Story Poster
Photo by The ACC/Notre Dame
Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

January 7, 2021

Every college football fan hopes their team can have a forever DC like a Brent Venables or a Bud Foster. The reality is that there aren’t many like them.

With Foster now retired, it’s just Venables as the one guy who has stuck at his school even though he could easily get a head coaching job. He’s the only Mickey Andrews all-star left.

I know many love the idea of having that type of coordinator at Notre Dame, which is one reason why Mike Elston is a popular candidate to many fans. He’s done a very good job coaching the defensive line for the Irish. He’s proven to be loyal to Kelly and the program. Those aren’t everything when it comes to being promoted, but they do mean something.

Getting lucky with who sticks around for a while would be ideal, but if there is someone who Kelly thinks is a better fit for right now, that’s who should be the pick. Whether that is Marcus Freeman, Zach Arnett, or someone else, Kelly has to look at the whole picture and that includes game planning, recruiting, and what the staff will look like.

It all has to be taken into account for who can help Notre Dame win now and not what might be best three years from now. Who knows how much longer Kelly is going to coach, but after getting to the College Football Playoff two of the last three years and coming up short, it’s a guarantee that he doesn’t want to have that experience again.

So the questions should be, “Who gives Notre Dame the best chance to get back to the CFP and then win when they get there?” Whoever that is out the candidates should be the guy they offer the job to and do everything they can persuade him to take it.

It’s understandable that anyone would want a coordinator that will be at Notre Dame for the rest of Kelly’s tenure, but what does that matter if he’s not the best person to help the program take the next step? If it’s a one-year situation where the coach leaves after, then he must have done a pretty great job if he’s leaving for another opportunity.

So if it’s an internal hire or someone from the outside, it shouldn’t matter to anyone whom it may be as long as they are advancing Notre Dame when it comes to competing with Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson.

2. Bud Elliott has been doing something on blue-chip ratio since he was at SB Nation and has continued doing it since he moved to 247Sports. It's always interesting to look at which programs have recruited more 4 and 5-star players than the competition.

The ratio is based on how many players a program signed over a four year period that were ranked as 4 or 5-star recruits. Over 50% is a good number and Notre Dame makes the cut at 56%. Then you see the gap with two teams at the top and...welp.

Everyone can do the simple math. Those teams, even with transfers, are going to have a lot more blue-chip recruits on their roster than Notre Dame. That doesn’t even take into account a 5-star versus the 258th ranked prospect who is a 4-star. We know that not all of these players are at the same level, but even if they were, Alabama and Ohio State have a lot more of them than Notre Dame.

(Georgia: WOOF and I’m not talking about their mascot. Talk about a program that underachieved relative to the talent they have signed.)

Where it gets really interesting is looking at each position group. We know Notre Dame recruits the tight end position as well as anyone. We know they recruit the offensive line as good as just about anyone. They are at a 79% ratio there, just behind Alabama and Oklahoma.

The big difference is at defensive back and wide receiver. From 2017-2020, Notre Dame signed 12 receivers. Five of them were ranked as 4-star recruits (41.7%) and they had a total of 13 catches for the Irish in 2020.

Over that same timeframe, they signed 15 defensive backs. Nine of them were 4-stars (60%). Not bad, one would think at first glance. Except only two of those nine cracked the two-deep in the secondary. One of them, Houston Griffith, is in the transfer portal. He’s the fifth of the nine who has already transferred or is in the portal.

Nine blue-chip defensive backs is pretty good. Having only one of those nine, Kyle Hamilton, emerge as an impact player is not.

3. The starting defensive backfield in 2018 had Julian Love (3-star), Alohi Gilman (2-star transfer), Jalen Elliott (3-star), and Troy Pride (4-star). Three of those guys were NFL Draft picks so that’s evidence that they all don’t have be considered blue-chips. 

That was a superior group to the 2020 one. That has to be the highest priority for any new defensive coordinator and Kelly to fix going forward. They needed to take a step closer to the top with the secondary, but ended up taking a step back after 2018.

Mike Mickens didn’t inherit a ton of polished talent at cornerback and that’s why they needed someone like Nick McCloud. McCloud is gone now and Mickens is going to have to do everything he can to get some young players to play at a high-level.

4. During the season and immediately after it concluded, there have been a lot of Notre Dame players who have entered the transfer portal. I get why that might seem concerning, especially when a couple of them were highly ranked defensive back recruits.

Looking at who is in the portal, though, the only player from the two-deep was Griffith. DJ Brown played more snaps than him in 2020. The rest of the players were on the third or fourth team and Ovie Oghoufo was the only player who was realistically going to compete to be in it next season outside of Griffith.

I thought about writing an “instant reaction” after we reported that certain players were transferring, but I realized that the story with almost all of them was that they had been passed on the depth chart by younger players. That’s why none of those players transferring is shocking.

The writing was on the wall for them, most of whom have or are close to attaining their degree. The overall depth may take a hit, but it’s better in the long run to get younger players inserted who have a chance to ascend.

5. Notre Dame wide receivers and tight ends after the catch against Alabama: 45 yards.

Alabama wide receivers and tight ends after the catch: 194 yards.

Mac Jones only threw it further than 10-yards seven times in the game. He only threw it further than 20-yards twice. He didn’t have to stretch the field with vertical throws because Alabama had athletes who can win in space.

This game was a reminder that it’s not just players with deep speed that the Irish need at receiver. They need to have more playmakers emerge after the catch. Michael Mayer is a huge asset at tight end, but there needs to be more of an impact at receiver.

Avery Davis needs more opportunities to run after the catch. They need more help (and health) from Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin, or Lawrence Keys. They’ll need someone from the trio of freshmen from the 2020 class as well.

This is the best argument for Lorenzo Styles Jr.‍. to make an immediate impact. He is the kind of athlete who should be able to help with this immediately and he’s also an early enrollee.

6. It wasn’t surprising that Tom Herman was fired by the University of Texas after his last couple of seasons proved Texas is not back, but if you would have told me he was going to fail when he was first hired, I would have been very surprised at that time.

Herman had just won big at Houston and had beaten more talented Power 5 programs like Florida State, Louisville (when Lamar Jackson was the quarterback), and Oklahoma. He had been a very successful recruiter there and at Ohio State before that.

He pretty much checked all of the boxes with his connections to the state and the program, where he was a graduate assistant. Look up home run hire in the dictionary and Herman’s face would have been there in 2017.

Except, there is no such thing as a home run hire.

Nothing is guaranteed, which is something to remember with whoever is hired at Notre Dame as defensive coordinator. Whether it’s a hot name from outside the program or someone who has been part of the last few successful defenses from inside the program, no one is a sure thing.

When Clark Lea was hired, there were reasons to think he would be very good in the role. He was also unproven and there were reasons to believe it wasn’t going to work.

Kelly took a chance on Lea even though he did not have the same level of experience as some of the other candidates. It proved to be the right choice.

That choice has made the job more attractive to the next coach. Hopefully that makes it easier for Kelly to get it right. If he does, we may see the defense take another step to help get the program closer to where Kelly wants it to be.

subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.