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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

February 23, 2017

There are a lot of ways to measure the success of a college football program. Wins and losses are ultimately what matter most, but in the eyes of many, producing players that move on to the next level is a close second.

In an ideal world graduation rate would matter more, but that's not reality. Highly ranked recruits don't pick Notre Dame just because they know it's a certainty they are going to get a great degree from a prestigious university. They do it because of that and they know they'll have a good shot at making the NFL as well. That's why when they were sending out the "Pot of Gold" mail to recruits they had a piece of mail for every NFL Draft pick and not number of graduates from the football program.

It was a big deal when the Irish had 10 players invited to the combine last year and had 7 players drafted. There is no doubt that the coaching staff mentioned these numbers when recruiting. Michigan is doing the same thing this year. They have 14 players invited to the combine this year. It would not be surprising if they had over 10 of those players drafted. Jim Harbaugh isn't going to go through too many conversations with recruits without slipping that fact in there at some point.

The Notre Dame staff isn't going to be bragging out the guys invited to the combine this year on the trail. That's not something they are selling to the 2018 recruits because 3 players invited to Indianapolis isn't going to impress anyone. For different reasons, that low number is probably something the coaches smile about, though.

Most of the talent on the roster is back in 2017. Two candidates that could have left and been high NFL selections, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, both elected to stick around. It really sets up much like the 2015 season. Sheldon Day, Nick Martin, and Ronnie Stanley decided to stay for another year and those players were huge pieces in the 10 win season. The hope is that having so many players returning in '17 leads to similar results.

I suppose I shouldn't be getting ahead of myself, but I couldn't help but think of what could happen a year from now if all the players who return come back and get Notre Dame to 10 wins or more next season. I'm sure it would lead to big exodus of talent to the NFL like it did after 2015.

Nelson will be gone. Josh Adams and Equanimeous St. Brown could both leave early if they have big years. There could easily be a CJ Prosise type who flashes brightly for one season and then leaves too.

It's what happens when programs are successful. Opportunities arise and the players take advantage of it by leaving early. And that doesn't even account for those like McGlinchey and Nyles Morgan who will be out of eligibility. It will leave holes to fill on the roster for the next year.

I realize that is the nature of college football. Players leave and must be replaced, which is why recruiting and development is so critical. But I think of the disappointment of 2016 and how so many important '15 players were gone after. They didn't have replacements for them and if they did, there is no way that debacle would have occurred even with the other issues that affected the team.

I am optimistic about the changes that have been made by Brian Kelly in regards to the staff. Many of the changes were necessary and probably wouldn't have been considered if not for 4-8. If 4-8 ends up being the catalyst that brought Notre Dame the right combination on the staff, then it will end up being worth going through the misery of that year to achieve long term stability.

Early returns from the staff have been fantastic and it could end up looking terrific if they win with all of these returning players in the fall as well. But no one can say definitively if these were all the right moves even if ">everything comes up Milhouse in '17. Because if they lose a bunch of players to the NFL, the staff needs to prove they can sustain those losses without a drastic drop off.
If they lose a bunch of players to the NFL, the staff needs to prove they can sustain those losses without a drastic drop off.

That's what the best programs do. They lose a ton of talent just about every year and continue to win despite that. It can't be just a big year because everyone is back because if you're winning consistently, more and more players will have the option to leave early.

Sustained success each year no matter who leaves is how these coaches will be evaluated. Only time will tell if the changes made recently will end up producing the desired results.

2. Related to the changes and long term success, the most important hire out of them all could end up being Matt Balis. Everything being said right now is glowing, but that tends to be the case with every new strength and conditioning coach. Sometimes the best thing that can happen at that spot is a different voice and Balis' voice seems to be coming through loud and clear.

I don't know how good he will end up being for the Irish players in the long term, but the goal has to be for his impact to be comparable to the one Chris Doyle has had at Iowa.

Doyle, a former graduate assistant at Notre Dame in 1991, has been at Iowa since 1999. He came there with Kirk Ferentz and they both have been there ever since. Many would argue that Doyle has been the biggest reason why Iowa has been able to compete in the Big Ten for so many years. He builds tough, strong football players through his program. He is part of the culture.

I was listening to the Block 'Em Up podcast with Geoff Schwartz and Duke Manyweather and they had the Bryan Bulaga of the Green Bay Packers on. For those that don't know, it's a podcast that talks strictly hardcore offensive line play. Bulaga is the starting right tackle for the Packers and was a former first round pick out of Iowa.

He was a 4 star recruit out of high school, but most wouldn't expect him to make an immediate impact because he had to put on weight and get stronger to compete at the college level. He ended up starting midway through the season as a true freshman. He said a huge reason why was Doyle.

"I walked in the door before that freshman year. I went there early in the summer to train with the guys. I was weighing 260-255. My first day of training camp I was 295-290, ready to roll. I put all of that weight on in that three to four month block just from following his diet and training every day."

Accomplishing that by building a program for an individual is more important than any kind of team challenges. Can Balis build a player physically into the kind of player that Notre Dame needs him to be? That is what Doyle can do in addition to the all of the team building workouts.
Can Matt Balis build a player physically into the kind of player that Notre Dame needs him to be? That is what Chris Doyle can do in addition to the all of the team building workouts.

If Balis can accomplish that kind of thing with players like Robert Hainsey, Aaron Banks, and Brock Wright to allow them to be physically ready to compete early, then that would make an impact that can be a game-changer.

3. Back to the combine, it's an understatement to say DeShone Kizer is going to need to have a great showing there to be a high pick. It's less about him throwing and more about the interview process. I think the biggest things teams are going to want to know is why he was so much better in 2015 than 2016.

How is he going to answer that? I'm sure he'll be prepared because that's what agents do now. They train their players to be ready for these situations. Still, it's a fine line to walk where he will talk about his supporting cast not being as good or how much blame he will put on himself.

I have a feeling that he is going to have the right answers that coaches and general managers are going to want to hear. I think things will be trending top 10 for him rather than him dropping out of the first round. As long as he hits the ball out of the park in the interviews, he is going to be too intriguing of a prospect to turn down for some quarterback needy team.

4. I'm sure most have heard about the allegations against Ole Miss and what they are likely facing from the NCAA. Here's a list in case you missed it.

At the top of the list is that an Ole Miss booster paid over $13,000 to a recruit that ultimately didn't sign with Ole Miss. All that did was make me think of two things.

1) How much money did this guy get from the school that he did sign with?

2) How much money did the others who did sign with Ole Miss get?

Or if this is a standard "bag man" price for a recruit, how desperate are some of these people for money that they are choosing a school based on that amount? For the majority of people, that is not anywhere close to life changing money. It might help with some debt for some people who are deep in the hole, but aside from that it's going to buy someone a few nice things before they are back at square one.

When a recruit doesn't choose Notre Dame, I see some steer toward it being a bag man situation or academics for the reason why they aren't Irish. I don't think that is the case most of the time because those who would choose to go elsewhere for those reason rarely ever visit Notre Dame. It's not even a consideration for them.

However, I have to shake my head at thinking that some would turn down an opportunity at Notre Dame or plenty of other good schools because someone offered them this kind of cash. It seems like such a short sighted decision to me that can only happen because some of these kids don't have people in their lives to help guide them and only want to take advantage of the situation.

5. Notre Dame is now at 11 commits in the 2018 class and ISD has them at exactly 100 offers.

If that seems like a lot, it isn't. Florida State is at 105. Penn State is at 125. Ed Orgeron and his ultra-aggressive approach is at 164. Ohio State has sent out 123 and Alabama has sent out 147. If anything, the Irish coaching staff can continue to ramp it up with more offers even if the class is potentially half-full.

I remember last year Notre Dame didn't reach the 100 offer mark until sometime in March. It makes it even more remarkable that they are ahead of schedule when you consider they got a late start to 2018 with so much focus on closing 2017 recruiting.

I have a feeling that the flurry of offers like the ones they sent out on Tuesday night isn't going to stop any time soon. They'll want to get out as many as possible before spring ball starts.

6. Championships aren't won in the off season, but they can be lost. I think I read that on a t-shirt or maybe it was somewhere else, but I believe it to be true. The decisions made during the off season are what shape what will happen in the season.

So whether it coaching changes, scheme changes, or even changes to the structure of a regular week of workouts, those things all matter in a big way when it comes to the fall.

I don't know if this next thing I'm going to talk about would have an effect on a championship season, but I do think it has an affect on a team's culture. Culture matters for a football program and I think there is a culture problem in football, sports, and college campuses in general.

I can only speak from my own experiences as a football player and coach, but I don't believe there is the proper kind of culture being preached when it comes to respecting women. There is an issue with privilege and an attitude that is prevalent that wasn't talked about much before, but has come to the forefront because of issues at Baylor and other schools.

That's why I think it's important that schools are bringing in someone like Brenda Tracey to speak with the players and coaches in their football program. Tracey was the victim of a horrendous sexual assault back in 1998. Three of the four men involved were players on Oregon State's football team. She is a survivor that has told her story and has become an advocate for victims of sexual violence. It can be an uncomfortable topic to read about, but for more details on her story and how she got to this point, please read this piece by John Canzano from The Oregonian.

Tracey is not brought in to speak with student-athletes to try and make them feel comfortable. She is there to raise awareness and spark change in attitudes. She is there to challenge the young men to be better.

She has visited several schools around the country and I keep hoping that Notre Dame will be one of them in the near future. If not her, I hope they have another advocate in to speak with the young men on the football team about this important issue.

Culture matters. It matters in terms of toughness, work ethic, and accountability in regards to the things on the field. It also matters off the field. I believe Notre Dame has a good culture with its players off the field, but it can always be better. Bringing in someone like Tracey to speak with the team would be a step in that direction to improving it even more.
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