I'm always interested in the journey. How did a team get to where is is? How did the players arrive at the school? So today, I'm asking that about Notre Dame. And as I comb through the roster, I found a tale of two head coaches: Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly.
Charlie Weis' pieces, Brian Kelly's coaching
Who recruited the majority of the starters for these Fighting Irish? Charlie Weis. Of the 22 listed starters for the Irish, 15 signed with or originally committed to Charlie Weis. This is a veteran football team, and Weis laid the foundation.
Manti Te'o, the linebacker who contended strongly for the Heisman? Charlie Weis brought him to South Bend. Ditto for the three starting receivers in Robby Toma, John Goodman and T.J. Jones (though Jones signed with Kelly's Irish, he committed to Weis in October of 2009). The underrated offensive line is made up of four starters recruited by Weis and one by Kelly. Stud tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick? Also signed by Weis, as was key reserve running back Cierre Wood.
In all, nine of Notre Dame's 11 offensive starters are Weis recruits.
|Offensive starter||Committed to|
|WR 7 TJ JONES 5-11 190 Jr./3||Weis*|
|WR 9 Robby Toma 5-9 185 Sr./4||Weis|
|LT 70 ZACK MARTIN 6-4 304 Sr./3||Weis|
|LG 66 CHRIS WATT 6-3 310 Sr./3||Weis|
|C 52 BRAXSTON CAVE 6-3 304 Gr./4||Weis|
|RG 57 Mike Golic Jr. 6-3 295 Gr./4||Weis|
|RT 74 Christian Lombard 6-5 309 Jr./2||Kelly|
|TE 80 TYLER EIFERT 6-6 251 Sr./3||Weis|
|WR 81 John Goodman 6-3 215 Gr./4||Weis|
|QB 5 Everett Golson 6-0 185 So./1||Kelly|
|RB 6 THEO RIDDICK^ 5-11 200 Sr./4||Weis|
|* Committed to Weis, signed with Kelly|
Weis' Notre Dame teams weren't great, but they were better than many gave them credit for. He just couldn't get the Irish over the proverbial hump. Kelly has taken Weis' recruits and done just that, and for that he deserves a lot of credit.
The total package: defense matters
Part of that was coaching, part of that was player development, and a big part of that was defense. And in those three areas, Kelly appears much stronger than Weis.
Only 6 of the 11 defensive starters were Weis recruits (Kapron Lewis-Moore, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, the aforementioned Te'o, Zeke Motta and Bennett Jackson), and of those, Jackson and Shembo actually signed with Kelly after committing to Weis. And almost none of the defensive reserves were recruited by Weis.
|Defensive starter||Committed to|
|DE 89 KAPRON LEWIS-MOORE 6-4 306 Gr./4||Weis|
|NG 9 LOUIS NIX III 6-3 326 Jr./2||Kelly|
|DE 7 Stephon Tuitt 6-6 303 So./2||Kelly|
|OLB 55 PRINCE SHEMBO 6-2 250 Jr./3||Weis*|
|ILB 48 DAN FOX 6-3 240 Sr./3||Weis|
|ILB 5 MANTI TE’O 6-2 255 Sr./4||Weis|
|OLB 13 Danny Spond 6-2 248 Jr./3||Kelly|
|CB 6 KeiVarae Russell 5-11 182 Fr./1||Kelly|
|S 17 ZEKE MOTTA 6-2 215 Sr./4||Weis|
|S 41 Matthias Farley 6-1 200 So./1||Kelly|
|CB 2 Bennett Jackson 6-0 185 Jr./3||Weis*|
|* Committed to Weis, signed with Kelly|
It was the defense that often let Notre Dame down during Weis' tenure, and it is the defense has carried the Irish this season.
That's the biggest change brought by Brian Kelly. Both Weis and Kelly were considered offensive gurus when they took the position, and both eventually produced very good offenses. But Kelly's Irish are the total package because the defense is also there.
As for the quality of recruiting, both Weis and Kelly produced similarly-ranked classes while with the Irish. All but one of Weis' and Kelly's classes were considered among the 10 best nationally by Rivals.com. Under Kelly, though, the Irish are trending up a bit this season, and are conceivably in contention for the top recruiting class in the country should some pieces fall in to place.
While the macro view is that the classes brought in by Weis and Kelly were of similar quality, and indeed 15 of the 22 starters for Notre Dame were Charlie Weis recruits, the micro view reveals more, particularly on the defensive line.
It is undeniable that the SEC's greatest advantage over the rest of the country is along the defensive line. Elite big men with fast-twitch abilities the likes of which are not available with any regularity outside of the South. It is arguably the most valuable commodity in college football. Few teams outside the SEC have them in bunches, but the Irish are now one of the few.
Weis failed to bring in enough, signing only six four-star or better defensive linemen (again, according to Rivals.com for the sake of consistency) in his five recruiting classes as head coach of the Irish.
Kelly is succeeding, signing seven such players in only three recruiting classes as head coach of the Irish, including six in the last two classes.
Recruiting isn't the only difference between the two. Of course, there are things like coaching, motivation, and even more nebulous concepts that certainly appear to be better under Kelly. But Kelly has emphasized the defensive side of the football and brought in better defensive recruits, particularly up front, than his predecessor did. And the results are obvious.
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: