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.


Reports: VanGorder staying, LaFleur going

Brian Van Gorder

Brian Kelly didn’t want to talk about any coaching changes on Wednesday. But he’ll have plenty of things to talk about next time he addresses the media.

Multiple reports have finalized Todd Lyght‘s return to South Bend, where he’ll join Kelly’s coaching staff as Kerry Cooks‘ replacement. The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen caught up with Lou Holtz to get his take on the move. Holtz was understandably excited.

Tim Prister at Irish Illustrated reached out to some of Lyght’s college teammates at Notre Dame. All said great things as well.

On Friday, more coaching rumors continued to swirl. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder‘s name reemerged in Oakland, where Jack Del Rio was deciding upon a defensive coordinator for his new staff. VanGorder worked with Del Rio in Carolina, one of his first professional jobs, and a report out of Oakland had him one of two candidates.

A source inside the program denied that VanGorder was going anywhere. Similar reports surfaced with the Chicago Tribune as well.  Hours later, word broke that Ken Norton would be taking the job, leaving VanGorder to coordinate his second season in South Bend.

While VanGorder is staying, quarterback coach Matt LaFleur is going. He’ll be heading back to the NFL to join Kyle Shanahan’s offensive staff under Dan Quinn. LaFleur worked with Shanahan in both Houston and Washington and will be joined by his brother in Atlanta.

Irish 247 caught up with Brandon Wimbush’s mother, as LaFleur was instrumental in recruiting the quarterback to South Bend. In a story that seems to be taking place all over the country right now as coaches move from program to program with Signing Day complete, Heather Wimbush took a philosophical approach.

“I was a little disappointed about Coach LaFleur, but then I had to remind myself why we picked the school,” Wimbush told Tom Loy of Irish 247. “Coaches come and go. It was just weird getting the news on Signing Day. I know for a fact that Brandon was disappointed, but Coach Kelly was very reassuring and I appreciated that.”

How Kelly replaces LaFleur will be interesting. It’s fairly obvious to say that Kelly didn’t expect to hire LaFleur as a quarterback coach — a decision he put plenty of time into — with the expectations of losing him just a season later to the NFL.

Kelly also assigned LaFleur a premium state for recruiting, getting lukewarm results from the young assistant. In his first stint covering California, LaFleur and the Irish landed just Equanimeous St. Brown, missing on a handful of other targets.

Expect Mike Denbrock, hopefully much healthier after a bout with cancer, to return to the West Coast. Or expect the hiring opportunity to be a chance to find a recruiter with ties to either California or Texas, where Kerry Cooks led the efforts.

For now, that’s all that seems to be out there that’s official. But it’s rumor season and there are still job vacancies to be filled — like Ohio State’s running backs spot and the head coaching position at Central Michigan, where former Chippewas assistant Mike Elston could surface as a candidate.


The after Signing Day mailbag: Part Three

And epic conclusion to a three-part, after Signing Day mailbag.

Thanks for your questions. Early apologies for some snark.


c4evr: I think red-shirting benefits are minimal. What’s the point of preserving a year of eligibility? Year in and year out it seems to be the same thing – the really good ones leave early and the ones who don’t pan out don’t get asked back. Why don’t you just put your absolute best athletes on the field, even if it does mean playing them in other positions?

I’m with you… to a point. Redshirting is vital for offensive linemen and at certain power positions, like defensive tackle, where you need to develop strength to be a force inside. (Though it’s certainly a luxury at D-Line, as we’ve seen from the early departures.)

It’s also much easier to say than do, when it comes to putting your best athletes on the field in different positions. But Kelly does that more than anyone.

More and more coaches believe in playing freshmen, especially in power programs. The benefits of competition are big when you look at the program’s DNA. And it appears Kelly is a believer in that as well.

“We’re going to let you compete, and the watch word around here is you have to go and compete and embrace competition,” Kelly said yesterday. “I’m going to know right away, when we go out there and you’re a freshman and you act like a freshman, then you’re going to get what a freshman gets:  That’s no playing time. You get to watch.

“If you go out there and you don’t act like a freshman and you want to go out there and compete and you want to go out there and play, then go play.  So it’s really up to them.  They will decide.  If they are physically able and they mentally want to compete, let’s go compete.  I mean, I’m not getting any younger.”


fatguystrangler: I heard Matt LaFleur is joining the Falcons staff. Any idea on possible replacements?

That seems like the rumor. And it would make sense, considering Malik Zaire popping off on Twitter yesterday and LaFleur’s brother taking a job in Atlanta with Kyle Shanahan, who hired Matt in Washington after working with him in Houston.

As for the candidates, I’m not exactly sure yet. If LaFleur is indeed gone after a year, it’s a setback for Kelly, who didn’t bring in a young coach to have him leave after a season. But there are many options — including a reunion with Jeff Quinn, though I’m not sure he’s a guy that would coach quarterbacks, as he’s only worked with the offensive line as he’s been an offensive coordinator.


sgtmoon5: If a recruit signs a letter of intent to attend let’s say Notre Dame, he can change his mind and decommit. Is that correct? Also….. After signing a letter of intent, can other schools still attempt to recruit him or does the recruit just have to change his mind on his own.

No, that’s not correct. You can change your mind and decommit and verbally commit as many places as you want. But after sending a Letter of Intent, it’s supposed tobe a binding agreement… unless you’re Eddie Vanderdoes.

Schools are not allowed to contact a recruit while he’s a signed recruit. That left the situation with Vanderdoes and UCLA a bit unsavory, especially because it was widely believed he was being recruited while being signed by Notre Dame.

(My public records request was denied by UCLA to see if emails were sent about Vanderdoes’ recruitment in the days directly following Signing Day.)


mattymill: I hear some fans complain about a class ranked around #10 in the country by many recruiting services. That’s asinine to complain about in my opinion. If ND can sign a class in the 8-12 range every year, there’s no reason they can’t be in playoff contention every third season or so. What are your thoughts on realistic expectations with ND’s recruiting?

andy44teg: Check out the ONLY “Northern” school in the top ten…Ohio State…fresh off a national championship…and they’re #9! Hell..there’s only 5 “Northern” schools in the top 25!

Just think, if Ohio State fell two spots in these rankings, they’d be sunk.

I’m on the record: I think Notre Dame signed an excellent class. And that’s the expectation every year.





The after Signing Day mailbag: Part Two

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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?