Notre Dame D-line coach Keith Gilmore makes recruiting impact

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Keith Gilmore coaches like he recruits.

Honestly. Warmly. With an undercurrent of care.

The Notre Dame defensive line coach’s on-field success, in his first season in South Bend, is indisputable. It’s evident in Sheldon Day, who ascended from 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 2014 to 14.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his senior season. Look no further than Romeo Okwara, who leaped from four sacks to eight from one season to the next.

Look at Isaac Rochell, who surpassed his previous career-high by nearly 20 tackles. Look at Daniel Cage, and Jerry Tillery, and on and on and on.

The secret to Gilmore’s success isn’t a secret at all.

“The one thing that makes a kid want to play for him is that he believes in you,” said senior nose tackle Jarron Jones, who will return from a torn MCL for the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 1. “He pushes you when you need to be pushed. He gives you compliments when you deserve compliments. He gives you what you deserve.

“I don’t know what it is about him, but a lot of (players) feel like they’re entitled. He shuts that down, but he doesn’t come off like, ‘I’m the man. I make all the rules.’ He’s real with you. That’s the thing you respect about him.”

Same goes for recruits. Before Gilmore arrived last spring, Notre Dame featured just two scholarship players from the state of Michigan on its roster — offensive guard Steve Elmer and defensive end Jhonathon Williams, who has since transferred. Moreover, six of its seven defensive end commits in the previous three recruiting cycles were ranked by Rivals as three-star recruits.

Now, the after. In the 2016 recruiting class alone, the Irish tout three commits from his recruiting area in Michigan — five-star linebacker Daelin Hayes, four star defensive end Khalid Kareem and three-star defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji — and both Hayes and Kareem have signed as early enrollees.

“That’s really exciting, knowing that I’m going to be playing with some of the best players from this area on the next level,” Kareem said. “That’s huge — really huge.”

Of Notre Dame’s four defensive end commits in the 2016 and 2017 classes, three are ranked as four-star recruits.

Ask the committed, and the chasm is no coincidence.

“Once he got to Notre Dame, that really changed my recruitment with Notre Dame,” Kareem said. “It made them a huge competitor, knowing that he was there.

“Coach Gilmore, he’s a really good guy. He’s straightforward. He doesn’t really beat around the bush. He’s kind of laid back, but he still gets the best out of his players.”

Straightforward. Honest. The synonyms speak volumes.

“He’s always 100 percent honest,” Jones said. “He always wants to work with you. He always wants to get you better. Even if you’re on scout team, he still asks you, ‘How are you doing over there? Are you getting better? I watched you on film. You need to work on this a little more.’ Everybody on the d-line, they love coach Gilmore. He cares about you and he’s real with you, 100 percent.”

Maybe that’s why Kareem turned down the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State for a seat at Gilmore’s table. Maybe it’s why four-star 2017 prospect Robert Beal, perhaps the most promising pass-rushing prospect in years, followed suit.

Whatever the reason, there’s no arguing with the results.

“He cares a lot about us,” Jones said. “There have been a lot of times we have gotten together at coach Gilmore’s house just to hang out with him. He’s like another father. It’s an honor having coach Gilmore as our coach.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame defensive line coach Keith Gilmore during Notre Dame football practice on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

Before Gilmore

Michigan players

DB Travis Allen (walk-on)

OG Steve Elmer

LB Brandon Hutson (walk-on)

Defensive end recruits (2013, 2014, 2015)

Romeo Okwara (3-star)

Isaac Rochell (4-star)

Grant Blankenship (3-star)

Jonathan Bonner (3-star)

Andrew Trumbetti (3-star)

Jhonathon Williams (3-star)

Bo Wallace (3-star, never enrolled)

After Gilmore

Michigan commits (2016-17)

LB Daelin Hayes (5-star)

DE Khalid Kareem (4-star)

DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji (3-star)

Defensive end recruits (2016-17)

Khalid Kareem (4-star)

Adetokunbo Ogundeji (3-star)

Julian Okwara (4-star)

Robert Beal (4-star)

*All recruiting rankings via Rivals