Advertising Notre Dame brand breaks up recruiting monotony

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – There’s only one college football program in America that has had a recruiting story carried on

That’s gotta count for something, right?

Notre Dame went in for the long haul with a couple recruits last week when it dispatched its equipment tractor and trailer south just to be seen. What better way to advertise the brand than to have it roll into Savannah, Ga., where receiver Demetris Robertson could tweet a picture? Then, it headed west to Gordo, Ala., so linebacker Ben Davis could catch a glimpse.

The rough estimation is a 2,081-mile circuit. A local person with knowledge of the trucking business estimates the loop to have cost about $4,000.

Small change for a chance at a big-time recruit or two. 

It’s just a pittance in the grand scheme of an Irish recruiting budget that could probably keep a third-world country in Twinkies and Ding Dongs for a year.

While the truck visit didn't sway Davis from signing with Alabama on Wednesday, the Irish are still in the mix for Robertson who has pushed his recruitment past signing day.

Funny, nobody seemed ready to own up to hatching the idea Wednesday. Early in the day, recruiting coordinator Mike Elston said it was head coach Brian Kelly’s creation. Later, Kelly said it was Elston’s brainchild and he just signed off on it.

Another chuckle, after the fact, media outlets were scrambling through the NCAA bylaws to figure out which rules Notre Dame may have violated. C’mon folks, this is Notre Dame. The suits — and collars — in charge don’t sharpen a pencil without making sure they won’t get put on probation. They aren’t going to sign off on a truck rumbling all over the country advertising the brand as a rolling billboard without having it approved. And then, approved again, just to be sure.

Kelly said the ploy was meant to be a creative diversion, as much as anything.

“As we get into the last few days of recruiting, it really becomes babysitting,” Kelly said. “We were of the opinion that we were tired of babysitting, and just putting a (coach) in a geographical area just to sit there. What are you going to talk about?

“It's like, you want to send the family home. Christmas is over. You're tired of talking about the same stories, right? Send the relatives home.

“It's the same thing. The last few days of recruiting, I don't know what to talk about anymore. So we said, ‘Well, maybe we can create a buzz by talking about a truck that has a tradition on it. We followed the rules. We drove it there and parked it (where the recruits would be sure to see it), and it seemed to be a better story than anything else that we could create at that time.”

How else would it get on a truckers’ website? Nothing better than a truckers’ buzz.

Why not?

We like being different!

We're looking to shock the world on signing day!!

— Mike Elston (@CoachMikeElston) January 29, 2016

“Mike (Elston) has got the creative end of things, and then he runs that through…,” Kelly said. “The first thing we do is we call on (Notre Dame director of NCAA compliance) Jen Vining-Smith, and we get an OK through compliance, and then he'll run it by me and feel what my temperature is on it. Then we'll go with it.”

Sounds simple enough. At least it’s not something like a coach’s sleepover at a recruit’s home. That’s walking the fine line between out-of-the-box and downright creepy.

Kelly laughed while remembering his first signing day about a quarter century ago at Grand Valley State.

“We were always (focusing on) what the cumulative GPA of the group was,” Kelly said. “We always wanted to make sure we told everybody how good our GPA was, and then I figured that it really didn't matter; it's just how many games you won.

“It's changed a lot. It's about the quality of the kid. It's not the GPA, it's the kind of kid, how he represents your university, and that's much more important than what the GPA rounds out to be.”

Kelly doesn’t seem to be convinced the unofficial science of recruiting is trending in the right direction. Absurd will get attention, but it’s not necessarily the best answer.

“Twitter-sphere has something to do with that, what's going to jump out at you that changes what's being talked about,” Kelly said, even though he played his own role in the shock value. “We're not going to do anything hokey or crazy. You still have to recruit kids and be upfront about who you are. It's still about work and developing relationships. You're not going to get a kid because you sent the truck down there. We did that to break up the monotony of the recruiting at the end of the cycle.

“It's still about hard work. It's still about doing the things necessary to get the right kids, but there's just a little bit more transparency in it. That's about it.”

As long as five-stars keep heading to South Bend, fans won’t care how they get there.

Even if it’s by truck.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talks about National Signing Day during a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN