Q&A Part II: Brian Polian addresses hypotheticals looming for Notre Dame recruiting

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Maintaining a formidable recruiting operation requires a balance between handling the day-to-day minutiae while preparing for looming hypotheticals.

Notre Dame recruiting/special teams coordinator Brian Polian continues to align with that philosophy during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Polian will engage the what-ifs, but only until the exercise becomes too exhausting or detracts him from worrying about tomorrow’s problems.

Though, not thinking forwardly enough also risks being blindsided.

In a Zoom call with the Tribune on Thursday, Polian touched on a variety of topics related to Irish recruiting. The discussion focused on this two-sided approach of looking to handle today's adversity while also bracing for theoretical challenges.

Presented below, the second part of this two-course Q&A series delves into the latter’s process. The first part ran online on Thursday and brought more concrete answers about Notre Dame’s current situation.

Q: You talked in April about senior film becoming more important for schools still needing to evaluate 2021 recruits late this cycle. How would no high school football this fall change Notre Dame’s evaluation process and overall approach?

Polian: “There are situations now where you don’t have spring football or camps. A prospect might ask, ‘Coach, where am I on the (recruiting target) board? And what questions do I have to answer for you guys? What parts of the puzzle still need to be put in place?’ There have been times where it’s been like, ‘Hey, we want to see you move in and out of breaks.’ Or, ‘We have a concern about XYZ.’

"Then guys will film themselves doing drills. I’ve seen schools across the country saying, ‘Hey, we lost camps. Do you want to do a digital combine? Film yourself doing these drills and send that to us.’ I have been impressed with the amount of high school prospects who are willing to do those things. And saying, ‘Coach, all right, what is it exactly that you want to see me do?’ And then two weeks later, here comes eight clips sent to you over your phone. But those things, believe it or not, are helpful.

"Because when you look at a junior tape and you say, ‘All right, I’m just not comfortable with XYZ,’ and then a prospect six or eight months later is able to show you tape and say, ‘Hey, here I am doing these things. Look how I’ve improved.’ That’s really helpful. We’ve seen a bunch of that. I know a lot of schools across the country have seen similar.”

Q: With the expectation that there will be a wave of decommitments this fall, do you guys anticipate being more aggressive with poaching recruits verbally committed to other classes?

Polian: “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that very much. I mean, I don’t like the term ‘poach’ (laughs). We know that there are guys committed to other schools right now who want to continue building relationships with us and other schools. There are prospects in the country who were concerned about: what is recruiting going to look like? Should I commit now before places fill up? I know that there were universities that were telling guys, ‘Yes, we are in a dead period amid a pandemic, but we might fill up so you better take your spot right now.’

"If at some point visits open back up, there will be a lot of verbally committed prospects wanting to visit other schools. I know that for a fact. And then it’s going to depend on how you approach it. How does the kid and the family feel about it? And how does the university that has received the verbal commitment feel about it?

"But yeah, I believe that there are going to be a lot of verbally committed prospects who will want to take visits if at any point these campuses open back up. But that’s the million-dollar question. And nobody’s got the answer to that.”

Q: If campus visits are permitted again, do you guys already have a plan for protocols and how many recruits will be able to come to campus at once?

Polian: “We have thought processes in place, but the reality of it is, that guidance won’t be coming from this office. And in some cases, it may not come from the campus. It may come from state and local government. We are prepared to deal with whatever the parameters are, and we will work accordingly.

"And to be honest with you, from my personal perspective, and I’m not speaking for coach Kelly or anybody else, if visits were in place with parameters, that would probably be the best-case scenario. That would be considered a victory. We have to consider a recruiting cycle where there won’t be any more visits. It would be naïve not to prepare for that eventuality."

Q: Whether it’s removing the three-day early signing period in December or something else, is there something the NCAA could do to help schools with these unforeseen recruiting challenges?

Polian: “I have thought about the pros and cons of moving the signing date back to February. For prospects, that sounds like a dramatic thing. But they forget that it was three or four years ago (2017 class) that the only signing day was in February. So it’s not an earth-shattering idea. That’s just one opinion. I’m not a part of that decision-making process ultimately.

"I think if you knew that campuses were going to be able to open up in December and January, and that there would be value in that — to just say, ‘Hey, let’s not have an early signing day when no campus has been open since St. Patrick’s Day.’ But I don’t think anybody can say that for certain. So if that’s the case, then it really has no effect. And again, that’s my personal opinion. In the end, we’re all in a very difficult situation here. It’s unique. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with.

"The extension of the dead periods, they’ve come out early. (The NCAA) has said weeks in advance, ‘Hey, we are going to take this through this date.’ I think the leadership there has been helpful for us in terms of understanding how the landscape was going to look moving forward. I have no doubt that between the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) and the NCAA, they will make the decision that they think is best.”

Q: The 2021 class won't be the only recruiting cycle that will be impacted by this pandemic. Assuming we have a COVID-19 vaccine next year, what do you expect to be the full ripple effect for Irish recruiting in the years to come?

Polian: “Those are hypotheticals, and really, we are so focused here on just the next day and checking off all the boxes. Our focus is there. To think about how all of this would affect Notre Dame recruiting two or three years down the road, I have no idea. The 2022’s in particular, we are having to fill in the blanks as best as we can. We have the sophomore film. That’s the easiest part.

"It’s the: what does the academic profile look like? What’s the background information? How are we able to get to know these guys even though it’s not Sept. 1 of their junior year yet? So we aren’t able to text them. We are having to go through the (high school) coaches. We are grinding like everybody else is.

"But in terms of long-term effects, I can’t speak to that. Because honestly, we aren’t even on the back of this thing to be able to think about how it’s going to affect us in the future. I’d like to get through it first.”

Notre Dame recruiting/special teams coordinator Brian Polian spoke with the Tribune on Thursday.