Al Golden pushes back on Brian Kelly's Notre Dame nutrition knock: 'It's phenomenal'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND— Former Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, now at LSU, went public this week with his criticism of his former employer’s approach to football nutrition, noting the lack of a “training table” at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. 

Former NFL assistant Al Golden, hired less than two months ago as Irish defensive coordinator, vigorously defended his new employer’s approach to sports nutrition when asked about it on Saturday. 

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Golden said. “The people that serve us are first class. Just the amount  of snacks and things that they have ready for (football players) daily. If kids are coming back from study hall, they know there’s a meal that they can come over to the facility to get that’s in the refrigerator and they can heat up on a daily basis.”

Kelly, who left for LSU after 12 seasons at Notre Dame, told the CBS Sports website in an article published Thursday that Notre Dame offers its players “a sack lunch, box lunch” and brings “food in from the cafeteria.” 

Golden, who spent a decade running his own college programs at Temple and Miami, pushed back on that viewpoint. 

“The meals are there the entire day, besides the two that we give them here,” Golden said. “And the other thing that’s great about Notre Dame is the dining facilities all over campus. This is not a 60,000-student (campus), so they’re intimate dining facilities. The food is really good, and they’re very accessible for the kids. They don’t have to take a bus to go eat.”

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden and Kyle Hamilton during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, April 02, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Eddy Street Commons is nearby, Golden noted, for those who want to dine off campus.

“These kids, trust me, they’re doing really well,” he said. “We’ll put our strength staff against anybody in the country, the tremendous job that they do making sure the kids are making good choices and that their weight is where it needs to be and that they’re working at an optimal level. Coach (Matt) Balis and his group are phenomenal.”

Like many programs around the country, COVID policies forced Notre Dame to adopt a grab-and-go approach for team meals the past two seasons. Mixing with non-athletes at some meals, Golden added, is actually a positive for Irish football players. 

“That’s part of the mission of the university,” he said. “We’re trying to develop self-reliant, independent young men that can operate on a daily basis. They get everything they need over here, including from a nutrition piece, but yet they can be a part of the greater university.

"That’s the philosophy of Notre Dame and obviously from Father (John) Jenkins to (athletic director) Jack Swarbrick to now Marcus Freeman, that’s a big part of it.:” 

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Chris Smith adds depth 

Golden also addressed the addition of Harvard graduate transfer Chris Smith to the interior defensive line. 

Smith, a 6-foot-2, 300-pounder from Detroit, had announced plans to transfer to Minnesota before reversing course with a public announcement on April 6. 

“Just a big, strong, physical guy,” Golden said. “We needed an inside guy. He played well for them, both in his ability to anchor but also in the movement skill. He was looking to do this for one year and make an impact. We think he can help us. It’s exciting to have him.”

The graduation loss of experienced nose tackle Kurt Hinish, combined with the torn ACL 310-pound backup Aidan Keanaaina suffered on the first play of spring practice, created a need. 

“We just don’t know when (Keanaaina) will be ready to come back, so we’re erring on the side of being conservative there,” Golden said. “When Chris became available, obviously a kid that met our profile, so we thought the transition would be smooth for him. When he demonstrated that he was interested, that obviously piqued our interest and we were able to get him committed.”

Smith was first-team All-Ivy League last season for a Crimson team that went 8-2 and finished third in the league.

Notre Dame incoming freshman nose guard Aidan Keanaaina is focusing on conditioning while in pandemic quarantine.

Scrimmage takeaways 

Originally scheduled for Notre Dame Stadium, Saturday’s 100-plus play closed scrimmage was pushed indoors due to wet, chilly conditions. 

“I wanted to go outside, but I wanted to get efficient work in,” Freeman said. “We’ve got that beautiful indoor (facility). It doesn’t get too cold in there.” 

The offense held off a late rally by the defense to win by five points, Freeman said. The only turnover was a late interception thrown by sophomore Tyler Buchner, but Freeman said he was pleased with the play of both quarterback combatants, including redshirt sophomore Drew Pyne. 

“It’s a great competition; it is,” Freeman said. “It’s still an evolving process until you name a starter. I wouldn’t hesitate to put either of the two in the game because they’re both really good football players and they can help us win.”

Neither Buchner nor Pyne has started a college game as they vie to replace NFL hopeful Jack Coan.

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino and email him at mberardino@gannett.com.