concussion in last December’s Pinstripe Bowl, one during August training camp and another in the practices leading up to the bowl game.

If healthy, the return of Hanratty in 2015 is still a question mark. With a recruiting class that could still expand for a few more select players, bringing Hanratty back as a key reserve for a fifth year is likely a luxury. Younger players like Colin McGovern, John Montelus and Quenton Nelson are options to move up the depth chart at guard if the Irish legacy isn’t part of next season’s plans.

But Hanratty could likely catch on for a fifth year — likely teaming up with either Chuck Martin at Miami or Bob Diaco for his home state UConn Huskies if he thought the path to the playing field was open. But he’ll have to determine if continuing playing is worth the risk.

After not seeing the field as a freshman, Hanratty played six games in 2012 as a reserve. In 2013, he moved into the starting lineup in four of the final six games of the season.

Hanratty started the opening three games of 2014 before a shift moved Nick Martin and Steve Elmer to guard. Hanratty saw action in eight more games, not dressing for the Music City Bowl or seeing the field against Syracuse.

Even with competition, Kelly expects Golson to return in 2015

North Carolina v Notre Dame

As Malik Zaire helped the Irish pull off a critical win in the Music City Bowl, all eyes turned to the quarterback who wasn’t playing. After starting the season’s first 12 games, Everett Golson played a complementary role in the Irish victory, completed some clutch passes down the stretch during Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory.

As we shift into the offseason with Notre Dame’s offensive identity still in flux, rumors of Golson’s transfer — especially with the ability to leave after earning his degree in May — have started to churn.

There’s the rumor that Golson reached out to LSU. The quarterback took to Twitter to refute that. (The sentiment was echoed by personal QB coach George Whitfield, who has stayed close with both Golson and his family throughout this season.)

While appearing on SportsCenter today in the run up to the College Football Playoff’s championship game, Brian Kelly talked about Golson’s status with the team, and the conversations he’s had with his quarterback. While it’s not a surprise to hear this from the head coach, Kelly expects Golson to be back in South Bend next season.

“I’ve talked to Everett,” Kelly said on SportsCenter. “Everett needs to come back and go through spring ball. He’s ready to compete. And he will compete in the spring. He’s going to graduate this spring, and that’s going to allow him to keep his options open.

“But I expect him to be back and competing for the starting position. Both of them will have an opportunity. I’d love to see both of them on the field for us. I think we can play them both. Everett’s got a chance to win that starting position. I know he expects to be the starter in the fall, and he’ll have the opportunity to do that.”

While the stock answer was there for the taking, Kelly’s candor about the elephant in the room — Golson’s ability to essentially be a free agent after earning his degree — was refreshing. Also refreshing was the fact that Kelly’s been in communication with his quarterback. With school on break until next week and the team away from campus, that the two would connect and air things could while the rumors were swirling is important.

Just as important is the idea that Kelly is open to finding a system where both quarterbacks contribute. While Zaire’s running ability and performance in the Music City Bowl make him the flavor of the month, Golson is far too good to throw away after some sloppy play. (Remember, Jimmy Clausen was a turnover machine as a second-year player before putting together an elite junior season.)

For the health of the program, keeping the depth chart stocked with both Golson and Zaire will be critical to Notre Dame’s success in 2015. If Golson leaves, the Irish are back in a precarious offensive situation — a quarterback with six quarters of experience backed up by two young players who have never taken a snap. If that’s Zaire, it’s going to limit the abuse he can take as a runner, thus limiting his effectiveness as well.


Per Irish 247, Kelly also made a stop on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show. The Irish head coach covered a variety of topic, including the big victories Midwestern schools (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Notre Dame) had over SEC powers.

“Look, the SEC has earned the reputation that they had, and has,” Kelly said. “But certainly, Notre Dame beating LSU, Ohio State beating Alabama, Wisconsin beating Auburn, I think all of those things are good for college football, because they bring a balance to this playoff, that you can win across the board from the Midwest to the South.

“And we were talking before we went on the air, kids want to play. And if they can’t get that starting position at Alabama, then maybe I can get it at Wisconsin, maybe I can get it at Ohio State or Notre Dame, and I think we’re starting to see with the playoff, and the notoriety you can get by being at one of these other schools, gives you the opportunity to play anybody.”

Coffee is for closers: The perfect finish to 2015 recruiting class

Brian Kelly podium

With less than a month to go before National Signing Day, Notre Dame’s coaching staff has its entire focus on improving the team’s roster between now and the first Wednesday in February. After two-years of work on the current class — the roots of this group were seeded long, long ago — the next month turns into a high stakes, pressure game where college coaches build the foundation of their programs around the whims of (sometimes) coddled teenagers.

For all the relationship building and work each staff puts into a player, those efforts could go up in smoke in moments. We saw that a few years ago when Notre Dame’s coaching staff hung up the phone on Tuesday night being told Deontay Greenberry was sending his fax in the next morning, only to see the blue-chipper decide to go to Houston. That is the game.

With the Irish still chasing some critical final pieces to their recruiting efforts, let’s walk through some keys to finishing the 2015 recruiting class strong.


Get Your Early Enrollees Onto Campus. 

Notre Dame learned this one the hard way when the Irish lost linebacker Alex Anzalone to Florida after he arrived at the Under Armour All-American Game as an Irish pledge only to enroll in Gainesville for the second semester.

Anzalone was always a fragile commitment, he had bounced between Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida through much of his recruitment. He also pinned Brian Kelly’s brief dalliance with the Philadelphia Eagles on the change, though those in the know still believed it was a 50-50 proposition from the start. (Anzalone has made 16 total tackles over two seasons with the Gators.)

Right now, the Irish expect Jerry TilleryTevon Coney, Tristen Hoge and Micah Dew-Treadway to begin class this January. Until then, they’ll likely be keeping close tabs on both Tillery and Coney.

LSU and Les Miles have had eyes for the 6-foot-6, 315-pounder since the beginning, and Tillery visited campus multiple times. In perhaps a concession that came from Miles’ pursuit, Tillery will now begin his career at defensive line.

Originally projected as an elite tackle, Tillery’s size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect regardless. That Kelly and his staff recruit “power” types makes this an easy transition, also considering the road to the field on the defensive side of the ball is infinitely easier than along the offensive line right now.

For Coney, rumors of his move to Florida or Miami have been evergreen, even if the linebacker continues to refute them. Pulling a top prospect out of Florida is always a challenge, so don’t expect the Irish coaching staff to take their eyes of this recruitment until Coney’s in a dorm room.


Find Another Running Back and Defensive Back. 

Notre Dame’s search for more running back depth is well documented. With only Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant on scholarship, the Irish coaching staff is looking to add another back to Josh Adams, the Irish’s lone running back commit in the 2015 class.

They’ve searched far and wide. The Irish finished No. 2 for UA All-American Ronald Jones II, who chose USC from Orlando. They’re also in the mix for five-star recruit Soso Jamabo, with most pointing to UCLA as the leader. (That could change if Jim Mora heads to the NFL.)

That hasn’t stopped the Irish from identifying and chasing more backs. Florida’s Jordan Cronkrite took an official visit for the year-end awards banquet and is an option. Nashville’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn will likely see campus this January. Former Miami commit Dexter Williams is now considering the Irish as well, likely one of the reasons why a mini-Twitter war started when a Miami assistant took to social media to compare local climates.  Expect the Irish staff to kick the tires on a few other backs in the coming days as well.

In the secondary, the Irish are still holding out hope for another defensive back. While the grand slam is cornerback Iman “Biggie” Marshall from Long Beach Poly, finding another safety to add to the back line seems critical, especially with the uncertain fate of Nicky Baratti and the all but certain departure of Eilar Hardy.

Even with the trio of Prentice McKinneyMykelti Williams and Nicco Fertitta, the Irish staff is looking to add one more safety. Frontrunner Ben Edwards pledged to Stanford last week. That seems like a done deal, but Edwards has wobbled a few times already during his recruitment.

Frank Buncom of San Diego had more interest nationally than from Notre Dame until the Irish offered this fall, and a knee injury adds another element to his recruitment. But most believe he’ll stay on the West Coast.

The Irish offered Justin Reid, whose brother played at LSU. Beating the Tigers couldn’t have hurt. They’re also chasing Gary Jennings, who seems to prefer the chance to play offense in college. Irish Illustrated reports  ($) that the Irish staff has warmed to the idea.


Pull a Rabbit Out of the Hat. (And Keep the Other Ones In.)

Expect a name nobody is expecting to come out of the blue. That could be a below-the-radar prospect (at this time last year, nobody knew who Daniel Cage was). Or it could be a commitment to another program. Kelly and his staff are unafraid to battle for a big prospect or to make a move at a lesser-ranked guy. They’ve had success with both.

While it seems like a long shot, one of these days the Irish are going to have some success in Southern California with an elite prospect. Is Biggie Marshall that guy? Who knows, but it’d be a game-changer.

Also in the mix could be a fifth-year graduate transfer. Cody Riggs‘ success in South Bend didn’t go unnoticed. Tom Loy of Irish 247 reports ($) that a transfer could be in the mix, though didn’t name the target nor the position. Riggs didn’t hit campus until June. The transfer news wasn’t official until after Signing Day, though Amir Carlisle‘s move was listed as part of the recruiting class.

Finding a one-and-done player is a good way to maximize the roster’s 85 scholarships while also not making a long-term commitment. That allows a readymade player to come onto campus and have success, and a position like defensive end, safety, or even tight end could be an option. Kelly has also talked about being open to any transfer with three seasons of competition remaining.


Everything Erases After Signing Day. 

It’s worth a final note: Those star-ratings we all get so excited about? They disappear once a prospect is on campus. So while it’s certainly important to land elite talent, sometimes the guys who don’t look like much to a recruiting service end up turning out okay.

Sophomores Max Redfield and Greg Bryant were five-star recruits. They’re still finding their way to becoming that type of player on the field. Meanwhile, Will Fuller — a three-star by some measurements — just shattered every sophomore record in the Notre Dame books with a 15-touchdown season.

But with less than a month to go before one of the best days on the college football calendar, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the coffee pot and the commitment list as the Irish staff looks to finish strong.


Report: Blue-Gold game could be moving to Soldier Field

George Atkinson III, Vaughn Telemaque

With Notre Dame’s Campus Crossroads project well under way, a report has surfaced that the Blue and Gold game could be on the move. Irish 247 reports that the annual spring game could be relocated to the home of the Chicago Bears, with construction forcing the Irish into Soldier Field.

The 247 report says the move is probable and not finalized. I’ve heard separately that it is a potential location for the game, though the decision is far from finished.

With three new buildings being attached to the football stadium in Notre Dame’s most audacious building project the university has ever undertaken (Father Jenkins’ words, not mine), Notre Dame Stadium is being transformed, a construction project that’s projected to last 33 months. That likely means a football game inside the stadium this spring isn’t possible, with the next few seasons taking place amidst the transition.

The obvious questions arise. While logistically, a spring football game in Chicago shouldn’t be difficult, it could reshape the recruiting efforts of Brian Kelly’s coaching staff. Usually the Blue-Gold game is a flagship recruiting event in the spring, that could change if it’s off campus.

But even without that weekend in the spring, selling the new and improved facilities inside a football stadium is Recruiting 101 on the college circuit. The Irish staff will make a way to turn this $400 million building project into a positive as well.

Notre Dame last played in Soldier Field in 2012, when the Irish beat Miami 41-3.