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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?


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.

Amidst coaching shuffle, Denbrock turned down CMU head job

Brian Kelly very nearly had to replace another key assistant.

That’s because Inside the Irish has learned that offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock turned down the heading coaching job at Central Michigan to stay at Notre Dame.

After Dan Enos left the Chippewas to be Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, the MAC program was looking for a new head coach. And before eventually hiring former Chippewa player and Detroit Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego, Denbrock declined the opportunity.

That type of loyalty to Brian Kelly comes at a crucial time for the sixth-year Irish head coach. Tasked with replacing Kerry Cooks, Matt LaFleur and now Tony Alford, Denbrock remaining in charge of the offense — and likely resuming his recruiting work on the West Coast — provides a few constants in an algebra equation that needs to be solved between now and the beginning of March, when spring practice begins.

Rumors have swirled since Signing Day regarding replacements on the staff. Todd Lyght seems to be a done deal. Jeff Quinn reuniting with Kelly as well. And the return of Autry Denson to his alma mater could add the third piece, though that’s more speculation at this point than any reported fact.

But after successfully replacing three assistants and then making a run to the BCS title game after the 2011 season, Kelly will have an incredibly important three-week stretch on his hands. And that’s before one of the more intriguing spring practices in recent years.

So much for a dull February.



Alford talks about the decision to head to Ohio State


With the news of Tony Alford‘s departure just sinking in, Brian Kelly is now tasked with replacing an assistant coach whose impact off the field overshadows his contributions on Saturday.

In his six years in South Bend, Alford has built a reputation as a sterling recruiting and an even better man, beloved by the players he recruited to Notre Dame, as well as the ones he didn’t end up landing. And while the loss of Alford inside Notre Dame’s program is a difficult one, it’s also a move that’s been celebrated by current and former players, happy for the assistant who is taking a career risk with hopes of it helping him to achieve goals down the road.

On Saturday, Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson was able to track down Alford, getting the only on the record comments from Alford, who spoke candidly about the decision to leave. And as you might expect, Alford came off as a man who leaves with nothing but good memories of his time in South Bend.

“I’ve watched these kids grow up. This has been an emotional day,” Alford told Sampson.

After turning down previous overtures from Meyer, Alford told Sampson this move was about advancing his career — putting him in a better position to land a head coaching position in the future.

After interviewing for the Colorado State job and losing out, Alford was told his resume needed a boost. The assistant head coach tag does that for Alford, though those responsibilities still haven’t been carved out. So does working for Urban Meyer, who has known Alford since he was a college running back at Colorado State where Meyer joined the coaching staff.

“This isn’t a move for today, this is a move where I’ve tried to calculate five years out,” Alford said. “There’s forward thinking here, where it could potentially propel me to.”

After building such close bonds with his players — including a recruiting class he just assembled, only to leave it 72 hours later — Alford talked about how his sales pitch to his players is ultimately what’s leading him to Columbus.

“When you recruit these players you’re telling them it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision, but what you’re really talking about is the concept in life that you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow,” Alford said. “This is a leap of faith, one I feel I need to make for my professional development.”

Kelly will now look to replace Alford, not just at running back coach but as a recruiter in the state of Florida. All eyes are on record-setting former Notre Dame running back Autry Denson, who recently left Chuck Martin’s Miami (Ohio) staff for a job with Willie Taggert at USF. Denson is a Florida native and said to be a rising star in the coaching world.

Wherever Kelly decides to go, Alford feels like Notre Dame will be fine.

“I always said this in recruiting these kids that this isn’t about me, it’s about you. This place is in good hands. I know it is.”


*For more from Alford, head to Irish Illustrated, who won the scoop. 






Tony Alford joins Urban Meyer at Ohio State


The Notre Dame coaching carousel isn’t over. And the most recent move takes the Irish’s longest tenured assistant and puts him on the staff of another Midwestern power.

Tony Alford is moving to Ohio State, where he’ll coach running backs and assistant head coach. Alford has been in South Bend for six seasons, hired by Charlie Weis and retained by Brian Kelly.

There has been no official confirmation of the move, though a source early this morning told me it was a “done deal.” Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated also Tweeted this out, pretty much ending the speculation.

The loss of Alford stings the most on the recruiting trail. Long respected as one of the best in the business, Alford had great success selling Notre Dame, particularly in the state of Florida. That including reeling in recent pledge Dexter Williams just 72 hours ago, who had this to say this morning after hearing the news about the move:

The move is a victory for Urban Meyer, who had to replace running backs coach Stan Drayton, who took the same job with the Chicago Bears. That led Meyer to Alford — the third Brian Kelly assistant (joining Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton) taken from South Bend to Columbus.

There are now vacancies at quarterback coach and running back coach on the offensive side of the football for Kelly. Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated reports that Kelly will bring Jeff Quinn into the fold, reuniting with his former offensive coordinator after Quinn was fired as Buffalo’s head coach.


UPDATE: Alford has confirmed the move, talking to Sampson and Irish Illustrated. He’s also apparently already on the recruiting trail for the Buckeyes, changing his Twitter profile.