Inside Recruiting: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's recruiting prowess and involvement

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Editor’s Note: Inside Recruiting addresses key topics involving Notre Dame football recruiting and recruiting in general. We plan to make it a regular staple of our Irish football coverage.

The story is presented in a roundtable format. Today’s contributors are Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports, and Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports.

Two college football writers for The Athletic (Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman) recently named their top 25 current college football coaches. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly landed at No. 3 on both lists, behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. Where would you rank Kelly as a recruiter?

Wiltfong: “He is excellent in the living room or on Zoom. Whenever he’s in front of people, he is terrific. I would love to see him get in front of people a little bit more.”

Lemming: “Kelly’s very knowledgeable and he’s also very personable. What the kids tell me is that in the house, he’s definitely a top three guy. Saban’s more of an intense guy. Dabo is more relaxed, like a Mack Brown type of guy in the house. Kelly is sort of a mixture in between, which is a good mix.

“You don’t want to be too relaxed. You want to make sure that they see the fire in you. When Kelly decides to go after someone, there’s very few in the country — if any — that are better than him.”

There’s been a pledge from Kelly for him to increase his involvement in ND’s recruiting process at key junctures. How much of a difference can that make and are we seeing tangible signs of that already?

Wiltfong: “He could be the difference in a bunch of these blue-chip battles, because he is so great at communicating Notre Dame’s message and why a young man should come play there. And he is one of the few known names.

“I was talking to Dante Moore, the 2023 quarterback (from Detroit) over the weekend, and he thought it was so cool that he was just talking to Brian Kelly, who just took his team to the College Football Playoff.

“If Brian Kelly is in the forefront of a few key targets’ minds each cycle, I guarantee Notre Dame’s chances of landing those kids would increase. Now, I say that not knowing what else he has to balance on his plate, but he’s looking to find two more wins. And I think he can help be the difference in that on the trail.”

Lemming: “It’ll make an immense difference, because Kelly is the famous guy at Notre Dame. He’s the front man. He’s the Mick Jagger of the Notre Dame program. You need a guy like that.

“With their assistant coaches, they’ve got so many up-and-coming good guys at Notre Dame, in a couple of years a lot of the other guys are going to be famous. But right now, Kelly is the front man, the guy everybody knows. If he increases his visibility, it’s definitely going to increase Notre Dame’s chances of landing five-star-type prospects.

“What he said is coming true, and I’ve watched it happen over the past couple of months. His involvement and offering kids early is putting Notre Dame way ahead of where they’re used to being.”

Is Name/Image/Likeness (NIL) yet a concept kids are asking about and coaches are selling on the recruiting trail?

Wiltfong: “Yeah absolutely. Notre Dame had to do a Name/Image/Likeness (hypothetical) with Rocco Spindler to get him in the boat. And if you’re Notre Dame, you’re excited about Name/Image/Likeness, because the media loves Notre Dame.

“If they can get an angle to get Notre Dame on the tube, they want to. If a bowl committee can get Notre Dame into a bowl game, they work hard to make it happen. If Christian McCaffrey comes to Notre Dame, maybe he wins the Heisman Trophy.

“I think that Notre Dame should be relishing this Name/Image/Likeness deal, because the platform that they give their athletes, I think, is unique — that only a few other schools can offer.”

Lemming: “I see all the kids in person all over the country, and they’re not bringing it up to me. They’re right now thinking about getting into college. The Name/Image/Likeness concerns will come once they get there. So it will be when they get to college and establish themselves. That’s way down the list of priorities for now.”

Once NIL is defined and a reality, how, if at all, might it change the recruiting dynamic?

Wiltfong: “I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know schools should have a plan. A lot of these athletes view themselves as brands already. They’re building their self-worth from a financial standpoint, not an internal standpoint.

“The schools that have the best plans for it are going to reap the rewards from it on game day. But that plan goes beyond just having opportunities for having your kids make earnings off their name, but also being able to handle it in your locker room. There’s going to be jealousies and things people aren’t even thinking about right now.

“You’re going to have to deal with that also — like, ‘I’m not getting mine, so now I’m not happy here.’”

Lemming: “I think it’ll help Notre Dame along with the other top 10 teams. They have more visible ball players. When the younger kids see it happening with the college players, they’re going to want to go to the schools that are going to get them the most money. There are people that would say, maybe only partly jokingly, that some schools have been doing that for years.”

Notre Dame has extended a scholarship offer to Arch Manning (16), a five-star QB prospect in the 2023 class from New Orleans.

What’s your take on Notre Dame taking a run at five-star 2023 QB Arch Manning? Any sense of who they’ll end up with as their QB in the 2023 class?

Wiltfong: “I think they should take a run at anybody that they think is a great player and that can help them win a national championship, regardless of where they live. Isidore Newman is a private school in New Orleans that Notre Dame should be attractive to the parents of kids who go there, as well as the kids themselves.

“For Arch Manning, specifically, he’s going to pick a school that gives him the best opportunity to develop into the player he wants to be. So I mean Notre Dame’s a school that plays the type of games Arch Manning wants to play in. So we’ll see what happens.

“I think Notre Dame is really in it for Dante Moore from Detroit right now. I think that his coaching staff up there loves the idea of Notre Dame for Dante.

“They’re not pushing him there, but they love the offense. They love Brian Kelly. They have great respect for Notre Dame. It’s close to home. They think the offense fits Dante. They think the school itself fits Dante. So they’re way in on that one.

“Other quarterbacks are going to emerge on the national stage in the 2023 class. There are quarterbacks right now that we’re not talking about, that we’re not considering as being one of the best in the country yet, but who are going to emerge later. So Notre Dame’s infrastructure has got to keep them on top of those guys to know who they are and go get them.”

Lemming: “I was just down there in New Orleans 10 days ago, and I spent some time with Arch Manning and his coach, coach (Nelson) Stewart, at Isidore Newman.

“It’s a unique school to begin with. It’s like 120 years old. It’s almost surrounded by above-ground cemeteries. You can see them from the stands.

“I think Archie Manning, the grandfather, contacted Notre Dame to let them know Arch would be interested in Notre Dame. So there appears to be interest both ways. However, you’ve got Duke with David Cutcliffe. You’ve got Tennessee with Peyton. You’ve got Ole Miss with the grandfather and Eli. Then you’ve got LSU pounding away, taking two of his good friends from the same class and who are committed there already.

“It’s going to be tough. I think it will be a good test for (ND offensive coordinator) Tommy Rees to land a five-star quarterback. Tyler Buchner probably could have been a five-star had he played this year, but Notre Dame hasn’t landed one in a while.

“I think Manning would be a great feather in Rees’ cap if he could land him. It’s still early. There’s still a lot of evaluation that will be going on between now and September. And California, which is a big state for quarterbacks, is playing right now. You will be getting more interest in other quarterbacks as soon as their film comes in from those kids.

“But Arch Manning has ice water in his veins. He’s very quiet, goes about his business. He’d be perfect for Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly (right) shakes hands with Irish safety Kyle Hamilton, then a recruit back in the fall of 2018.