Brian Kelly, Everett Golson

Kelly comments on Golson’s transfer


If you were looking for anything official out of Notre Dame after Everett Golson announced his intention to play next season at Florida State, think again. But yesterday, Brian Kelly was the head speaker at the ninth annual West Michigan Sports Commission Luncheon in Grand Rapids, and he shared a few comments about the move.

As you might have expected, Kelly gave the same classy statement as he did when Golson announced his intentions.

Per’s Peter Wallner, Kelly wished Golson nothing but luck, and proclaiming “great admiration” for his former quarterback.

“He wanted a fresh start and Florida State is going to give him that opportunity and I wish him great success,” Kelly said at the WMSC luncheon. “I just hope they don’t see us later down the road at the national championship game. I won’t wish him success that day.”

While the timing of Golson’s final decision is up for debate, Kelly and the coaching staff honored Golson’s request of not being made available to the media during spring practice, an oddity considering the decision at hand.

But Kelly talked about the chaotic nature of Golson’s spring semester, giving us a look into his mindset the past few months.

“We had about three and a half weeks left in the semester and he’s focused on graduating,” Kelly said, per the report. “And we practice in the morning and we have about two hours to get out there and practice and sometimes we look and think he’s got all this time to think about it, and he really doesn’t. He just reacts. He goes out like a football player and practices and then goes to class.”

As you’d expect, Kelly was very optimistic about Malik Zaire’s abilities to run the Irish offense. He also complimented Zaire’s competitiveness, which brought the best out in Notre Dame’s young quarterback, who certainly didn’t shy from the challenge of playing.

So while we’ll never get a chance to see how the Irish offense would’ve functioned with two high-end quarterbacks behind center, Kelly acknowledged that earning his diploma allows Golson the freedom to finish his eligibility elsewhere.

“You’re allowed those opportunities to start anew and I think he felt like he wanted to start anew … and we wish him the best.”



Everett Golson transferring to Florida State

Everett Golson

After graduating from Notre Dame over the weekend, Everett Golson has decided to play out his eligibility at Florida State. The former Irish quarterback visited Tallahassee last week before coming to a decision on Tuesday morning, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

Golson released the following statement to Fox Sports:

“This past weekend has been a defining moment in my life as I am proud to say I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. The support I’ve received there over the past four years has helped strengthen my integrity, wisdom and character. I would like to thank all of the coaches who spent time speaking with me these past few weeks and considered adding me to their football programs. Their interest and sincerity was truly humbling. After much thought and careful consideration, I will utilize my fifth year of eligibility to join the Florida State University Seminoles. To coach Jimbo Fisher, the Florida State football team, staff, alumni and fans, thank you for allowing me to become part of the Seminoles family. I can’t wait to get started.”

Golson will compete to replace Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston. Current junior Sean Maguire, who started for the Seminoles during Winston’s one-game suspension at Clemson, was the presumptive starter leaving spring practice, before Golson made the decision to leave Notre Dame and explore his options.

The Seminoles got a good look at Golson last October, when Notre Dame played Florida State down to the final snap in Tallahassee. Golson completed 31 of 52 throws against the Seminoles for 313 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the narrow 31-27 loss.

That officially closes the book on Golson’s career in South Bend. Playing in both 2012 and 2014, Golson completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,445 yards. He threw for 41 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, including 29 touchdown passes (and 14 interceptions) last season. Golson sat out his freshman season after enrolling a semester early, and was suspended for the fall semester after an academic incident.

With Golson gone, Notre Dame will turn to Malik Zaire. With three seasons of eligibility remaining and coming off a strong late-season performance against USC and LSU after Golson was sent to the bench, Zaire earned MVP honors in the Music City Bowl.

Russell talks to SI about suspension, return

Oklahoma v Notre Dame

Last week, we checked in on KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame’s soon-to-be-returning star cornerback. Thanks to some reporting by Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated—along with his own presence on social media—it’s easy to see that Russell’s been putting in the work home in Everett, Washington, while he awaits re-admission into Notre Dame.

While Russell’s stayed off the record with reporters covering the Irish beat, he spoke with Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel, who traveled to the Pacific Northwest to spend some time with the exiled Irish cornerback. The result was an interesting profile that took a closer look at the student-athlete that’ll be returning to campus.

Russell was understandably tight-lipped about the academic transgressions that cost four football players the entire season and Eilar Hardy eight games. But SI’s reporting finally put in writing the academic crime that was widely speculated about: improper assistance during the summer semester.

This from the report:

The school charged Russell and his four teammates with receiving illicit academic help from a former student trainer. Russell admits to getting “lazy” and “taking the easy way out,” but beyond that only says, “I didn’t cheat on a test. I didn’t pay people to do my homework.”

The penalty cost Russell and Ishaq Williams two semesters, with Williams status with the Irish and at the university still in question. While Kendall Moore had already earned his degree and Eilar Hardy graduated and will play out his eligibility at Bowling Green, DaVaris Daniels’ left Notre Dame without his diploma, going undrafted last month before signing with the Minnesota Vikings.

Russell’s departure during training camp came in the lead up to what many expected to be a breakout season towards potential stardom. With the option to play immediately at the FCS level  in 2014 or transfer and play in 2015 somewhere else, Russell told SI, “When you go through something as important as almost getting football and a college degree stripped away from you, you take a deep breath.”

Russell also lost out on being named a captain, something athletic director Jack Swarbrick told him the coaches had decided upon during August camp.

“I busted out crying, just bawling. It was uncontrollable.”

But it’s all looking forward for Russell. He’ll find out in the coming week of his re-admittance, and he’ll be back with his teammates come June. And from there, it’ll be tough to slow down a defensive back who is hellbent on making up for lost time—pulling motivation from giving up two touchdowns against Michigan in 2013 to never wanting to be anything like his estranged father.

“My ambition comes from something bigger than me,” Russell told SI. “The reason why I work so hard, it’s to be something I want to be that’s better than just an athlete. I want to be a better father, son and brother.”

You can read the entire profile here.

Mailbag: All about the defense

Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt

If we spent a little bit too much time discussing the quarterback position last mailbag, let’s take aim at one of the other massively important questions heading into the summer.

As always, thanks for the questions. (And for the improvements in the comments section.)

Now, to perhaps the defining question of the offseason:


kiopta1: We all talk about the O and the QBs but what are your thoughts on the D? Where do you see them improving and what more is needed if health isn’t an issue this season?

While Zaire and Golson took over our brains, the performance of Brian VanGorder’s defense is likely the difference between Notre Dame going to the College Football Playoff and having an underwhelming season.

Year One of Brian VanGorder was perhaps the wildest variance we’ve seen in Kelly’s tenure in South Bend. When the going was good, it was melt-the-internet-with-a-meme good. When it was bad? It was a horror show of Tenutian proportions, with overwhelmed and underprepared kids running around like John Ryan and Paddy Mullen.

What do we make of the defense? What was a fair evaluation of last season’s meltdown? The same coach that had a young, inexperienced defense looking like world beaters against Stanford and Michigan was also the guy who let Northwestern turn from beyond mediocre to high powered.

Because this answer could take months to fully dig in, let’s focus on four keys:

1)  Be dominant stopping the run. 

This shouldn’t be all that hard. The Irish have an experienced, veteran and talented front seven. With Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones back at defensive tackle, that’s two seniors who are NFL caliber talents, who also showed the ability to dominate at times. That’s a great start.

The linebackers will only help the cause. Joe Schmidt may not be perfectly sized, but he was mighty productive. Add in Nyles Morgan ascension, Jarrett Grace’s steely resolve and some field-ready depth behind them, and we’re talking about the linebackers being good before  we get to perhaps the most talented athlete on the team in Jaylon Smith.

Smith should turn into an eraser this season. While it’s still being determined where on the field he’ll be doing said erasing, it’s with confidence that we can just about guarantee a statistically unique season for a linebacker who managed to crack 100 tackles last season even as he was learning on the go.

2) Find some consistency in the secondary. 

While there were some nice individual efforts last season, advanced statistics give you an idea of just how horrific the Irish were stopping the pass, especially on downs where everybody in the stadium knew the ball was going in the air.

The S&P+ Ratings are the creation of Bill Connelly, using opponent-adjusted components that take four key factors into play: efficiency, explosiveness, field position and finishing drives. While trying any harder to explain it would make my brain explode, in Connelly’s early preview of the 2015 Irish, this little bit stuck out to me like a sore thumb:

When you look at the individual stats of the players listed above — Cole Luke with his 15 passes defensed, Matthias Farley with his 6.5 tackles for loss, etc. — you get the impression of an aggressive Notre Dame secondary. It had potential, but it ranked an inexcusable 96th in Passing S&P+, 88th on passing downs. The complete lack of an effective blitz played a role, but … 96th!

For perspective, here are the defenses that ranked 91st through 95th: Kentucky, UL-Lafayette, UConn, Kent State, Ohio. Notre Dame, with its four- and five-stars and play-makers, ranked below them. The Irish allowed a 60.3 percent completion rate (86th in the country) and allowed 43 completions of at least 20 yards (85th). Awful.

Now, it bears mentioning that there was quite a bit of turnover. Russell was lost pretty close to the season, and safeties Austin Collinsworth and Eliar Hardy missed eight games each. With a nonexistent pass rush and understudies playing a larger role than expected, Notre Dame wasn’t going to post a top-20 or top-30 pass defense. But top-60 shouldn’t have been too much to ask.

Sometimes an outsider’s perspective can lay things out far clearer than anything done by someone covering and writing about the team on a daily basis. And in this case, Connelly’s 30,000-foot view of the secondary and pass defense lays things out pretty succinctly.

“Inexcusably bad.”

3) Rush the passer and get off the field. 

It’s not fair to blame the secondary for everything in the passing game, especially with the front-seven’s inability to get a pass rush. But somebody on the Irish roster needs to step forward and rush the passer, because reinforcements aren’t coming in 2015.

That’s not to say that Bo Wallace’s departure is going to ruin Notre Dame’s defense. Nor is it to completely lay blame on the Irish staff’s inability to find themselves a “pure pass rusher.” The staff isn’t unicorn hunting. Besides, they’ve already proven the ability to land some elite defensive linemen.

But getting pressure on the quarterback and getting off the field will go a long way towards turning this defense into an elite unit. And whether it’s coming from seniors like Day and Romeo Okwara, or young players like Andrew Trumbetti, Jerry Tillery, Jhonny Williams or Kolin Hill, finding the pieces to do the job is vital, especially when it doesn’t look like there’s one guy who is going to produce.

4) Slow down the up-tempo offenses. 

No team is going to look at Notre Dame’s second-half and not see that North Carolina’s use of tempo served as a partial blueprint for the rest of the season. So until VanGorder and company figure out how to make plays and slow down the pace by getting stops, opponents are going to move as quickly as possible to attack the Irish defense.

Last season, Notre Dame didn’t have a base defense to hang its hat. And after applauding the multiplicity of the defense and the plethora of sub-packages the Irish used to confuse and confound Michigan and Stanford, all those moving parts felt a lot like smoke and mirrors after it became clear that the group may have been fairly adept at doing a ton of little things well, but ultimately mastered none.

Kelly spent the offseason analyzing the problem. While you’d expect him to say nothing differently this spring, he believes they’ve found some answers. But until the Irish make it out of September and find a way to slow down an offense like Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech attack, it’ll be up to VanGorder to prove it with game film or be prepared to face an up tempo attack all season.

Ultimately, Kelly is betting his legacy on one of his oldest coaching allies in VanGorder. But while Mike Sanford’s addition to the staff feels a little like Kelly acknowledging he needed to infuse some new ideas into the room, it’s worth noting that he also brought in Todd Lyght and Keith Gilmore this offseason.

While it necessitated moving Bob Elliot into an off-field role (likely heavy on R&D), it’s a fresh start for a defense that only has Mike Elston remaining from the original defensive staff, and he’s now coaching linebackers.  Perhaps it’s Elston that’ll remind everybody how Kelly rebuilt the Irish defense under Bob Diaco: by taking the emphasis off of scheme and putting it on individual responsibility.

With a season of game tape now in the hands of opponents, VanGorder would be well-served to find a way to get his guys to simply do it better. Because daring the opposition to go toe-to-toe when you believe you’ll win even if you take scheme away is the best way for the Irish to win.

Mailbag: All about the quarterbacks

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

For as much as we’re ready to move on from the quarterback talk… we’re not really ready to move on from the quarterback talk.

So let’s tear the band-aid off one last time (who are we kidding?) and talk about the situation behind center for the Irish.


bearcatirishfan: Do you think there is any risk that Zaire will stop trying to improve, or just won’t get pushed enough without Golson’s there to provide extra incentive/competition?

Malik Zaire is not the kind of kid that needs someone to push him. While his success remains to be seen, his intangibles and off-field profile are everything you could ask for. So while the departure of Golson makes Zaire the starter with no real competition, there’s not much risk of Zaire deciding to coast now that the team is his.

If anything, I think the tendency will be the opposite. The last two seasons, I think there was a “check-out” factor, especially when it was clear that this was Golson’s offense and nothing Zaire did during practice could change that. This is Zaire’s team now. And he’ll be ready.


irishkevy: Is there any worry with Malik Zaire getting injured? The worst possible situation is that happening and Wimbush giving up his redshirt. I’ve seen Wimbush in person and as a three year starter he’ll be very legit.

Zaire getting hurt is probably the biggest X-Factor of the season. I don’t think it was ever possible for Zaire to run the ball 20+ times a game, like he did against LSU. But looking back at Mike Sanford’s play calling at Boise State, he ran his quarterback 10 or more times in a game eight times, and Zaire is a far more dangerous runner.

He’s a big kid, likely pushing 230 pounds, so that’ll help. But how Kelly and company decide to protect Zaire now that the back-up QB situation is an unknown will be interesting.

Last thought on Wimbush: Redshirting is obviously preferred. But this football team is too good to hold somebody back with the hopes of having a great season in 2020, especially when you consider how unrealistic it is for a head coach to spend a decade as the man on top of the Notre Dame football program. So if Wimbush is ready (and needed), he’ll play if he’s good enough to be the No. 2 quarterback.


robtrodes: Keith, I keep seeing comments that Zaire isn’t all that good of a passer, and the (admittedly meager) stats available don’t appear to support the position at all. Is this just something that everyone says because everyone else says it, or is there evidence of it?

Good question. Compared to Golson, Zaire isn’t necessarily as accurate. But the position comes mostly from hearing Brian Kelly talk about Zaire needing to improve in the intermediate and short passing game, not from anything we’ve seen.

One thing that I’ve noticed in Zaire’s passing game that I think needs to be fixed: The tendency to slow his arm down when throwing short or underneath. A little like a baseball pitcher, you can’t change the speed of your arm when throwing shorter or softer.

But watching him hit Will Fuller for 70 in the Blue-Gold game, and do a nice-enough job against USC, it’s like a lot of inexperienced quarterbacks. We want them all to be more accurate.


onward2victory: Keith, how do you think Zaire compares to Johnny Manziel (on the field only)? Personally, I see some similarities and in my most optimistic moments believe that Zaire could see that kind of production so long as Kelly lets the reigns loose. Would love get your take.

I’m going to ask you to pump your brakes, Onward. I actually think Zaire’s body-type and mental game makes him a far more durable quarterback, but we’ve seen this kid run for 96 yards against LSU and play a nice second half in a blowout loss to USC.

He’s a little bit behind the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback that made the SEC look like a sandlot.


ajw21: Keith, Did you alter expectations now that Golson is gone. you have said before you believe ND could be in the final four. Do you still feel that way with Zaire the starter and the only qb who plays barring an injury? Also does Wimbush redshirt if Zaire is out for let’s say 2 or more games.

Notre Dame has a chance to win every game on their schedule. They get USC at Notre Dame, which should help. And that doesn’t change just because Everett Golson disappeared, so there’s every reason to believe the Irish are a legit contender for a spot in the CFB Playoffs.

But without Zaire? I have no clue how good Wimbush can be, and Kizer sure didn’t look like a guy who was ready to run a team in his limited Blue-Gold game action. But it’s May.


scoli: With the transfer of Golson, most of the concern seems to be that Zaire is too “inexperienced”. Having watched college football closely for more years than I should admit, I have seen MANY teams be successful, and actually win championships with “inexperienced” QB’s. Some have actually done it with true freshman.Look at Ohio States success last year with 2nd and 3rd string.

My question to you then is, DO you think that Coach Kelly’s system is too complicated? ND has some of the highest admission standards of any D1 school, so you know these kids are not dummies, why does it take so long for them to understand/get a handle on the playbook?

I kept the statement part of your question in because it’s correct. Last year’s national champ? First-year quarterback. Two seasons ago? First-year starting quarterback. It can—and does—happen.

Is Kelly’s system too complicated? I don’t know it, but I also don’t think so.

To your point about the academics/grasp of the playbook, I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. ND is definitely not running the type of offense where a QB looks to the sidelines, gets a play and then runs it regardless. But trying to make a grand statement on speed of proficiency in a system in comparison to other programs with varying degrees of academic difficulty is a tough one to make.

What I will say: Notre Dame’s offense has been too quarterback reliant. The one season that it wasn’t (2012) was the year the Irish rode their defense and running game to an undefeated regular season. That’s not to say it’ll happen every year, but it’s hard not to see what Urban Meyer did last year and wonder how the Irish would look utilizing that style of offense. And I’m guessing Kelly and his staff took note.


irishdog80: What makes Golson believe that he will not have the same competition issues at his next stop?

I don’t think Golson transferred because of competition. Because every football team he plays on for the rest of his life will offer significant competition.


notrebob: Keith,what could you tell us about the Kelly /Golson relationship especially towards the end surely you some authentic info you can share tired of all the speculation

That’s too hard to say for sure. But from talking to people in and around the situation, I do think that part of the issue was their relationship, at least from Golson’s point of view.

On the flip side, I’ve also heard from people inside the program that getting to Golson was difficult. He’s a unique kid, and any issues in the relationship wasn’t for a lack of trying.

In the end, Golson earned his degree. That allows him to transfer. He did. End of story. (For now…)