It’s easy to look at the sixteen recruits that signed with Notre Dame last week and place an evaluation on the job Brian Kelly and his coaching staff did. With the last minute defection of wide receiver Deontay Greenberry, the runner-up finish for blue-chippers Nelson Agholor and Brian Poole, and the loss of one-time commits Ronald Darby and Taylor Decker, there’s plenty of ammunition to poke holes in the Irish’s 2012 recruiting class.
Of course, it’s much too early to judge this recruiting class. BCS games aren’t won on the first Wednesday in February, because if they were — Notre Dame would’ve won plenty already. So while it’s easy to talk until we’re blue in the face about the upside potential of Recruit X or Y, taking a look at the process of building a recruiting class is a much more useful exercise for fans hoping to understand what takes place on the journey to Signing Day.
During UND.com’s six-plus hour Signing Day marathon, new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin came on the air with Jack Nolan and gave some incredible insight into Notre Dame’s process of finding and evaluating potential recruits. With Notre Dame casting one of the widest recruiting nets in college football, efficiency within the recruiting system is essential, and there’s no one more intricately involved than Martin, who also coordinates the Irish recruiting efforts.
Here’s more from Martin, who described the Irish’s four-step process to offering a perspective student-athlete.
“We all have six or seven states that are our primary states, but that’s just the starting point. You try to find as many good players — regardless of position, regardless of what position you coach — you try to find the very best players in the state to get the process started. Once you identify those kids, you evaluate him, and if you believe they’re scholarship worthy and all the boxes are checked when it comes to social, academic and all those areas, then you start to move the kid forward in the process. Then he immediately goes to the position coach. So if it’s a D-lineman he’d go to coach Elston, and he would get his evaluation. And once we move past coach Elston it goes to the coordinator and then to the head coach. There’s a lot of checks and balances just like any company, and when you’re going through a process you have checks and balances along the way. Then even if everybody likes the kid on tape, then you still have the other boxes you need to check — is it the right fit for Notre Dame?”
With new coaches Scott Booker, Harry Hiestand, and Bobby Elliott joining the staff, it’s likely the staff’s recruiting regions will shift. But with the logistical challenges Notre Dame faces, having a staff full of good talent evaluators (not just good recruiters) is essential, and a system of checks and balances is an important one for a staff that’s needed to fill some gaping holes left on the roster. This staff did an excellent job evaluating front seven defensive talent and signing them. We’ll see with these last two recruiting classes how well the Irish did evaluating talent at the skill positions, with wide receiver and defensive back roster turnover likely to determine how well the next few seasons go.
Always candid, Martin was remarkably refreshing when discussing the balancing act recruiting on a big stage has become. With more and more programs chasing the same players, websites having better access to recruits than schools, and institutional inequities on issues like over-signing and greyshirts, Martin talked about the fluidity that goes on year round.
“It’s a daunting task that you learn every day that there is no exact science anywhere in recruiting,” Martin said. “And there’s certainly no exact science when you’re trying to weigh, ‘Do we go after this guy or do we go after this guy?’ ‘Do we really think we’re going to get this one or are we uncertain so we should take this one?’ It’s a fluid situation and it’s fluid 365 days a year. You’re always putting your heads together and asking, ‘What do we think? This kid wants to jump in the boat, but we’re waiting on this kid.’ You just don’t know how the numbers are going to play out at the end of the day.”
After winning a few 50/50 battles in recruiting last year, Notre Dame pulled the short end of the stick this year, most notably on Greeberry’s last minute switch. But if you thought it’d deter the Irish staff, or it’s head coach Brian Kelly, don’t hold your breath.
“There’s no good news, there’s no bad news, there’s just news,” Martin said. “If you live and die with every single moment from recruiting, you’re never going to make it. Your life span in this profession is going to be short. You just keep on doing what you’re doing, keep working as hard as you’re working, and hopefully the chips fall your way often enough that you get the right kids in your program.”