RB recruits weigh in on Tony Alford's departure from Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Dexter Williams read a notification on his phone Friday night and didn’t believe it to be true.

The report indicated Notre Dame running backs coach Tony Alford, the man whose persistent efforts helped persuade Williams to sign with the Irish on Wednesday, could be headed to Ohio State. So Williams reached out to Alford to get the scoop.

“He kept me in the loop,” Williams said. “He was making sure to keep me informed.”

Saturday morning he found out Alford would indeed be leaving Notre Dame to take a position with the Buckeyes. The two talked again about Alford’s decision. Alford confirmed taking a spot as Ohio State’s running backs coach and assistant head coach with Irish Illustrated on Saturday.

“I'm mad about it, but then as I thought it over, it's nothing but business,” said Williams, a four-star recruit at Winter Garden (Fla.) West Orange. “He's doing what's best for him. Even though I think he should stay at Notre Dame, because he recruited so many us. That's who we were expecting to be our coach. At the same time, we still have to go up there and do what they want us to do and perform like we want to perform with whoever is coaching us."

It’s not a stretch to say Williams wouldn’t have signed with Notre Dame if not for Alford. The former Irish recruiting coordinator continued to reach out to Williams despite a previous commitment to Miami. Williams finally made an official visit to Notre Dame in mid-January and fell for the school.

"He played a big role,” Williams said on Wednesday after signing with the Irish. “It wasn't just about football with him. We would talk about life, his kids. He knows my mom and dad. I know his wife and kids. We just created a relationship from there. I know that I can put my trust in coach Alford."

Williams said he had yet to hear from any other Notre Dame coaches as of early Saturday afternoon. In the wake of signing day, Williams was still soaking up the excitement of a future at Notre Dame. Alford’s departure blind-sided him.

“I never saw it coming,” Williams said. “I didn't have any expectations of him going to Ohio State. That was the last thing on my mind. The main thing on my mind was getting up there and picking up what I need to learn so I can come in and play and make an impact.”

The flurry over post-National Signing Day coaching changes has drawn national attention in the last few days. The opening for Alford at Ohio State came when Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton was hired by the Chicago Bears on Thursday.

Drayton’s departure came a day after uncommitted running back Mike Weber signed with the Buckeyes. If Weber would have known about the coaching change beforehand, he may have signed with Michigan instead. Staff changes at UCLA and Florida were also among staff changes made in the wake of signing day.

The fallout at Ohio State led to the quick addition of Alford. Josh Adams, another running back who signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday, said Alford’s departure wouldn’t have impacted his college choice.

"That would have been great to know that before signing day, but that wouldn't have changed my decision in any way,” Adams said. “I'm still 100 percent Notre Dame. Notre Dame is Notre Dame, regardless of who is on the team and who's coaching it."

Signing a National Letter of Intent binds a player to the school and not the coaching staff. The recruiting process establishes coaches as the closest connection a prospect has to a school, but the system does little to help recruits who want to change their mind after signing because of a coaching change.

“I committed to a school, not the coaches,” Adams said. “Coaches are a big reason you go to the school, but you want to commit to the school and that's why it means a lot to know the players on the team. I wish him the best. At the end of the day, we still have work to do. We still have a lot of things to accomplish and we're trying to chase that national championship."

Already moving past his initial anger, Williams has his eyes on arriving at Notre Dame in June.

"From here, I'm just going to continue to focus up and get ready to take my talents to Notre Dame,” Williams said. “I'm getting ready and making sure I'm learning what I need to know. That's all I can do — keep working hard and keep praying that everything goes as I have planned in my head.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Will four-star running back Dexter Williams chose Notre Dame on signing day? (Photo courtesy of Orlando Sentinel)