Tony Alford is off to Ohio State, with nothing but class displayed. The long-time Irish running back coach and recruiting coordinator joins Urban Meyer as his running backs coach while padding his resume with an assistant head coach title as well.
That reality means Notre Dame’s best recruiter is now just one state away chasing after some of the very best prospects in the region (and country) for a rival program. And after having a behind-the-curtain look at Notre Dame under two head coaches, Alford built a reputation–and likely the playbook–on selling a university that sometimes needs a sales pitch far different than the one most 17- and 18-year old recruits want to hear.
Irish fans will find out (likely the hard way) how Alford will tweak his sales pitch now that he’s selling something far different than Notre Dame. And–probably more importantly–we’ll find out how he handles battling the Irish staff for recruits, something Urban Meyer has done from the moment he turned down Notre Dame and headed to Florida.
One of Meyer’s best weapons during his recruiting battles with Charlie Weis during his Florida run was defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison coordinated Bob Davie‘s defense before being retained by Ty Willingham as a defensive line coach. Paired with Meyer, nobody recruited against Notre Dame better.
Meyer and Mattison became Notre Dame’s worst nightmare. Long-time commitments seemed to have a bullseye on their backs, with the duo flipping key defensive line recruits like Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter, two names that go down in Irish recruiting history as big fish that got away.
It’s worth pointing out that Alford’s experience in South Bend was far different than Mattison’s. For one, he wasn’t fired twice, as Mattison was as part of Davie’s staff and as part of Willingham’s.
(Alford also didn’t come up in the Michigan football program, where Mattison served as coordinator before coming to South Bend. He returning to the program under Brady Hoke and continues to recruit against the Irish for defensive prospects under Jim Harbaugh, now as defensive line coach.)
Alford leaves with immense respect for not just Brian Kelly, but also for Jack Swarbrick and Rev. John Jenkins. It’s fair to say that the relationship between Mattison and the previous university regime wasn’t quite as cordial.
Even since Meyer declined a ride on the university plane in Utah, Notre Dame fans have taken every move he’s made as a direct target at Notre Dame. That might be more the gun-shy manner of Irish fans after a tough 20 years than a fair reality of the situation, considering just about every top program in America feels like Meyer is gunning for them.
Yet it’s hard to see Meyer’s hire of Alford–his third direct poach from Kelly’s coaching staff–as anything but strengthening the Buckeyes staff while weakening Notre Dame’s. And now Kelly is tasked with a crucial hire, both for their coaching acumen and their ability on the recruiting trail.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out what Notre Dame did in building Alford into the coach he is now, as well. While the former Louisville assistant had built a nice reputation on his way up the ladder, he exploded on the national scene after arriving at Notre Dame. Most salesmen are only as good as their product, and in South Bend, Alford found a perfect product to sell, blending with the coach’s moral compass to make a perfect fit.
It’s that integrity that Alford has displayed that will likely keep things respectful as the two programs continue their chase of the 2016 recruiting class. With big boards that’ll likely have significant crossover, whoever Kelly hires (or assigns) to recruiting running backs and Florida will go up against Alford, who will now be selling a national champion and Midwestern power, but a university with little in common with Notre Dame.
Let the games begin.