Mike Jensen, Avery Sebastian

Notre Dame lands Cal graduate transfer 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.

Amidst coaching shuffle, Denbrock turned down CMU head job

247Sports.com
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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.