Sizing up the recruiting efforts of Notre Dame's new coaches

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

More than six months into their jobs, Notre Dame’s new assistant coaches have spent plenty of time recruiting.

Nearly half of the 17 players with verbal commitments to the Irish had one of the four new assistant coaches involved with their recruitments. Many more prospects have been in touch with the new members off the staff and could end up joining the Irish.

While the new coaches — Mike Sanford (offensive coordinator), Keith Gilmore (defensive line), Todd Lyght (defensive backs) and Autry Denson (running backs) — have produced results, they also have yet to blow the competition away in their short time in South Bend.

“It’s still too early to say because there’s so much time left until February,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “All those guys have been in on guys that are interested in Notre Dame or have committed, but no one has jumped out at the top of our recruiter rankings.”

In fact, none of the new coaches are slated in the top 150 of the 247Sports recruiter rankings for the 2016 class.

247Sports has tried to apply a numerical equation to the inexact science of ranking college coaches as recruiters. The math includes a sometimes arbitrary determination if the coach served as the primary or secondary recruiter for a prospect and carries the weight of the star rating for each commitment to a school.

For example, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand stakes claim to the highest ranking of any Notre Dame coach for the 2016 class. He’s slated ninth in the country for his work in recruiting four-star prospects Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg and three-star recruit Parker Boudreaux.

Of the new assistant coaches, Lyght has received the highest ranking at No. 187 overall. Gilmore (No. 220), Denson (322) and Sanford (336) are lower on the list of 554 coaches. In the 2017 cycle, Sanford, thanks to the recruitment of No. 1 tight end Brock Wright, sits at No. 12 in the country.

Notre Dame’s staff has once again made the USC game, this year on Oct. 17, the biggest recruiting event of the season. CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming suggested a better measure of the new assistant coaches will come in the days following the annual rivalry game. Being able to close on a commitment for a recruit shortly after that visit shows true recruiting mettle.

“We’ll know around the USC game or right after that by how many of the top-notch recruits commit to them,” Lemming said. “Then you’ll have an idea of how well they’ve done.”

Final grades for the 2016 recruiting cycle won’t come out until after February’s signing day, but here’s a progress report on the new Irish assistants.

Sanford: Quarterback recruiting consumed Sanford in his first several months on the job. After missing out on multiple top targets, Sanford identified three-star prospect Ian Book as the next incoming quarterback. He convinced Book to visit despite a commitment to Washington State and coaxed an eventual flip to Notre Dame.

The competition for Book was minor when it came to major college programs. The development of Book as a college player will reflect on Sanford’s ability to assess quarterbacks.

“Book’s a guy that Mike Sanford believed in and scouted and went out to see throw and knows a lot about,” Wiltfong said. “So he’s saying this kid’s good enough to lead Notre Dame to championship football. If he’s right, it shows you the kind of evaluator he is.”

Sanford has also produced a commitment from Texas (Wright) and has worked to establish relationships with many Notre Dame targets in California. Wide receivers Damian Alloway and Javon McKinley have already visited the Irish. Safety Lamar Jackson and linebacker Caleb Kelly are also expected to make trips from the Golden State.

Gilmore: The defensive line coach found himself a project he liked in three-star defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji of Walled Lake, Mich. Ogundeji sat at the intersection of Gilmore’s biggest focuses — defensive linemen and recruiting in the Great Lakes State.

Gilmore has already helped bring multiple targets from Michigan on campus this season including outside linebacker Daelin Hayes and wide receiver Donnie Corley. But his ability to identify and recruit defensive linemen will be a major factor in his recruiting reputation.

“If the D-line fails, it will come down to Gilmore’s name like it has with several defensive line coaches in the past at Notre Dame,” Lemming said. “He’s has experience at Illinois and North Carolina recruiting, so he should be landing some top-notch defensive linemen by signing day.”

Lyght: The defensive backs coach and former Irish standout led the recruitment of three-star safety Spencer Perry, who ditched a pledge to Florida to commit to Notre Dame. He also helped the Irish land three-star defensive backs Jalen Elliott and Julian Love.

A number of 2016 targets Lyght has helped recruit have already visited Notre Dame in the past six months: cornerbacks Eric Cuffee, Joejuan Williams and Donte Vaughn and safeties Ikenna Okeke and Devin Studstill. In addition to recruiting defensive backs, Lyght has made a concentrated focus in Texas and Louisiana.

Denson: The Florida native had big shoes to fill in replacing former recruiting coordinator Tony Alford as Notre Dame’s lead recruiter in the Sunshine State. Denson has received plenty of help from the rest of the Irish coaching staff in his first few months.

Denson assisted in the recruitment of Perry and Boudreaux and played a major role in landing running back Tony Jones Jr. The overflow of talent in Florida has kept Denson busy in trying to get more recruits on campus. He may do so with the likes of running back Deon McIntosh, linebacker Jonathan Jones, cornerback Chauncey Gardner and wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers.

Notre Dame football coaches from, left Mike Sanford, Keith Gilmore, Brian Kelly, Autry Denson and Todd Lyght strike pose Monday after the four new assistants were introduced by Kelly. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)