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.