The immediate future of Notre Dame football may be on the line in the coming weeks. The college coaching ranks are ever changing, as every assistant has hopes to become something more. Right now, it seems that the Irish coaches are in the crosshairs of the rest of the nation. Brian Kelly‘s next few hires could be the difference in his legacy.
Kerry Cooks left his position as defensive backs coach to become the secondary coach at Oklahoma. Former Notre Dame cornerback Todd Lyght will be taking his place. The Irish are also expected to lose quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur to the Atlanta Falcons staff in the near future.
But the biggest bomb may have come shortly after National Signing Day, when running backs coach Tony Alford was lured away to join Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State. He also interviewed for the head coaching job at his alma mater Colorado State. Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick spoke to CSU on Alford’s behalf.
What the Irish lost most is recruiting. And Alford especially was one of the best. The three were critical in the key states of Florida (Alford), Texas (Cooks) and California (LaFleur). These are recruit heavy states that Notre Dame has to be in the running for. There was a time when the Irish won these battles simply for being Notre Dame and having nationwide notoriety.
But recruiting has become big business now, and every school has it at the forefront of their program. You don’t wait to see what kids show up at your school, you go and sell them on it. Now with the loss of these fine recruiters, the Irish must find their replacements. So it’s not about simply having coaches in pace before the spring, but having the right recruiters in place in those coaches.
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This won’t be a case where Kelly can hire a coach that he likes and hope he can learn recruiting. These hires have to be made for guys that have the experience and knowledge of how the process works. anything less and the Irish face an uphill climb with incoming talent in the coming years.
Former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn has been rumored to replace LaFleur as quarterbacks coach. Quinn served as Kelly’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at their stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Having a history of Quinn and knowing his recruiting strengths could go a long way.
On top of losing guys that worked key recruiting states, the battle back home won’t be getting any easier. with Meyer (and now Alford) at Ohio State, Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, the Irish won’t have any “gimmes” locally either.
And of course, in the coming seasons you have to wonder if any of these young men recruited by this group will make the decision to transfer. It’s always a legitimate concern when coaches leave, even with the strong academics Notre Dame provides.
The legacy and tradition of Notre Dame football isn’t enough on it’s own any more. Kelly has to be aware of that as he makes some critical choices, possibly the most important he’s made in his tenure as head coach.