Notre Dame football: Contract extension all but a done deal for Kelly

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - It had almost become the college football equivalent of Linus and the Great Pumpkin.

Since the days leading up to the BCS National Championship Game, a contract extension for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was a given, was imminent, was a no-brainer. So it seemed.

More than eight months later, there hasn’t been so much as a peep from ND’s prepared statement land, which gave rise to, then heightened, speculation ranging from the pragmatic to the absurd about what might be going on behind the scenes.

During his fall camp kickoff press conference Friday, Kelly tackled the subject and mentioned that the two sides had indeed agreed to a contract extension in principle way back in December.

“We have a contract and an agreement,” said Kelly, whose old contract (updated after the 2011 season) had four seasons remaining on it.

“We have people that are paid money to look at these contracts. They look at them very closely. They don't operate as quickly as I would like to. But there are no issues contractually. There is no leverage play here.

“I'm really excited about our leadership. My opportunities to speak after the season on a couple occasions with (Notre Dame president) Father (John) Jenkins have given me the energy and excitement that we can continue to build and grow this football program for years to come.”

ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the South Bend Tribune that completing the process by the time the Irish kicked off the 2013 season, Aug. 31 against Temple, was a realistic timetable.

“It’s moved at the pace I would expect it to move,” Swarbrick said. “There’s nothing unusual about the process or the pace. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty consistent with other contracts we’ve done during my time here — from the time we begin talking until the time we’ve had an announcement.”

Kelly said trying to get resources for his program hasn’t been, nor will ever be, part of the negotiation process.

“If I had to do that, I would not be here,” he said. “Our university knows exactly what it takes. We have no issues relative to (the) contract. I have no issues. So that's not a story from my standpoint. ... “I don't need an announcement. I have a signed contract. I'm getting paid every day. I'm fortunate to be the head coach at Notre Dame. I'm not really worried about that stuff.”

Personnel matters

•Notre Dame’s No. 1 defense has benefited from some strong looks in practice from the Irish scout team offense the past three years, with Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel all filling that role for extended stretches.

Freshman Malik Zaire, Kelly confirmed Friday, will not follow in their path. Instead, the current third-stringer will focus on learning the Notre Dame offense this season rather than trying to simulate Irish opponents’.

“We want to keep him with the starters,” Kelly said. “That's important. He needs to get that firsthand knowledge of the offense and defense, see the college game.”

As far as the scout team QB?

“We have to find alternatives within the program. We're on the waiver wire. We're looking carefully. We made the calls to the dorms. But we'll solve that internally.”

•Freshman wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., received some good news — finally — regarding his recovery from a broken femur suffered on Jan. 1.

After a setback in June that threatened to shelve the 6-foot, 178-pound Prospect, Texas, product for the 2013 season, Hunter’s X-rays last week showed the bone was healing correctly.

“I’d say he’s probably two weeks before he’s running naturally,” Kelly said. “Probably a month (before he’s full-go) is what the estimation is right now, but he’s a lot better. Obviously, he was very down when he was not seeing the kind of signs and the growth necessary. We’ll X-ray it every two weeks and then kind of take it from there.”

Hunter suffered the injury in preparation for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a high school all-star game, in San Antonio, Texas.

•Former Notre Dame basketball player Joey Brooks’ dalliance with football is over.

Brooks, who would have been a fifth-year senior, joined the Irish in time for spring practice in March and was trying out as a tight end.

In the end, he was caught in a numbers game. The Irish have five tight ends on the roster, including freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe.

“We just felt like at that position we were in very good hands,” Kelly said. “Bringing in Mike Heuerman as a mid-year (enrollee) ... we did not want to stunt his growth. And Joey did a very good job for us, came in, worked hard, did everything we asked him to do.

“This was simply about a young kid, in Heuerman, obviously giving him more of the reps that Joey would have taken from him.”

l The hope last winter, in Kelly’s mind, was that junior Kyle Brindza would be ND’s No. 1 option at placekicker, kickoff man and punter this season. A disjointed spring, in which wet weather pushed most of the Irish workouts inside, distorted Brindza’s punting prowess.

Kelly is still confident Brindza, a standout high school punter in Michigan, can add that skill to his college résumé.

“He's a hard worker,” Kelly said. “He's extremely conscientious. He's a very good competitor. He's got the skill set. This is really going to be something that we'll continue to look at each and every day. But our expectations are that he's got the makeup to do it.

“Now, we brought in a couple other young men that will vie for the punting position. Our expectations are that Kyle can do it.”

Wake Forest grad school transfer Alex Wulfeck and freshman walk-on Andrew Antognoli comprise Brindza’s chief competition.

Hitting the right notes

Well, the good news for walk-on cornerback Jesse Bongiovi is no one is likely to shoehorn the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Poly Prep product into a cheesy “Rudy” comparison.

The intrigue regarding the 5-9, 183-pound son of rocker Jon Bon Jovi is how exactly he landed at ND.

“Well, recruiting Poly Prep is very important for us,” Kelly said. “Recruiting in that area put us in touch with him. He's had a relationship with Notre Dame. It goes back to (former) coach (Charlie) Weis.

“Jesse has earned his spot. He's a tough kid. The kids really like him. They respect him. They don't look at him as a rock star's son. They look at him as a kid that loves Notre Dame and wants to play football and help this team. He's had a good summer.”

Georgia on his mind?

During a barrage of listener questions on Thursday night’s Budweiser’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show Thursday, Kelly was asked if Notre Dame was planning on putting any Southeastern Conference schools on its upcoming schedules.

“We’d really like to,” Kelly said. “Georgia is a natural team that we’d love to play, obviously, because the Atlanta area is a great Notre Dame area; but it’s such a difficult thing now.

“We’re trying to keep some of those natural rivalries going. And then with the (five-game annual) commitment to the ACC. It’s really difficult, because if you started adding Georgia along with USC, Stanford and five ACC schools, I want to be fair to our players as well. We want a balanced schedule.

“So, as much as we’d love to be down there in the SEC, I think in the next few years we’re going to have to see them in the national championship game.”

Vanderdoes aftershocks

It didn’t take Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick long to form an opinion about whether UCLA freshman defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes’ successful appeal to get out of his national letter-of-intent with Notre Dame would open the door for more people to challenge the letter-of-intent system around college athletics.

“I can’t imagine that it won’t,” Swarbrick said. “And as a matter of fact, some anecdotal evidence from some other schools in the past 24 hours suggests that we’re already seeing evidence of it.”

Pitching in

Kelly got to throw out the first pitch on June 18 for a Red Sox game with Tampa Bay at Fenway Park in Boston (won by the home team).

The right-handed thrower (who writes with his left hand) purported to throw a split-finger fastball, which apparently was respectable enough that he didn’t end up getting lampooned on YouTube, a la pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen.

“It was a strike,” Kelly insisted of his pitch.

His secret to pitching accuracy?

“I closed my eyes,” he said.

Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire will be working with the first-string quarterbacks this fall.