Cleveland Plain Dealer

The after Signing Day mailbag: Part Two


Let’s pick things up with Part Two of our after Signing Day mailbag. (Feel like any good sequel deserves a trilogy, so look for that in a little bit as well.)

Again, sorry not to get to everybody’s questions, but we’ll be doing more and more of these as the offseason goes on.



Put on your coach’s hat for a minute.
1) what position is the biggest need in terms of depth to be a consistent 10 win team?
2) which player(s) have an instant impact this coming season?
3) which makes a bigger difference this season, new player or new position coach?
4) if given the chance would you go the route of coaches like Dantonio who redshirt 80-90% of their freshman class?

Rapid-fire responses:

1) I think the Front Seven. We can blame all the turnovers on Golson, but the injuries to the defense and its collapse exposed the youth that was behind the stout front line.

2) Alize Jones. One of the freshmen linebackers. Jerry Tillery. Shaun Crawford (starting slot CB.)

3) I’m not sure I fully understand the question. But in college football, Jimmys and Joes are always more important than the Xs and the Os. Especially position coaches.

4) Does Dantonio really redshirt 90% of his freshmen? I’d like some sourcing there. I’ll dig more into redshirting later in the mailbag. But I think there are some changing dynamics here.


ndlv: I know that you don’t put a lot of stock in star ratings of recruits. But, in your opinion, are students who are recruited by schools like ND (with a large fanbase) a touch overrated by sites like rivals and scout in order to sell more subscriptions? Does this make Irish fans (who buy into the star ratings) too optimistic?

You are correct. I don’t put a lot of stock into star rating. I think the big companies (Rivals, 247, Scout, ESPN) can definitely identify the elite players — the top 50, 100 in the country. But after that? It’s a crap shoot.

You are also correct on the impact large fanbases often times play into the star-rankings. But I tend to think it’s the impact of an offer from top schools enhancing a ranking, without the player actually doing anything. (Especially with offers not meaning what they used to mean.)

But I also think a much larger impact these days are the kids that are willing to play the game. Josh Barajas didn’t spend his summer going to 5-star combines or camps. Neither did Jalen Guyton. (This statement applies to probably 10 kids in this class, especially the early commits.)

So when Barajas showed up and impressed in San Antonio, the services essentially got their first look at him, apples to apples, with other elite prospects.

As for Guyton. Show me another receiver in the country that put up 1,700 yards, 22 touchdowns and 82 catches playing the most competitive high school football in the country. That’s a 3-star prospect? It makes zero sense to me. And it’s a big reason why I’m not sweating the stars. They’re all erased after Signing Day, anyway.

The rankings are so much better than they used to be. But when all you have is tape of a 3-star wideout and you see in person a kid at three or four camps, that’s what happens. (Especially considering those kids usually like to give interviews.)


irishdog80: Corey Holmes looked like an impressive young WR last year…kind of Will Fuller like, but a little rangier. Does Holmes break through next year after a year in the program? How about at TE? Does Durham Smythe or someone else step up at TE as a weapon?

Who comes off the field for Holmes to get on it? I don’t think you’re giving Fuller enough credit. He’s going to be a preseason, first-team All-American. He just tied the school record, matching Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate for touchdowns. And he did it as a sophomore. (Go check that duos sophomore numbers.)

The arrow is still pointing up for Fuller, who needs to clean up and get more consistent, which he’ll do this offseason. Don’t get me wrong, the staff likes Holmes and thinks he’ll be a player. But it might not be a breakthrough season for him, not with the football going to Fuller, Corey Robinson, CJ Prosise and Chris Brown first.

As for tight end? Right now I think it’s Smythe as a pass catcher and Luatua as a blocker. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Alize Jones… nearly from the start.


kcoral: Time for real talk, Keith. Your biggest rival just signed a historically great class. #1 by a big margin over Ala., for god’s sake. Meanwhile, the Irish appear to be out the Top 10. Only Ore has won and played in the championship game/playoffs with out consistently finishing in the top 10. This is 3 years in a row now that ND has had 10 or lower classes. BK himself said ND competes for “national championships.” Knowing what we know about the CLEAR link between elite level recruit and winning championships, is this coming season the only realistic chance ND has in getting into the playoffs for the next 4 years?

Time to go Aaron Rodgers on you, kcoral. R-E-L-A-X.

What do we know about the “CLEAR link” you speak of? Because I know Alabama plays good football and recruits well. Everybody else? The results vary.

The “recruiting champion” belt ranks up there with Preseason No. 1 and the draft day winners and losers in the NFL. (At least for me.)

I look at Notre Dame’s 24 man class and see a group that was expected to be around 17 to 19 at this time last year, but grew to include elite targets like Shaun Crawford, Jerry Tillery (holding on to him is a win), Dexter Williams, Te’von Coney, Equanimeous St. Brown and Alize Jones.

The deck is stacked for next season. But it’s not like this is getting ready for a solar eclipse. This is the healthiest I’ve seen this program since the end of the Holtz era.


runners00: Who is the one kid who will make a significant impact the earliest?

On offense, I think it’s Jones. On defense, I think it’s Crawford.


newmexicoirish: How does the #1 rated kicker in the country (per 247 Sports) end up with just a 3* ranking and a fairly underwhelming offer list? There seems to be a disconnect here.

There certainly is. Unless Sebastian Janikowski has a kid coming into college soon, there’s not going to be a 5-star kicker. And the fact that college programs recruit a scholarship kicker ever 3-4 years means that your offer list is going to be much smaller. (Some programs rely exclusively on walk-ons, rewarding them with a scholarship later.)

Yoon is a good one. With a ton on his shoulders. It’ll be fun to see how he performs.


flandersst1: What would the ND Nation have done if Brian Kelly had called the pass that Darrell Bevell called in the Super Bowl under the same circumstances in the National Championship Game?

I can only imagine. The blowback for a jet sweep was bad enough. But in the Super Bowl?

The after Signing Day mailbag: Part One


Some great questions came through over the past 48 hours. After a busy day that started around 3:30 a.m. and didn’t end until some coaching and transfer rumors got hunted down late last night, there’s more to talk about than ever.

Let’s get to some of your questions, and space these out a bit this afternoon.


onward2victory: If there is so much unethical behavior in recruiting, why don’t more programs that are trying to do things the right way scream foul? For example (purely hypothetical), if you’re recruiting a kid, and his dad says Auburn is offering X amount of money, why wouldn’t you report Auburn to compliance for investigation?

There is no simple answer to this question, Onward. But I’d point out the flack Lane Kiffin caught when he was at Tennessee for pointing out some of the shady dealings that happen at schools in certain states, like fax machines that don’t work, etc. Nobody likes a squealer. Especially in this high-octane world.

The idea of players getting paid — and yes, it certainly does happen (including some recruits that Notre Dame unsuccessfully chased this year) — isn’t quite as overt as an assistant coaching handing a kid a stack of cash. Usually these bagmen (and here’s a wonderful article that’s worth your time) don’t even work for the school, but are merely overzealous boosters working with little connectivity to a coaching staff.

There’s no question that some schools likely put up a fight and complain, though they don’t take those complaints public via the media. But as long as there are super easy ways to contact recruits — just take a look at the Twitter and Instagram feeds of the top recruits this year — there will be issues.

This isn’t new.


grammarnazi69: Under Diaco, the Irish had a set of parameters they used to decide whether or not to recruit a guy, and would usually pass on a guy that didn’t fit. Has that philosophy carried over to Van Gorder? How does what Van Gorder looks for in a recruit vary from what Diaco looked for?

It hasn’t carried over. It’s actually one of the big changes as the team recruits defensive players. Brian VanGorder is looking for football players. Doesn’t care what size they are, because he knows better than most that there are 5’9″ cornerbacks that play elite football in the NFL and undersized defensive ends that are wreaking havoc.

That’s why Shaun Crawford signed with Notre Dame. Bob Diaco didn’t want to offer him because he thought he was too short.

The best analogy I can give you is one I’m told VanGorder uses. He compares building a defense to a chef assembling all the ingredients he needs for a kitchen. You need a large variety for your kitchen. That’s why you see the “profile” defensive linemen like Brandon Tiassum or Micah Dew-Treadway, but you also see guys like Crawford and linebacker Asmar Bilal, neither traditional fits for Diaco.

A great chef needs diversity. But most of all he needs quality ingredients.


GreenShamrock: Does Wimbush redshirt if Golson does not return? And do you see Wimbush as the QB after Zaire or do they bring in a different QB next year or in 2 years.

I don’t think Everett Golson is going to transfer. But if he does, Wimbush will likely be in the same situation as DeShone Kizer was last year. Third-stringer that the Irish really don’t want to use.

But after poking around, there’s a belief that Wimbush is an elite, elite player. So while you’re asking if Wimbush is the starter after Zaire, I’m wondering if Zaire is able to hold Wimbush off over the next three seasons.


nateprez4irish: With the shifting of positions and injuries, are you surprised at not attacking more O-Line recruits? To be able to run the offense that has worked most effectively, this is a big deal. How do you see that shaping up for this and the next say 2 classes?

Over the past few recruiting cycles, Notre Dame over-recruited the offensive line. The depth chart is as healthy as its ever been, especially because I think Kelly and the Irish staff will continue to bring back every offensive lineman that can conceivably contribute for five seasons.

No doubt, the move of Tillery to the defensive side of the ball made this group thin. But Harry Hiestand has been really rock solid on the recruiting trail, and expect another big class in 2016 that’ll make up for the light class this year.

The other point worth noting: Add an offensive lineman but subtract a what? People are already losing their minds over the fact that the Irish are only bringing in two safeties in this class. But who do you kick out of this class? A receiver? Not from that group, at least in my opinion.


padomer: With the presumption the Kerry Cooks is gonzo: 1. was his “lateral move” a money issue? relationship with staff issue? combo of things? this was a shocker and I think without the proper fill-in can be a bigggg deal.

2. Do you expect the new hire to have roots in the tex, la, southeast region seeing as Kerry has more than gotten his foot in the door down there and was one or two years away (provided with on-field success) from establishing a clear pipeline down there?

It looks like the new hire is former Pro Bowler and Notre Dame All-American Todd Lyght. So that’s not a bad hire, especially with Kelly’s ability to vet just about every coach Lyght’s ever worked with.

Back to Cooks, I think the move was in his best interest. He’s spent five seasons in South Bend and got passed up for the defensive coordinator position. Oklahoma was desperate to fix a secondary that was ranked 117th against the pass. And I’m guessing they added a significant bump to his pay check.

Cooks is moving closer to home and family for both he and his wife. There is nothing but mutual respect from both sides and he’ll certainly be missed, especially on the recruiting trail in Texas and Louisiana.

That’s probably the bigger piece of it — and something that Kelly will look to remedy. But the ground work laid by Cooks in those states doesn’t evaporate because he’s gone. But it’s certainly the biggest part of the move, and something that’ll be seriously considered as Kelly restocks the staff.


@EricRuethling: With immediate playing time available, why is ND having such a hard time landing a remaining high profile safety or RB?

This was written before Dexter Williams committed, so I’m going to take RB off the complaint list. And Notre Dame had three safeties until January, when it became clear that Prentice McKinney’s grades were going to be a serious problem.

The problem with landing high profile players is that everybody wants them. And Notre Dame’s recruiting techniques are usually much different than the rest of the power players in the hunt. It’s a life decision to choose Notre Dame, not necessarily just a football one. Not many blue-chippers just jump to ND on Signing Day.

Kelly was fairly candid about this, talking about the priority changes and shifts during the cycle. And if we’re really most disappointed about not landing a third safety in this group, I feel like Notre Dame did a great job with this group.

Reports: Todd Lyght to join Notre Dame coaching staff

Todd Lyght

As soon as word surfaced that Kerry Cooks was leaving Notre Dame for Oklahoma, people began pointing to former Irish All-American Todd Lyght as a possible replacement.  Cooks’ move was confirmed yesterday by SI. And it looks like Lyght’s homecoming is now in motion.

Multiple reports have Lyght leaving Vanderbilt to join Brian Kelly’s coaching staff. He only joined Derek Mason in Nashville last month, after working with Chip Kelly the past two seasons in Philadelphia.

The former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner was the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft after being named a two-time consensus All-American at Notre Dame. He’ll likely slide into Cooks spot coaching the secondary, though Kelly has often split up responsibilities, with both a safeties coach and a cornerback coach working with the different positions.

While the hire hasn’t been made official and is likely pending the university’s lengthy background process, Irish 247 reports it’s a “done deal,” and anecdotal evidence like this seems to prove that point.

Kelly was unwilling to talk about any coaching changes yesterday, though it appears the movement isn’t over. After a brief — and bizarre — report linking Brady Hoke to the Irish staff, Matt LaFleur’s name also became connected with a job on the Atlanta Falcons’ staff, where his brother was just hired as an offensive assistant and he’d be reunited with Kyle Shanahan.

Lyght is relatively new to coaching, working first at Bishop Gorman High School before connecting with Chip Kelly in the NFL. Known as a cerebral player, Lyght brings an excellent pedigree to the staff, and likely came with sterling references.

Before the hire, Brian Kelly likely leaned on Lyght’s former college coach, Lou Holtz. He also probably called his first employer, former Bishop Gorman and now UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez. He could’ve also checked in with Chip Kelly, a colleague who has visited South Bend for coaching camps and remains close with Kelly.

Digging into the archives, here’s a highlight reel of Lyght’s work back with the Irish, compiled a few years back by Blue & Gold Illustrated.