Brian Kelly recounts Notre Dame-Georgia Tech battle for Tuitt

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — They cross paths in recruiting more than one might think — usually in battles that involve offensive linemen or defensive players and usually tussles that lack sizzle, drama or both.

The exception and the fiercest between Notre Dame head coach football coach Brian Kelly and Georgia Tech counterpart Paul Johnson, whose top 15 teams clash Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium (3:30 p.m. EDT; NBC-TV), involved former Irish standout defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the 2011 recruiting cycle.

The home visit is also the most memorable Kelly said in his 25 years as a college head coach, in part because of an inadvertent encounter of sorts with Johnson.

Tuitt, a five-star prospect from Monroe, Ga., first committed to the Irish during the process, then flipped to Tech, much to the disdain of Tuitt’s mother, Tamara Bartlett, a Gwinnett County deputy sheriff.

Kelly was able to schedule a home visit with Bartlett’s blessing, and Tuitt changed his mind back to ND.

“I said (to Tuitt), ‘You need to get on the phone and you need to call coach Johnson right now and let him know that,” Kelly recalled this summer. “Well, he got on the phone and called coach Johnson, and Johnson didn’t know that I was there. I was with (then-assistant) Chuck Martin.

“And (Johnson) goes, ‘You’re going to Notre Dame? (To play for) That guy from Grand Valley State?’

“And we could hear him on the phone. And so he’s tearing us apart. We finally had to interrupt and say, ‘You better let him know that we’re here, ‘cause we’re getting quite angry.’ ”

And that may not have even been the worst of it.

“Where he lived, there was like one hotel in the whole area,” Kelly said. “And it was like a scene out of (Psycho) — the Bates Motel. I mean I literally stayed at the Bates Motel.

“Let’s put it this way, (defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco wouldn’t even stay at the place. But I did.”

Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt celebrates after an interception in Notre Dame's end zone during the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2013, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)