Tag: Eric Hansen

Kyle McAlarney, Preston Knowles

South Bend Tribune looks at ResLife and admissions


Any discussion between Irish fans about Notre Dame’s office of Residence Life or the school’s admissions policy usually ends up resembling a fireside fishing story — buried amidst the embellishment is some kernel of truth.

For every tale of draconian punishment decried there’s usually a high-profile disciplinary case where even the strictest of Irish fans have shaken their head over the school’s logic. Likewise, for every story about five-star recruit X getting slid through admissions when in the past he’d have never gotten a chance, there are more than likely examples of Notre Dame admitting students with lesser academic profiles than the norm.

While some high-profile stories this preseason have wondered aloud whether the handling of Michael Floyd‘s disciplinary case or the admission of some elite recruits signifies a lowering of standards in both discipline and academics, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

With unprecedented access, the South Bend Tribune‘s Eric Hansen looks at the two hot-button issues, penning comprehensive stories on the two issues that have drawn the microscopes of football fans everywhere. The Sunday morning print exclusives are now available on the internet and there is quite a bit to digest for those interested in a story that’s only tangentially about football.

In Hansen’s first piece on the evolution of ResLife, the university’s disciplinary arm for students, he cites the change in the discipline of other athletes — namely former Irish tight end Will Yeatman, former point guard Kyle McAlarney, and former fullback Rashon Powers-Neal — from that punishment levied recently on Floyd.

There was a PR whiplash of sorts for Notre Dame, though, for being responsive to the voices that pushed for change and taking what it considered a more fair, more progressive approach with not only Floyd but the dozens of other cases last fall and spring that involved lower-profile students.

Cynics connected the dots to the Yeatman/McAlarney/Powers-Neal cases and concluded there was some kind of legal gerrymandering going on because of Floyd’s importance to the team. And that, they argued – coupled with facility upgrades and alleged relaxing of admissions standards – meant Notre Dame was somehow compromising what it had long purported to stand for.

Pierce, and many alumni like him – including Yeatman – look at it instead as evolution. A very necessary evolution.

Those who adjudicated the verdicts in Res Life for Yeatman, McAlarney and Powers-Neal didn’t have the power to do anything short of suspending them. Du Lac didn’t allow for any other outcome in cases involving student probation.

And that was perhaps the most significant change in the 2010-11 handbook from its earlier iterations, that initial probation no longer came with an automatic suspension from extracurricular activities – student government, student media, retreat leaders and, yes, football.

“Probation is actually probation now,” said Brian Coughlin, associate vice president for student affairs/student development. “That means if you do something else, there will be further consequences.”

There were other significant changes, notably in how DUI and other alcohol-related offenses were defined and how incidents off-campus were treated as opposed to those that occurred on-campus. All of which could have changed the trajectory of Yeatman’s experience at ND and all of which were in print and online for the world to peruse seven months before Floyd’s future went temporarily gray on March 20.

That Notre Dame’s official handbook was not only enacted, but in print and available to the public more than seven months before Floyd ran afoul from the law seems to be the biggest revelation coming from the story.

The fact that many who have called the decision to let Floyd remain in school, therefore allowing him the chance to stay with the football team, special treatment are forgetting that this new policy first came into the headlines last May, when tight end Mike Ragone was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, an arrest that didn’t cost him any playing time with the Irish either.

Hansen’s other story takes a deeper look at the admissions policy of the university as it relates to student-athletes, starting with a look at former Irish linebacker John Foley‘s unlikely journey to Notre Dame.

“I was a kid from inner city Chicago, who came from a family with five kids who lived in a three-bedroom apartment,” said Foley, now a big name in the financial world with Barrington Research, “During my recruitment, I was offered $100,000 from one school. My parents were offered a new house, new jobs from another. My girlfriend and I were offered gifts to go to another.

“Then I talked to (then-Notre Dame coach) Lou Holtz when I was on an official recruiting visit to ND and he said, ‘Hey if you want to come here and get an education, we’d love to have you. If you don’t, we don’t want you. Go home.’ ”

Holtz then told Foley, the nation’s premier linebacker prospect, that he needed to have a backup plan for his life in case he got hurt. And Foley did, early and often. His ND football career consisted of 27 minutes and eight seconds of cameos, all during his sophomore season (1987).

First, though, Foley had to get past then-director of undergraduate admissions Kevin Rooney, who made it a point to meet face-to-face with the football prospects.

“Lou Holtz told me, ‘Kid, this is going to be the interview of your life,’ ” Foley said. “ ‘If he says no, there’s nothing I can do to change that.’ Rooney was tough. He asked me why my test scores were so low. As it turns out, I was dyslexic, but didn’t know it at that time.

“He looked me in the eye, though, and saw how hard I was willing to work. I told him I wanted to be a student first. And every day, literally, I thank God Mr. Rooney let me in.”

Foley, quarterback Tony Rice and basketball player Keith Robinson were all admitted during the first year of the NCAA’s controversial Proposition 48 implementation. Each was forced by the NCAA to sit out all athletic activities their freshman year.

Two very interested reads, and two articles you should read in their entirety (ResLife and admissions). Great scoops by Hansen, who was given very good access by the university.

Expectations all hinge on the man behind center


It’s getting difficult to ignore the trajectory this offseason is taking. Quite simply, Year Two of the Brian Kelly era has expectations. Great expectations. Eric Hansen expectations. Even Mark May expectations.

Because it’s July, it’s that time of year where we spend most of our time analyzing the past in hopes of predicting the future. As many do over holiday weekends, I spent my time watching from the sidelines and monitoring a few highly spirited debates about debut seasons of Notre Dame head coaches. It’s too soon to forget that Kelly’s debut season was worse than Charlie Weis’ 2005 campaign. But it was also less successful than Ty Willingham’s and only one victory better than Bob Davie’s. (Looking back at that 1997 season, it’s almost a microcosm of the Davie era, and should be Exhibit A on why it’s so hard to be a first-time head coach at Notre Dame.)

Still, for those looking back at eras of recent Irish past, it’s pretty easy to sense the separation between Kelly’s first season and those that came before him. In Eric Hansen’s recent article about the evolution of Brian Kelly (a must read), Lou Holtz pointed to the development of his 1986 team, a parallel that’s been drawn by many as they watched the 2010 Irish develop.

“There were so many things about his first year that reminded me of my first year at Notre Dame,” Holtz said of his 5-6 Irish in 1986. “By the end of the season, we could play with anybody in the country. So could Brian’s team.

“I just think that the program has never looked more hopeful than it does at the present time.”

Holtz’s 1986 squad finished with an uninspired 5-6 record, but lost five of those six games by a total of 14 points. Helping the narrative even more, that season planted the seeds to an eight-win 1987 season, and the undefeated national championship campaign in 1988.

Charlie Weis didn’t leave behind the team that Gerry Faust did. It also bears mentioning that Year Two of the Charlie Weis era had the Irish on the cover of major publications as a legit national title contender, and a ten-year contract that wasn’t universally hailed as being stupid yet.

Weis’ failures at Notre Dame can be pointed, quite fairly, to the defensive side of the football. To his detriment, he failed to develop a defensive identity similar to the one that made his offensive football teams impressive. Rick Minter, Corwin Brown, Jon Tenuta — Weis too often thought philosophy and identity could be easily interchanged, and the result was a defensive football team that was mediocre both developmentally and physically, a damning blend for a team that had championship aspirations.

Still, for those that happily kick dirt on the grave of Weis, I’d direct you here for the first and foremost reason Weis failed to put together a defense. Maurice Crum. Terrail Lambert. That’s it. That’s all that Notre Dame got defensively out of the 2004 recruiting class. Add in Darius Walker, and a great Blue-Gold game from Junior Jabbie and that’s really all the Irish got from Ty Willingham’s final recruiting class, putting a sizable hole in a program that left Weis little room for growing pains and a razor-thin margin for error.

But that’s ancient history for an Irish football program at an inflection point. Put together a season like many suspect is in the future and the Irish could make a true leap back into national contention, and potentially stake its claim as the preeminent northern prestige football program, with Ohio State in disarray and Michigan a year behind in its reclamation efforts.

So where could it all go wrong? Keeping the focus off a schedule that opens with four very losable games, the Irish need to find stability at quarterback — a position where Brian Kelly brings four guys into fall camp with a chance to win jobs.

Sure, Kelly met with Urban Meyer to discuss his implementation of the two-quarterback system that featured senior Chris Leak and freshman battering ram Tim Tebow, a combination that powered the Gators to a national championship. But remember, Charlie Weis met with Rich Rodriguez and his West Virginia staff to discuss the spread offense in life after Brady Quinn, a system that Weis employed for half-a-Saturday with quarterback Demetrius Jones before imploding his 2007 blueprint.

There’s twenty years of evidence that Brian Kelly understands his offensive system, and I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely agree with the strategy Kelly is implementing. More importantly, Kelly has a defense that should be improved from last year’s unit — a group that finished the season embodying its maxim B.I.A (Best In America), not aspiring to it.

We’ll spend the rest of the week looking at the position groupings that’ll have to power the Irish through a tough four-game opening stretch. But if there’s one place where the fate of the 2011 season lies, it’s on the shoulders of the quarterback behind center for the Irish.

The fact that the Irish could be running four different guys out there shouldn’t just be a headache for opposing defensive coordinators as they prepare for the best Notre Dame team in the last five years. It should also be a hair-puller for Irish fans, who’ll likely have to wait until early September to see if Kelly’s plan will work.

Hiben’s journey comes full circle

Joey Hiben

If you’re looking for an unlikely comeback story, Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune presents Joey Hiben.

For those that have followed Notre Dame football for some time, the name should ring familiar, but not nearly as memorable as many suspected when the Gatorade State Player of the Year from Minnesota chose Notre Dame over a slew of suitors to join a talented tight end depth chart that included future NFL’ers Athony Fasano and John Carlson.

But Hiben’s dreams of becoming an architect conflicted with his ability to practice with the football team, and after a freshman season that saw Hiben appear in seven games, he made an unlikely choice — Architecture.

“It came down to architecture being more important than football to me,” Hiben told the Observer back in February of 2006. “During the fall I realized that there would be a point in time where I would have to pick architecture or football because at this University, it’s impossible to do both at the same time. I had known that this would have to happen.”

From there, Hiben’s journey got far more complicated. I’ll let Hansen take it from there:

Hiben left ND after his freshman year. And while he enjoyed the anonymity at Minnesota, his missed the competition. He eventually contacted both the track and football teams about competing in the 2007-08 school year.

But shortly after joining in the football team as a defensive end in the fall of 2007, Hiben suffered a broken wrist that would take the better part of two years to heal.

“I only dressed for one football game and never saw any action,” he said. “I thought maybe that was a sign that football wasn’t meant to be for me.”

Hiben’s weight soon swelled to 300 pounds. He felt sluggish and empty.

“I finally decided to get my stuff together,” he said. “I lost 50 pounds and got in the best shape of my life. But that wasn’t the final piece. Notre Dame was.

“When I originally made the decision to pursue architecture, it wasn’t just architecture in general, it was architecture at Notre Dame. I really wanted to come back here and finish what I started.”

The program normally runs five years, but for Hiben it will span seven. When Hiben returned in the fall of 2008, his fourth year in college, ND designated him as a sophomore. He then went to Rome in 2009-10. He’ll graduate in the spring of 2012.

Back on campus in the fall of 2010, Hiben was surprised when coach Brian Kelly’s regime reached out to him. Though he was out of eligibility, Hiben was warmed by the gesture.

“From my understanding, coach Kelly met with the faculty to open lines of communication,” he said. “I think both sides wanted to make sure moving forward that you can do both architecture and football at the same time.”

Hansen wrote a wonderful article and paraphrasing it doesn’t do much justice, but Hiben is back associated with Notre Dame “athletics,” and will be making his Bengal Bouts debut this week as a 6-4, 250-pound heavyweight who received a bye all the way into the semi-finals. Good luck to the poor kid that has to fight Hiben, and more importantly, congratulations to Joey Hiben for persevering through what had to be an incredibly difficult struggle. While he didn’t accomplish as much on the football field as he hoped, he certainly embodied much of what Notre Dame looks for in a student-athlete.

Friday notes: Swarbrick, Russ, recruiting and more

Jack Swarbrick

If you’re looking for some insight into the mind of athletic director Jack Swarbrick, the internet has got you covered, as both Eric Hansen and Tim Prister have very good Q&As with the man himself. They are both very much worth the read, but I’ll give you my favorite exchange from each of them:

We’ll start with Eric Hansen’s interview, which covered a wide variety of topics from the official death of 7-4-1 scheduling to Irish envy for the Yankee Stadium Jumbotron.

But here are Swarbrick’s comments on what the new Longhorn Network means for Notre Dame’s future.

Q: Can Notre Dame do the same thing? Will Notre Dame do the same thing at some point?

A: It’s really important for us to expand our media presence. There’s no question. And so I don’t know what form that will take yet.

Texas has geography going for it that Notre Dame doesn’t. So you can sell that into a geograhic region to cable providers, and it works well. We don’t have geography in that sense, so our approach will have to be a little different. But we’re  very excited about exploring ways to do that.

All of the emerging technologies are going to help us. What we have is probably the largest national following, but it’s dispersed. So we’re going to need robust broadband solutions and new forms of deliver of digital media, some of which don’t exist yet but are clearly coming.”

To me, this is absolutely fascinating, and is another great example of how much Swarbrick truly gets the business engine that powers collegiate athletics. Even in-house, Notre Dame has taken huge strides on their online platform, with the work the team at UND.com has done to give all of us better access behind the scenes and at press conferences. But as many of us have talked about, there is a huge opportunity to create a central Notre Dame home online, and from the sounds of it, it’s coming sooner than later.

Prister hasn’t tackled Notre Dame football in his epic three-part interview with Swarbrick, but here’s an exchange I enjoyed.

TP: You didn’t want to be the guy that was AD at Notre Dame when it lost its independence, did you, whether you were painted in the corner or not.

JS: (laughing) I know you won’t believe this, but it’s a little like when I hired Brian (Kelly). People were saying during that process, ‘This hire will define Swarbrick’s legacy.’ The same thing was said about independence.

I’m pretty secure in what I’ve done and what my relationship is here. If the best result for Notre Dame as a university – not as an athletics department but as a university – took us elsewhere, I wouldn’t have had any trouble with that. You just have to look at this from the broad perspective of the university.

People would be amazed that as we were talking internally how little time we spent on an athletics approach to it. Why are we independent? What is the value of independence to us beyond the traditional value? Its principle value is to the broader university, promoting Notre Dame, playing all around the country.

For anybody who was in New York this year at that (Army) game, that’s the power of Notre Dame. Those are the reasons to keep (our independence) because we still think it plays a really important role in the university.

Both guys did a great job and if you’ve got a spare hour or so, dig right in.


After 25 years in the training room, Notre Dame legend Jim Russ is moving from taping ankles to a newly created role in the athletic department: Director of Athletic Training and Rehabilitative Services. Here’s more from ND’s official release:

“As we look to create greater structure for the sports performance area, we had a great interest in creating a position that would provide oversight, direction and expertise for our delivery of athletic training and rehabilitative services to our student-athletes,” said Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick. “Jim is as well-respected as anyone in the country in his field, with nearly 35 years in the business, so he was a natural for this role. While we will miss Jim’s day-to-day focus on football, this move will enable him to apply his background, expertise and professionalism to provide improved guidance for all of our other sports – and Jim will play a critical role in the continuing integration of the various areas that comprise our sports performance division.”

Eleven years ago, I had plenty of opportunities to have my balky right elbow wrapped with ice by Jim and last summer he was right were I found him over decade earlier, this time willing to look at an ankle that didn’t feel quite up to running around in football cleats and full pads.

Notre Dame will look to replace Russ and find a new head football athletic trainer immediately, allowing Kelly to bring in a new — incredibly important — lieutenant to the football program. After a season that saw multiple players plagued with balky hamstrings, I’m guessing the interview process will include a long session on discussing the best way to keep Irish skill players on the field with two healthy legs.


Four-star running back Savon Huggins just announced his intent to stay home and play for Greg Schiano’s Rutgers squad, taking one of the final names the Irish are chasing off the big board. (Unless Bob Diaco ends up sitting as Huggins’ kitchen table tomorrow morning before dawn.) As we discussed yesterday, Los Angeles Times lineman of the year Troy Niklas is arriving on campus today, and will make his final decision between USC and Notre Dame by Signing Day.

Niklas would obviously be icing on the cake for a pretty historic front-seven class for the Irish, something Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples dug into in an article today. While his article talked about the proportion of defensive linemen that hail from the Deep South, it isn’t hard to see why what Notre Dame did pulling guys like Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt out of the area, (not to mention Louis Nix last season) was such an astounding feat.

In related SI news, Stewart Mandel took a look at the glass ceiling that keeps elite kickers rated artificially low in the five-star model that has taken over big-time recruiting.

Four years ago, Auburn signed a top 10 recruiting class that included many of the players who wound up starring for last season’s national championship team: defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Antoine Carter, linebacker Josh Bynes and offensive linemen Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh. No player, however, was rated higher at his position than Wes Byrum, Rivals.com’s No. 2 kicker.

Yet the same guy rated so highly in his position group — the same guy who wound up hitting four game-winning field goals during his time at Auburn, including in the BCS title game — was essentially dead weight when it came to the Tigers’ class ranking. Because Byrum was just a three-star recruit in Rivals’ eyes, his mere presence dragged down the average rating for a class with 10 four- and five-star prospects.

Wondering why I’m including this tidbit in today’s links? Well consider this little nugget, something I’ve been wondering since the focus has turned to recruiting rankings.

No one is suggesting that Kyle Brindza, Scout.com’s top-ranked kicker this year, should be rated the No. 1 player in the country, as Henderson was last year. Heck, the Notre Dame commit doesn’t even need to be ranked 100th.

But it would be nice if Brindza at least got that fourth star so that Brian Kelly’s class — currently ranked seventh with a 3.57 star average — isn’t penalized for signing the best player in the country at his position.

Brindza is Kelly’s only two-star recruit according to Rivals, pulling down their overall ranking quite a bit. Take that into consideration when you measure ND’s class against others.


Speaking of recruiting, for all those that still were wondering about the whirlwind battle for Stephon Tuitt, here’s where he stands as of yesterday, according to Irish Illustrated.

The five-star defensive end from Monroe, Ga., remains committed to Notre Dame and on Thursday denied a report that he planned to postpone signing his letter-of-intent by a couple days.

To the contrary, Tuitt plans to send his paperwork to South Bend from Austin, Texas, where he will participate in the USA vs. The World game along with fellow Irish commits Josh Atkinson, George Atkinson III, Matt Hegarty and Anthony Rabasa.

“I’m very excited,” Tuitt said. “I get to do it with my future teammates.”

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound prospect put the finishing touches on his commitment during a meeting earlier in the week with Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and defensive line coach Mike Elston.

Among the topics discussed was a potential spring trip back to campus.

“It went well,” Tuitt said. “I got a chance to see about going up to the spring game. A game or a practice. I don’t know which one I’d go to. But I got a chance to talk to (Diaco) about that and see how that was gonna go. Then (we talked) about really how to do the signing and everything.”

I think the Irish coaching staff will breath a huge sigh of relief when Tuitt’s fax comes through The Gug. (Good to see somebody still uses fax machines…)


Bonus Jack Swarbrick quote, courtesy of Eric Hansen, who asked about putting field turf into Notre Dame Stadium, after another dreadful season of field conditions on Notre Dame’s natural grass.

“I think there are two issues there. One is I was disappointed in our field this year. It wasn’t where it needed to be and, frankly, that was without any real weather challenges.

“So we’ve got to make sure we get the field to a quality that makes sense. The other is, as the university considers doing more things in the stadium, we have to make sure we keep a natural grass field in the shape we want it to be, graduation being an example. That’s where graduation is held now, in the stadium.

“So it’s a little like Jumbotron, video boards if you will, nothing imminent. But as the use of the stadium evolves – it’s like so many things about this – we’ve got to stay open to new ideas, but maintain the tradition of Notre Dame.”

It’s refreshing to see that the man in charge of Notre Dame athletics acknowledges that the surface in the stadium has been bad. When they ever do anything about it, that’ll be worth following.

Clausen and Weis both back to school

Clausen Weis

In many ways, Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Weis had similar journeys through Notre Dame. Both came to South Bend talking a big game. Clausen — flashing some high school bling at the College Football Hall of Fame, while Weis buried himself with talk of “decided schematic advantages” and “6-6 isn’t good enough.” For Weis, his tenure at Notre Dame also started with two BCS seasons, fueling the belief that the way he was building his program was the right way, a sentiment that probably cost him his job just three seasons later. For Clausen, the start of his career was a rough one, but he survived a freshman year and built steadily to a statistically dominant junior season, his final season in South Bend before fulfilling his destiny of becoming an NFL quarterback.

That Weis and Clausen both spent 2010 in the NFL isn’t a surprise. That they both open 2011 back in college is the real head-scratcher. For Jimmy, the move is temporary — the impending NFL work stoppage gives him a chance to get the 15 credits needed to graduate with a sociology degree. But for Weis, it was a shocking about-face leaving a Kansas City Chiefs offense that he turned into a playoff team to join Will Muschamp’s Florida coaching staff, a school that counted as one of Weis’ chief rivals, even though they never faced each other on the gridiron. Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune caught up with Clausen and a handful of Irish alums now playing in the NFL to discuss both moves back to school.

“Whatever I learn in this class probably won’t come close to what I learned from coach Weis,” Clausen said. “As soon as I got to South Bend, he just really helped me in many different ways, not just in football but off the field, mentally and psychologically, and everything like that.”

Clausen isn’t the only former player that has kind things to say about the former head coach.

“He had so much knowledge of football,” said Denver Broncos fourth-year offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who played his final two collegiate seasons at ND under Weis. “I just gleaned everything I could, and I think all the other players did too. I think that’s why so many of us are in the NFL. He did a good job of putting position coaches together, too. There’s so much thought that goes into everything he does. It’s a contagious thing.”

Another huge supporter? Former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, who hits on a key evolutionary change that Weis will likely experience on his second tour of duty in major college football.

“I thought he was a great coach when I played for him, and I think he’s even better now,” said Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brady Quinn, who made a Heisman Trophy run under Weis at ND in 2006.

“I feel like he learned a lot in college, evolved as a coach. He realized that a 23-year-old NFL rookie is not the same animal as an 18-, 19-year-old freshman. That might be the biggest thing. I think he’ll be better at developing younger players now.”

The entire article really deserves reading, and also includes great quotes from Seahawks tight end John Carlson and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlic, not to mentioned a wonderful tidbit about Weis visiting Tyrone Willingham’s 2004 Irish squad when he was still the Patriots’ offensive coordinator and the verbal undressing he gave to the Irish team during winter workouts.

I’ve probably been one of the more outspoken supporters of Charlie Weis, but it’s clear that the way he handled the Irish wasn’t the way to consistently field a winning team. Whether it was the early success Weis had with a veteran roster, he was never able to duplicate that with his own recruits, largely due to the lack of development time that trial-by-fire group in 2007 had.

And while neither Clausen nor Weis delivered what they hoped to in South Bend, the book is far from closed on either of their careers. Clausen is too accurate of a passer to be the quarterback he was during his rookie season and Weis far to innovative offensively to be anything but great for Muschamp’s Gator staff. I guess only time will tell, but Hansen did a great job taking us down recent memory lane…