Dec. 20, 2017
Video: Coach Kelly | Coach Polian
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Brian Kelly: You guys may be wondering, that is the Joe Moore Award over here. Pete Sampson, he posed for two of those.
Q. Did Pete carry it in?
Brian Kelly: It was hard to carry in. He couldn’t carry it in, but he posed for it. We were awarded that yesterday, so it was exciting, as the offensive line of the year. So we’re quite proud of that. That will be displayed here for the next year.
Let’s talk about Signing Day. Be hard pressed to find a college football program that signed 20 players today, and so my estimation is this is probably the number one recruiting class in the country if you talk about signed players. You guys can do the research. I’m sure you will dig in deep and look, but we’re really excited about it, obviously, to have 20 signed.
Also in December, here at Notre Dame. It’s no easy feat. It requires so many people coming together because you have to do the work academically and be given the thumb’s up that you’re coming to Notre Dame.
So this is a remarkable class not only on the playing field but in the classroom as well. To be committed and sign to Notre Dame means that you have to do the work both on and off the field.
Again, to that end, this is a culmination of work that when we talk about each individual, and the recruiting process. Some we’ve recruited for as little as nine months but some as long as over two years.
During that process, so many people have been instrumental. I think it’s easy to point to our assistant coaches who have done a remarkable job of building relationships and, you know, doing the hard work, the boots on the ground, if you will, in the schools, doing the evaluation, on the phones, building the relationships, but I want to start with our recruiting office and our director, Aaryn Kearney, who sets the plan, if you will, and puts the plan in motion, did an incredible job, and his staff Jasmine Johnson, who handles our operations and our on-campus recruiting. When you visit Notre Dame, you really have to make a strong impression. She does an incredible job.
Our graphics, Chris and Ryan have done great jobs — we have a great story to tell. It doesn’t just have to be pictorial. Within that graphics we have a story that we can tell behind it, and Chris and Ryan have done an incredible job. Katie Meyers, through our social media, again, being able to connect with our student-athletes on a day-to-day basis. She has done an incredible job as well as.
That office has really driven this recruiting process, Mike Elston started the process as our recruiting coordinator, really set the table for where we are today and Brian Polian came in and finished this off, so both of those guys deserve a great deal of credit for coordinating and really driving this in terms of getting our coaches on the road, targeting them.
Dave Peloquin incredible job of pushing us in the right position, who we needed, position groups, working with the limitations that you have relative to scholarships and making sure that we were filling our needs.
And probably some of the more difficult areas, preparing our players for what it’s like in the interviewing process for admissions, and Dave does a great job there as well. Don Bishop and Bob Munday from our admissions office. They are on call and meeting with our recruits as they come to campus. I don’t know if that’s a normal occurrence where you get your director and your vice president meeting with your recruits when they come on campus and to have 20 signs. They are involved in that process.
That says a lot about this class to have Don and Bob involved in it. Adam Sergeant from academic support is here meeting with the families talking about how we are going to graduate their son, and finally Jack Swarbrick, our Athletic Director is intimately involved in everything we do.
It is a coordinated approach to this to get to today. All of those people are working together to make this happen, so no easy feat. A lot of pieces have to come together. They get 20 in December, but really proud of all of them, proud of the work that they’ve done. I would be remiss not to mention Bill Rees, whose work allowed us to get ahead of it, and we will see that even pay off, you know, as we move into January and February, looking at 19s, 20s, and 21s. I could probably stand up here for another 15 minutes talking about all those that go into this, but the 20th of December, to stand here in front of you with the class that we’ve put together, you know, it requires all of these pieces coming together today. Really excited about it.
I think seven of the players are early admits. Obviously we feel real good about that, as well, in terms of guys coming in, Bo, Houston, Micah, Jack, Ovie, Jahmir, George will all be coming in early. That will immediately impact our football program. And we’re still open for business, as it relates to the December 20th signing period.
Of course, we are going to most assuredly sign more in February as well. A lion’s share of the work is complete relative to the committed players. We have expectations of some more things occurring in the next 48 hours and then certainly you’ll get an opportunity to hear me again in February with some more signees at the February.
Lastly, what do I like about Signing Day? It’s put the commitment back in commitment, and really what that means. No more soft commitments. The charge that I gave to our assistant coaches is that if a player has given us his commitment, we have been committed to them that they’re going to sign with us. If not, that’s fine, but we’re going to keep recruiting that position. So it’s really put back into the definition of commitment. If you’re committed, there are no, hey, I’m committed, but I’m going to take other visits.
It really truly means a commitment to one university. We have a commitment to you, and we’re going to honor that commitment. That’s what it’s meant to us here at Notre Dame, that’s what it’s meant in terms of signing 20 today.
We identified those kids that were committed to this university and we went to work on that. For me, that’s resonated in this process leading up to today. With that, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of questions and I’m prepared to answer. Fire away.
No questions? I did such a thorough and complete job in my opening remarks. They weren’t really opening remarks it was a bully pulpit maybe.
Q. You did a good job.
Brian Kelly: Thank you very much. Appreciate that.
Q. Did the ability of being able to recruit and have an early signing date, did it interfere in any way with the preparations for bowls? How did you work around that senior?
Brian Kelly: Interfere. Well, it certainly was a challenge. We had to balance a lot of things. First couple of practices where we were in reading days and exams, we had to have skeleton staffs for our practices. So we didn’t have a full staff of coaches at a practice because we had guys on the road. So it was a coordinated effort that we had to go into this process, knowing that we had to prepare our football team for a bowl game, as well as continue to recruit leading up to today, continue to train our football team through exams as well. There was a balancing act that we had to certainly put together.
I wouldn’t say interfere as much as we had to be really smart in putting a plan together.
Q. There are some people who voiced an opinion that they weren’t sure they liked the early signing date. What is your feeling on it? Is there anything that you would change, would like to see tweaked or anything else like that?
Brian Kelly: No, I think the way it’s set up right now, it’s worked out the way I thought it would. There was going to be a lot of work leading up to this. There are challenges, certainly, but I think anytime there is an early signing date there are going to be challenges. We went about it in a fashion that, you know, if we had some soft commitments early on, we would probably be chasing more players in February.
Maybe that might be the case next year. But the way our class was set up this year and the way we recruit to Notre Dame, you know, it’s set up really nice for us this year. For me, the parameters of what has been laid out, everybody knew what they were. So there was no confusion as to what the parameters were leading up to this. It might have fit other schools a little bit better and been more comfortable for others, but there were challenges for everybody across the board.
So some may complain and might have a louder voice, but there are some schools in Hawaii right now, that’s a challenge. Some are in the Bahamas, that’s a challenge. So there are challenges across the board, but everybody knew what the parameters were going into this. You just work within those parameters.
Q. Do you see the possibility that the February signing date becomes extinct as this goes on, more people will try to sign their classes by December?
Brian Kelly: Well, again, I think it’s going to come down to what’s in a commitment. Let’s tray the “hype” out of it. Let’s let these young men decide based upon what’s in their best interest for their future. Let’s take the circus atmosphere away from signing and let’s get back to making a decision that’s going to be in your best interest for the next forty years of your life.
Q. Brian, how good does it feel from an organizational standpoint and a work load standpoint not to have to go on the road and continue recruiting 20 extra guys?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, it is a huge — from an organizational standpoint, it allows us to accelerate and reach out into ’19 ’20 and beyond. You always feel in recruiting, Tim, that you’re always a click behind. You’re always trying to get ahead of it. This is the first time you truly feel like you’re about to get ahead of it for the first time.
Q. I know it worked well for you guys, but by the end of this Saturday, 13 bowl games will have been played so 26 teams were preparing for a bowl game, while trying to hit this mark in recruiting. Can you imagine — and Notre Dame rarely plays before Christmas — if you had a game tomorrow or Saturday, how it would have all worked out?
Brian Kelly: Certainly more of a challenge, but that goes to what you need to do in the spring and summer leading up to what is a commitment. So I think it comes back to, you know, how you handle commitments. Are they soft commitments? If they are, let them continue to see other schools and move towards the ones that are committed to your university, and I think that goes back to my final comments. I think it clears up a lot of the uncertainty in this process of guys not committed when they should be still visiting other schools and saying that they’re soft verbals. That never made any sense to me.
Q. I know you guys as coaches don’t pay attention to three star, four star, five star, per se, but you know who offered scholarships to the players you’re recruiting. If I asked you to name a couple of underrated players in this class based upon their star ranking or scholarship offers, who would come to mind for you?
Brian Kelly: For us it’s generally the guys that don’t get into profiled national competition. I know everybody knows about him but Phil Jurkovec, for example, right? He didn’t get into a lot of national competition. I think he’s the best quarterback in the country. He’s somebody that, you know, I could put up against any quarterback that I’ve ever seen, you know. That’s one.
Somebody that maybe because of where he is in the country, you know, Tariq Bracy is a young man that I think if he’s in a metro area, his recruitment probably blows up, you know, but he’s in an area that doesn’t get quite the attention, you know, won a state championship, and a lot of people still didn’t know who he was. So one, everybody probably knows his name, but he didn’t do a lot of the camp circuit, and then one that is not in a geographical center but is an outstanding player. Those two stand out to me.
Q. Brian, can you describe what Mike Elko brings to the table as an evaluator and a guy on the road?
Brian Kelly: First of all, recruiting, let’s just be honest about what this is about. First of all, it’s knowing what you’re looking for, right? Clearly making a decision and saying that’s who I’m looking for. So many times — and I’ve been doing this a long time — it’s the ability to say, that’s who I’m looking for and going and getting that young man. It’s this angst of, well, I don’t know if he can do this. Look, they’re all 17! They can’t do a lot of stuff, but let’s go develop them.
So Mike’s ability to say, I know what I’m looking for, that’s number one. Then, two, grinding. Getting on the road and grinding it out. Being on the road every single day, being in the homes, knocking on the doors, being in the schools, and grinding it out. Recruiting is hard work. It’s just being present and grinding it out. So there’s one piece of it. It’s being decisive and saying that’s who I want, and, two, it’s grinding it out.
Now, along the way he’s got a great personality, he communicates effectively with that age group of whom we are recruiting, and we’ve seen that has paid dividends early on.
Q. With Houston Griffith, is he going to be a corner for you? A safety? What do you think?
Brian Kelly: I think Houston has the natural ability to play corner for us, but, you know, look, we are going to bring in young men that have the athletic ability to play at corner, but, you know, we’re going to develop them and as they progress in our program — we never close the door on where they can be best suited as they move through the program and look toward a career at the next level.
He could be a corner, he could be — he may play nickel for us, could be a safety at the next level, but he certainly has the skill set to play corner for us.
Q. I remember a few years ago, Tyler James dragged me out to a Pittsburgh Central Catholic game on a Friday night when you guys were getting ready to play Pitt, and one of your coaches was watching Phil Jurkovec at that point.
Brian Kelly: That’s correct.
Q. What about him put him on the radar for you?
Brian Kelly: First of all, the reviews about him leading his team as a sophomore. At his age. He wasn’t a sophomore that was held back, he was a young sophomore that was out there leading his football team against a really good competition.
That was something that we needed to go see, presence, leadership ability, you know, you gotta go see that in person, how he interacts with his teammates when he comes back on the sideline. To see that as a sophomore, it was important for us in this recruiting process of making decisions on quarterbacks that I needed to know more about his make-up and that gave us the first glimpse of who he was and what his make-up was.
Q. The fact that he was such an accomplished basketball player and so dedicated to that and seemed to have long seasons because they were pretty good, is that a positive in your mind or would you have rather him focus more on football stuff?
Brian Kelly: No, I’m of the opposite spectrum in that. I love guys playing another sport, competing — you can’t — you know, there is nothing that can replace the ability to lead and the ability to compete that another sport gives you. When I got a chance to go watch him play basketball, just his drive, his competitive bes, his interact with his teammates, those things you can’t get in the gym. Yeah, you can get a little stronger, certainly you can continue to throw and build relationships in one-on-one, but you can’t get those traits that separate the good from the great.
Q. I understand there might be even a couple more guys this week, but as you get down to your last three to five players, are you looking for certain positions? Are you looking for best player available? How are you finishing off the rest of the cycle?
Brian Kelly: You know, I think defensive back is still in play for us, offensive line is still in play and then best player available. I think I would probably highlight them in that fashion: Defensive backfield, offensive line and then best player available.
Q. In terms of targeting a guy early that you really liked and zeroing in on him, Derrik Allen would be high on that list. Do you remember what your first impression of him was when Elko brought up to you initially?
Brian Kelly: He was the first guy that we saw that had the ability to cover man-to-man, play the ball in the air and get the ball down on the ground with his size. That was the trait that we had to have in this class. It was a must, must, must. It was underlined like five times. We have to find this player.
So it was all in on that type of player, and when we saw that trait, it was just — in terms of our efforts, they all had to be focused in that direction when we saw those traits, coupled with great student, great character, all the other intangibles, it was a home run for us.
Q. I know we spent a lot of time talking about early signing period, but seven early enrollees, which is the most you’ve had, how significant is that particularly at linebacker position where you are looking to restock?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, look, the early enrollee piece has to come together almost at the same time as our recommendation, and the player being on that track. It doesn’t come like this: Hey, there’s a linebacker, we’re going to tell him to be an early enrollee. Let’s be clear on that. There has to be alignment in that fashion. In this instance, for the most part, that happened with the linebacker crew in the same fashion as our recruitment of it, more so than we went and dictated that through the recruiting process.
Q. Big picture, have you gotten — I don’t know if aggressive is the word — more comfortable with the 85-man limit trying to get ahead of that so you don’t find yourself with 79 scholarship players when training camp kicks off?
Brian Kelly: Well, it is a reality. You know, our situation here at Notre Dame is we have not been at that 85. So we’ve been more aggressive this year with that. I never feel really comfortable with it, to be quite honest with you, but I’ve had to get over that. We could count back to 31 scholarships, that gets me queasy, to say the least. So, yes, to answer your question, we’ve consciously been more aggressive in that fashion.
Q. You mentioned a little bit what you’re still looking for in this class. You signed one defensive end in Justin Ademilola. Do you see the need to get another defensive pass rusher?
Brian Kelly: Listen, if we had targeted and profiled the right fit for Notre Dame, we would have taken another pass rusher. We think next year’s class is a group of players in there that really fits a lot of the needs and profile of a Notre Dame defensive player at that position. We’re not going to take somebody just to take somebody in this class at that position.
It has to do certainly that there is a need there, but if the fit is not there, we’re not going down that route unless the right fit is there. We think there is a really strong class in that area next year.
Q. You’ve addressed the defensive standouts you have in this class. Do you think this is the highest ceiling of a defensive class that you’ve had in your time here?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I mean, I think there is no football coach that comes to Signing Day that doesn’t feel great about his class, right? They’re all singing the praises. Here is what I would say: This is a unique class that in December this group has gotten an affirmative response academically and has the ability to impact immediately. I don’t know from a defensive standpoint there are not many of these guys that we go and say these are projects. These are guys that we think can play and academically have been given a thumb’s up in terms of the work that they’re doing. That’s pretty darn impressive in December.
Q. Coach, when you talk about building a championship defense, when you look across the country, one of the key ingredients is kinda just right up the middle —
Brian Kelly: No question.
Q. — playing good defensive tackle. Brought in a good group last year, two guys played, Darnell Ewell is still there. This is the second year in a row, this is the first time you have had two straight years of strong interior play. Can you just talk about Jayson and Ja’Mion.
Brian Kelly: First of all, let’s start with Ja’Mion. Ja’Mion has the ability to play the shade for us. He has that ability to lockout, hold the point, but also has that quickness at the position. He’s going to be a 300-plus player at that position where you’ve got to have the ability to hold the point in there.
Then Jayson has a little bit more of the length and athletic ability, if you will, to play the three. So they were a great complement in terms of a shade and three out there early on that we saw. We thought they complemented each other very well.
Q: You’ve played different schemes over the years. Seems to me this defensive tackle position is one that requires guys that can make plays on their own. Do you feel they have the ability to bring that to the defense?
Brian Kelly: I think both of them, if you look at Myron and Kurt. They have similar traits that as time went on, Myron got the jump in his ability to make the plays and make plays early, and Kurt came on early in the year for us. I think you’re going to see both these guys have a similar track, where they both are going to have a learning curve, but they’re both going to be able to impact what we do at the defensive tackle position.
Q. I know you don’t necessarily recruit to replace a guy that’s leaving. You don’t necessarily recruit to replace seniors, but you’re going to Nyles and Greer, next year Te’von will be in his last year of eligibility, Drew is in his last year, so there is a need to meet the depth chart in terms of linebacker. Do you think you have filled that need with regard to that and what you guys do defensively?
Brian Kelly: I think there is still some development going on, on our roster, in that position. You’re going to see guys develop that are on the roster that may morph into those positions, as well as the young men that we’ve recruited here today.
I think we’ve taken the next step at addressing that, but I think you’ll see that addressed again next cycle as well.
Q. When you look at a guy like Jack Lamb, Ovie Oghoufo, do you see these guys as fitting into a spot like linebacker or playing multiple positions where there is maybe the best opportunity for them?
Brian Kelly: You do a good job of evaluating the personnel, and you can see that they’re not just box players. They can play outside the box. They are guys that are extremely athletic. We would rather take them and then begin to hone in on where they can best fit in that defensive structure rather than saying, he’s a box player, that’s all he can play. These guys give us flexibility to see how they’re going to fill out and develop.
Q. You guys played a little bit of a different defense this year at that rover spot. It seemed like Shayne Simon was the guy you keyed in on early on as being — sore of fitting in that position. Does having seen him play that position for St. Peters, does that make you feel more comfortable that, hey, this guy can project to do what we are going to ask him to do? He had five interceptions this year, 14 tackles for a loss, so he kinda does a little bit of everything.
Brian Kelly: Yeah and I think, you know, his ability to pick things up, very smart player. I think when you talk about that position, playing close to the ball certainly helps. His size. Here is a guy that is over 210 pounds already, physically mature but also very smart. I would add that piece to it. Certainly when you can project a player that is closer to that position already makes for an easy reach for us, but even if he was back on the hash more I think we would still feel comfortable with what he can do for us. But, you know, Shayne is an exceptional player and a guy that we feel can compete right away.
Q. You talked about your quarterback, maybe the best in the country, got to have some help. You’ve got two receivers, Kevin Austin, Micah Jones, two tight ends, Tommy Tremble and George Takacs. Can you talk about those guys and what you feel — what made them guys– you went after Micah right away, obviously Kevin was a major priority and even though there was talk about your tight end depth chart you made Tommy Tremble a priority down the stretch.
Brian Kelly: Kevin Austin can play all three positions for us. We wanted somebody that has versatility at that position. He can play X, Z, and W. Smooth player, catches the ball extremely well, has great speed. We wanted someone that wasn’t going to be pencilled into a position. Micah is more of a boundary player, big, physical, can win one-on-one match-ups. We love that about him and his size, but the combination of those two, obviously we need to continue to recruit at that position. We’re hoping to add to that position in this cycle to balance off the receiving crew.
The tight end position, we’re losing Durham for sure, so we needed to replace that and then add into this cycle. George and Tommy are terrific athletes that can be in line or they can spread out. They keep fitting the exact profile that we’ve been recruiting over the last few years at that position.
Q. You guys got two commitments out of Georgia in Derrik Allen and Tommy Tremble. How important was it to maintain a presence in Georgia this year, especially after losing two guys on the previous staff that were recruiting in that state for you?
Brian Kelly: You know, I don’t know that losing somebody from the staff really hurts us in the state of Georgia as much as — look, everybody recruits in Georgia. There are players coming out of Georgia from Assumption College, my alma mater that went to the Division II playoffs. Got nobody’s response on that! (Laughter.) That’s okay. My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting you just need to be in there, and there’s great football players in there.
We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came out of there, you know, so, again, I think it’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.
Q. Being able to watch Phil Jurkovec play as a junior and senior, what have you seen in his development as a passer, as a quarterback.
Brian Kelly: Well, he had the finger injury last year so he struggled a little bit with the ball coming out of his hands, made adjustments in the off-season, the ball comes out quickly, with accuracy, great arm strength. This year they spread the field with massive splits and the ball was going all the way out to the numbers with great access and speed. So what we saw in this past year was just a really quick release.
Then we saw the ability to run the offense at the line of scrimmage, get into the right plays, run the football, just a complete control of what was going on out there, really a clinic at times.
Q. You spoke about Mike Elko, what he brings as a recruiter, as a defensive coordinator. What Does Chip Long bring in terms of his ability to recruit as an offensive coordinator?
Brian Kelly: Chip has the ability to identify who he is looking for and then cast a net and go to work. Those two are the two new coordinators so there is going to be a lot of questions about them and rightly so. You don’t know a lot about them, but that was their reputation coming here as well. That’s part of the questions that I would ask in the interviewing process. These guys are good recruiters, they were good recruiters before they got here, and they work really hard at it in this process.
Q. You talked in the off-season about how you sort of refocused yourselves in the role as head coach. Does that have an impact in terms of your outlook on recruiting and did you have any changes in the way you went about recruiting in this last cycle?
Brian Kelly: It just made it more important with the December 20th signing date that I was in every home and it was more pressing, you know, to be there and to be on it and to be more aggressive in the process. I think that just required me to be on the road and in those homes, and I kind of liked it better that way, because when you stretch it out to February, then your players are back on campus, you’re pulled in a lot of different directions.
I would rather just let’s go. It was better for me to focus on recruiting. We obviously had to balance our schedule back here a little bit, but I enjoyed it more so in that we were in a shorter window, and it was just let’s get after it.
Q. Brian, obviously you’re very high on Phil Jurkovec. Do you think he has the ability at this point to challenge for the starting job right out of the gate in August?
Brian Kelly: I want him to challenge. I want Brandon to feel competition, and I’m sure Brandon wants to be challenged. Any great competitor wants that feeling that somebody is pushing him every day and not that Ian Book doesn’t, but let’s bring in another really good quarterback, a great quarterback. That’s our job here at Notre Dame. I’m not doing a good enough job if I don’t bring in a great quarterback to challenge the incumbent quarterback. If that threatens Brandon, then he’s not the guy I think he is. I’m pretty certain he’s going to be excited about Phil being here and the competition.
Q. Who are some of the other guys that you think could challenge for starting jobs?
Brian Kelly: That’s always a tricky thing, you know, talking about these guys that haven’t even graduated from high school. Look, I would tell you that, you know, the defensive players, the safeties, the corners, I think we all know that that’s going to be — that’s going to add competition to those ranks that’s going to be a healthy situation for us. That’s what jumps out at me right away in terms of competition.
Running backs, Jahmir Smith is going to come in and if he’s got it, you play freshmen running backs. I would never tell a guy, hey, you’re going to redshirt. You let those guys go! And the receivers, to be frank with you, they all get to come in and compete for starting positions, and that’s how I’ve articulated it to them. The DBs come in and compete for starting jobs, wide receivers come in and compete for starting jobs, so all those skill areas, I guess.
It’s harder at the offensive line, although we saw it this year with Hamsey, which was an anomaly, if you will, but I think those skill have got to come in and compete for starting jobs.
Brian Polian: Just to piggy back Coach, Coach Kelly was incredible in terms of his willingness to get out this year. He was out a lot during the season watching guys play. The sped-up time period here made it important that he get out and Coach’s willingness to be out those first three weeks of contact were incredibly important as we were trying to close guys up before this date. Coach Kelly was tremendous. We do have to acknowledge the work of our staff, our guys, were grinding hard out there on the road. A lot of planes, a lot of time away.
We gotta — if I could say thank you to their families. Clark Lea has a newborn child at home and he was one of the guys on Friday nights of home games was out seeing players. That’s hard. Our wives, you know, the children, we went from the Stanford game to essentially being away for three weeks, coming home for a day and a half to do a bowl practice and then an official visit, and then you’re right back out on the road.
So a special thank you to the families and from our perspective, the recruiting staff and all the staff on campus that helped us out. We appreciate them a great deal. If I could add a thought or two here, I would say let’s be careful about who we are anointing the next stars. That puts pressure on 17, 18 year old kids. That’s not fair. Who is going to start as a freshman, it’s hard to start at John Carroll as a freshman. That’s the Harvard of east Cleveland, for those of you that don’t know where that is. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. Time will tell, these things will sort themselves out.
Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level but sometimes it takes time, and we need to allow for that learning curve and that process for we start anointing guys as saviors, and what often happens, it’s a result of what rivals 24/7, the star system, why isn’t this guy playing sooner, look at all the offers he had. Often one doesn’t have anything to do with the other, and I think about in my first experience here, Kyle McCarthy who — that was the 25th guy in the class, and we beat Navy and Youngstown State to get him.
And at the end of Kyle’s time here, he’s a captain, a starter and a very decorated player. I know it’s that time of year, hope springs eternal on Signing Day. We just signed 20 All-Americans, but I think we need to give it a chance to sort itself out.
With that I will take any questions that I can help with from the recruiting office perspective.
Q. Brian, I don’t know if you were listening to Coach Kelly’s talk but I will ask you similar questions. You’ve been a head coach. Can you imagine playing a game this week tied in with the Signing Day?
Brian Polian: No and in the world that I was in, if you had a great year you were playing December 19th or something to that affect. It would be difficult. It was difficult just trying to manage making sure that our coordinators were back here on practice days, to guys doing home visits and going back to a hotel and watching LSU film on their lap tops trying to develop scouting reports, it was difficult.
I was thinking this morning what’s life like if you were at Akron and you played in Florida last night and were trying to sign today? I think it is a little different between the Power Five and the group of five. I think the early signing date, I don’t see a lot of group of five teams adding more than half their class. I think what this signing date does is for the smaller programs it’s going to clear up their boards. That was always our biggest fear at Nevada was that you had a guy committed forever, you invested a year, and with a week to go Oregon State came in and said, come play in the Pac 12, and that was a fear of ours.
But like Coach said, it’s got pluses and minuses for both sides but it would be difficult to imagine how do you manage this, get into homes and show young men that they’re important and at the same time serve your team the way that you need to going into a bowl game. It’s — it’s uncharted territory for everybody, and the one thing that’s worth mentioning that nobody has talked about is that this was the first year with the December 20th signing date but we did not have the spring and summer visits that are going to be allowed next year, where a young man can take an official visit in spring and summer of his junior year. So this was a condensed calendar without the ability to get people on your campus officially sooner.
That’s important to a school like ours. There are 12 states represented in this year’s — in this signing class thus far. There are 28, I believe, represented on our team. We’re not a school that 80% of our class can drive here for an unofficial visit so the spread-up timing of the early Signing Day combined with be not being able to bring young men here officially in the spring and summer made it a little bit difficult and unique.
Q. Coach said the early Signing Day has put commitment back into commitment. Do you think in general this plays to Notre Dame’s strengths?
Brian Polian: I think so. I think if a young man wants Notre Dame and identifies and it fits on both ends, taking the seven to eight weeks extra that people come in and try to confuse an 18 year old, I think it’s good for schools like ours. It puts the onus on the young men in terms of academics. We’re not a place that can sign a guy and not have a test score, all right? So there are places in the country where guys are waiting on their first SAT to come back and they can deal with that.
Ours is not a place that can do that. I think it speeds up everything just a little bit. Whether or not that’s good or bad, I’m not there yet. It’s all so new we’re going to have to sit back in a year or two and take a step back because frankly we’re not even sure how many guys are still going to be out there. We still have work to do. Coach was very clear about that and we have some guys that we know are going to be out there, but what’s the board — you’re really going to reset your board with, all right, who is still out there?
So that’s a little bit unique this time around.
Q. I won’t ask you who you think is going to start from this class —
Brian Polian: That’s crazy.
Q. But who do you think some of more underrated players are in this class?
Brian Polian: I am a big Jahmir Smith fan, and I’m not sure that he got the type of recognition that he deserved. He’s a big, physical back, 5-10, 5-11, nearly 200 pounds as a high school senior, north and south runner, exceptional student, terrific kid. When you asked the question originally I thought about Tariq Bracy. He’s in northern California, metro Oakland, which is not necessarily a recruiting destination for the people that are going into California. When you look at what he’s done on both sides of the ball he’s a unique player.
I think Mabry and Dirksen in terms of their length and their size. These are going to be really big men that can move their feet. We often on the offensive line, boy, he weighs 270 right now, is he going to get big enough? We have a great strength staff, the world is filled with big guys. Big and can move their feet and bend and athleticism. You recruit that and hand ’em over to Coach Balis and his staff and let nature take its course.
I think those guys are exciting. The one guy nobody has mentioned that I love is Paul Moala. A local guy here, how special is that, that we can find a player that ultimately we believe we can compete for a national championship with that fits the academic profile and comes from 10 miles away. Whenever you can do that, it’s great for your program, and he’s a wonderful kid with a great family. Not a lot of Polynesian — young men of Polynesian descent running around South Bend. It’s a unique story, it’s really cool. He’s a terrific kid, and you know that Irish Invasion, those summer camps, some of that is recruiting and some of that is, hey, you want a chance, come in and show us what you got. That was the kid in this class that came in and took advantage of a camp date and crushed it, and walked out and everybody was like, not only can he do it but he’s our type of kid.
Q. How much did it help having Mike Elston still on staff as the previous recruiting coordinator with you taking over ahead of the season?
Brian Polian: It was great. There are some challenges that are unique to Notre Dame, just like there are challenges unique to any job, and having Mike as a guy I could go back to and say, okay, when this be presented itself, how would we handle it? How did you handle it? That was a good resource. So that was valuable, and Mike was terrific. He was excited about his new role as the assistant head coach, and I was excited to be able to help our program, I thought, in terms of having the experience of looking at the big picture, the scholarship model, Dave Peloquin and I worked side-by-side to make sure we were addressing needs that the model — it’s never going to be perfect, but you want a starting point of how you want your roster set up.
We worked hard with the two new coordinators, because obviously the models change depending on what you run offensively and defensively.
So it’s a collective. And thank you, that leads the opportunity for me to just mention the days of, hey, this coach recruited this guy and this coach signed seven players so he’s the rock star, those days are over in college football. When you look at the collective effort of area coach, position coach, recruiting — excuse me, coordinator on that side of the ball, the head coach, often a young man will come on campus and just connect with somebody for any given reason.
There are guys that we signed in this class that could have had anywhere from four to six coaches intimately involved in that process. So the days of, hey, this one guy is a rock star recruiter, I don’t think those days exist anymore in college football. It really is a collective. And I speak to that as somebody who is an area recruiter, and I meet with every young man that comes on campus to go through a presentation and, you know, I’m John Doerer’s position coach. I recruited a kicker last year, but the reality is I’m an area recruiter. I try to identify — I will be involved, but we don’t get Tariq Bracy without Mike Todd and — we don’t get Jack Lamb without Clark Lea, so the area recruiters are out there identifying, we get the coordinators and the position coaches involved, and it truly becomes a collective effort in this day and age of college football.
Q. You mentioned Bracy’s recruitment. It’s interesting to me, not only because it seemed like he may be underrecruited because he had a twin brother that at some point he thought about trying to play college football with. How did you handle that and go about making things clear about how you wanted to recruit him and his options?
Brian Polian: I can’t speak to his brother because he is considered a PSA. I give Tariq and his family an incredible amount of credit — I gotta be careful about how I handle this. There were options that existed where they were together. Tariq made a courageous decision to do what’s best for him and his future. They have an incredibly tight relationship. It’s an incredible family. Mom and dad are wonderful, hard-working people. Ultimately I do believe that it will work out well for all of them, but it was a unique situation.
It was a factor in the recruitment. Tariq is one of these guys — one of the reasons I love him — it’s interesting their greatest strengths can be sometimes be their greatest weaknesses, too. Like getting Tariq on the phone was like an act of Congress, and my wife would grow frustrated with me being downstairs on the phone at 1:30 in the morning Eastern Standard time because that was my best chance to get Tariq to pick up the phone.
He was not a guy that said look at me in the recruiting process, seeking offers, going to every camp to try and get his stars up, he just, hey, I’m blessed to have this opportunity. His recruitment frankly probably would have been bigger had he sought that, but he was not an attention-seeking guy.
So it made for a pretty unique deal and honestly, when Tariq called to say I’m coming, I was a little caught off guard. I called back here and said guys I think we ought to be prepared for the fact that he might go somewhere else because of all the factors that were involved.
Q. What do you feel like being — having your first cycle here as recruiting coordinator, what are you most proud of about this class?
Brian Polian: The fit. That was something the three of us, Coach Schwarberg and Coach Kelly talked about when I came back, when I was blessed to come back. There are a lot of talented football players out here but not all of them fit who we are. We’re not going to hide from what makes us different, we’re not going to apologize for it, the things that make Notre Dame distinct. There are enough really good football players across the country that embrace what makes us different and what makes this place special, and I think we were able to reemphasize that, and I’m very, very proud of that.
I think we got a really good group of kids that were fun to recruit and I hope that we will add to this group, because there is still some work to do.
Q. You’ve worked for a few different head coaches how would you can compare Brian Kelly and how he attacks recruiting as some of the other guys you’ve worked for?
Brian Polian: He’s as active and competitive about it as anybody else I’ve worked for. The great thing about Coach Kelly is that if the coordinators or a position coach has a strong conviction about a young man, Coach will hear them out and say okay if everybody is on board, let’s go. He is be not a micromanager, but that’s a good thing sometimes and the coordinators know what they’re looking for and know what they want and were able to build that way.
I think the communication between both sides of the ball this year was really good, too, it was not two separate islands working separate from themselves and that’s important when it comes to the scholarships, too. We gotta make sure we’re allocating the scholarships correctly on both sides of the ball, and there was great communication.
I think we’ve got to get back to guys recruiting their areas. For example, Autry Denson does a great job. Autry comes back with defensive names in Florida. It’s easy, anybody can pull up the top 300 in the country, log on to your phone and you can do that, but it’s the area, it’s an area recruiter that’s going to find Paul Moala and Tariq and those guys as we passed ’em up the chain. We’re going to find a couple of fits that way.
Q. Lastly you were in charge of recruiting in California. How important was it for you to be able to establish yourself with a presence to get commitments on the west coast in the cycle?
Brian Polian: I never left the west coast, I just changed golf shirts! Its relationships, and going into the high schools that we went into, Tariq Bracy at Milpitas, we had ties to that high school at Nevada, so it’s relationships; it’s built that way, and it’s no different for Dell or Chip or Mike Elko, any of the new guys, Clark Lea. Clark Lea is from the Mid-Atlantic where he’s from. Clark knows all those coaches, and when we pick those recruiting areas, that’s part of the decision-making process is where are guys tied in and know people, because often what you will find is you will identify a player because you sat in a coach’s office and said who is the best player you saw in your area this year, and they’ll put you on to a guy that you didn’t know about.
Q. Coach, I have a question about how you handled this Signing Day from the big picture standpoint. When you got together as a staff and went over the calendar did you view this Signing Day like you did the February 1, hey, we’re looking to get things done and then you kind of reset the board or was it part of a longer process?
Brian Polian: I think we looked at this date as the date. We knew full well there were going to be young men that had made it clear from the beginning, I’m going to February. But I think one of the things that you have to do which Coach Kelly was great, you can’t be waiting on five of those guys at one position because what if you go 0-5? Used to be, here is our A list, here is our B list, well a lot of people’s B lists have signed letters today. That B list shrunk a lot.
So you’ve got to be careful about how many people are you willing to wait out at a given position because if you don’t strike gold, you could end up with a hole in a recruiting class because you held off guys that were signing. So there had to be some strategic planning in terms of that. In terms of how many guys signed in the Power Five and how many held out? I don’t think anybody knew. One of the things we did was ask the basketball coaches how does it go for you guys? I remember having this conversation with Pat Fitzgerald at a committee meeting at the AFCA. How are you approaching this? He said one of the things we have done is talk to basketball coaches to see how it goes out, and really the information we got back was ultimately the early signing date becomes the signing date, and there are going to be outliars out there for specific reasons.
The elite of the elite that can tell — that are good enough to say hey I’m going to decide in February and if you have a scholarship for me, great, and obviously that group is very small.
There are going to be guys out there that have academic question marks that people are not going to want to sign until transcripts come in or grades come in, that doesn’t affect us because we don’t swim in that pool, which is fine. That’s part of who we are.
Then, you know, there are guys that just circumstances have made it — I mean, California just finished their state championship games. How many official visits could those kids make if they were on a championship run? There were times when guys were like, hey I’m just not ready yet. It’s all new for us, and we’re doing the best we can and make educated decisions, and a year from now we are going to have to step back and see if we need to retool our thinking a little bit.
Q. Obviously for fans that are subscribers, it’s fun to talk about where classes are ranked and how many four and five stars you got but maybe that can mislead how a class is because maybe you load up on the ball on one side or the other. How do you feel you put together this class from a balance standpoint?
Brian Polian: If I could back up, it’s amazing, everybody talks about how great the classes are. They put stars on them. Talk to me in ten years. That’s when you will know how good a class was, because there is always going to be a five star that never gets on the field and transfers three times, and then there is somebody you never heard of. Baker Mayfield, a Heisman Trophy winner, was a walk on. We know that as coaches.
I understand the fan base and the web sites and it’s Spring Training right? Everybody is going to win the World Series because hope springs eternal. In terms of meeting our needs we felt confident that the places we needed to create competition quickly, we were able to identify guys that we think can do that. Nobody really knows. My dad told me once that — he’s in the Hall of Fame, and he looked back at all of his drafts, and he said, “I hit about 650” and he’s in the Hall of Fame for doing it.
If you bat 5-, 600 in a recruiting class and look up and say we had two or three starters and impactful players and good kids and good students, then you’re doing a heck of a job. Obviously we feel good, because they’re ours, they are in our family. We don’t feel like we made any mistakes but ultimately time will tell.
Q. My question was do you feel like you’ve been able to hit all your targets? When you start putting together a class say we need a quarterback, corners, do you feel like you hit the targets?
Brian Polian: I think we have addressed the vast majority of them. I think in the places that Coach talked about, willingness to keep adding are obviously if we’re willing to add at spots it’s because we feel like we can address those needs further.
Q. You had eight players that played for a state championship and that doesn’t include Houston Griffith who is not able to but played on an undefeated team. Do you recruit players that come from that winning background?
Brian Polian: I think it’s a little bit of both. When you can look at a guy and say he’s a winner, that matters. When guys come out of winning programs and winning cultures, I think that matters.
I also love Coach’s statement about Phil Jurkovec playing basketball. We have multi-sport athletes in this class and we just — competitors, right? We want guys that — one of the great things about Phil is not only does he want the ball in his hand at the end of the football game, he wants to shoot the ball at the end of the game. Bracy is an outfielder and steals bases. The more they compete, the better. But, yes, recruiting players out of established winning programs and you know what the culture is, that is another piece of information that works in their favor.
Q. You talked about two-sport players. I was looking at our defensive class and by my count four of the five played both ways this year, and then Houston obviously had an offensive background before at IMG. Is that, okay, guys we liked that happen to play both ways, or do you look for guys that are maybe good football players? Obviously Tariq is a good DB, but he made his living this year rushing for over 2000 yards on offense.
Brian Polian: Yeah, but when you have a coordinator like Mike Elko and Todd Lyght, and we can look at offensive film and say we see athletic traits that lead us to believe that this guy can play corner at a high level, the more they’re out there, the more opportunity for us to evaluate, and that is never a bad thing. Frankly there is a toughness there when a guy plays 100 plays a game you can appreciate that.
When a Coach says hey this guy never comes off the field, that’s pretty meaningful. That holds weight for us.
Q. You mentioned there is still work to do. You’re at 20 now, is there an ideal number or an estimate?
Brian Polian: I think it’s fluid. We’re not — Coach Kelly talked about the 85 scholarship limit, and I know that’s something our fan base follows, but that’s always fluid. There are personnel decisions being made by young men on our team. There is always grades. You just look at the culture of college athletics in general right now. People are transferring at a much higher rate than they did, say, ten years ago.
So I think what we have been able to do with the help of Dave Peloquin is look back at the last six, seven, eight years and say on average how much turnover was there for whatever reason, and let’s go under the assumption that there is going to be a little bit of turnover this year, and sometimes you don’t know who they are, guys come in and surprise you.
And my experience as head coach taught me that, was one time a year there is going to be a guy that walks in and says, I’m just not happy, and it’s going to absolutely floor you. That’s the nature of the world we live in today. Guys want immediate success and happiness and somebody is going to decide this is not for me. So we have tried to take that into account, but we are acutely aware of the 85 and we are — we’re factoring those things in. A number, we’re sitting here 20 today, I know we have the ability to go past 25 because our great compliance office has told us we can count a couple back. We’re not going to take guys just to take guys, but they’ve got to address needs, but we could go to 24, 25. We may go to 21, 22. We’ll kinda see how it plays out here through the course of the rest of the recruiting period.