Chat Transcript: Talking Notre Dame football, COVID-19 and beyond

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to the first Notre Dame Football Live Chat of the spring. Eric Hansen: I realize there's a lot of fear out there with the coronavirus, and I want to be mindful of that in two ways today ... respect the measures that need to be taken to ensure safety, but also provide some relief from all the crazy news where you can just ask a football question and we can have some fun too. So we'll do both today.

Eric Hansen: OK we have some breaking news right out of the gate. Notre Dame spring football practice has been suspended and so has recruiting visits for Notre Dame football. I'll get to your questions. PLEASE remember to include your name and hometown.

Raymond Haines from Parts Unknown: I wonder if there will be a spring game next month or not due to virus? I am thinking about attending that game. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Raymond, please include your hometown next time. We're not certain how long the suspension of activities will last. If there's a point later in the spring that there can be an abbreviated practice schedule, I'd imagine that could be considered. I doubt they would hold the Blue-Gold Game. They might be working around exams, though they do that during bowl prep every year. One compromise might be having an open scrimmage in August at the stadium.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Did ND really conduct a nationwide search for an offensive coordinator? One of Father Hesburgh's favorite sayings was, 'Age alone is no real guarantee of quality unless one is considering wine or cheese." Wish Tommy luck!! Chase Claypool seemed to respond to Chip Long's coaching. Could the real problem lie with the line coach teaching fundamentals? You're the best, so your opinion is valued!!

Eric Hansen: Bill, thanks. It depends how you define the term "search." Absolutely, Brian Kelly kicked the tires on outside candidates. Did he ever seriously consider one of them could beat out Rees? I think he set out to do that. I'm not sure in practice that's what happened. I do know at this point he is very happy with his decision. Not to get too deep into the Chip Long question, not everyone responds to a coach in a similar fashion.

Joe from Georgia: Unprecedented peril for coaches now. What they do, or fail to do, will be harshly judged in hindsight. Imagine being judged by future recruits/families based on this Corona panic. The only "safe" course is a complete shutdown and providing for free transportation home for all who want such. Trying to "split the baby" as ND did by allowing sweaty practices while canceling all physical classes will cost dearly down the road. Now, at ND, add Declan. Not fair. Not logical. Yet there it is.

Eric Hansen: Joe, I know you submitted this before the news broke today of the suspension of spring practice. I think the school wanted to take its time. There was no advantage in making a quick and/or rigid decision. Remaining fluid as things return back to normal is going to be key as well.

Drew from San Diego: What are your thoughts on Tyler Buchner's decision to transfer from The Bishop's School in San Diego to Helix High (Reggie Bush's school) for the fall? Will this affect his decision to enroll early at ND?

Eric Hansen: There wasn't a lot of clarity in the note the family sent out to the media. It seems this enhances his path to enrolling early, not detracts from it. It didn't state this in the release, but this does give him a chance to play again much higher-level competition during the regular season. That, in turn, would better prepare him for competing for the starting QB job in 2021 as a true freshmen — theoretically.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: How will the anticipated spread of the coronavirus impact your coverage of the ND football team?

Eric Hansen: We're like everyone else — going day to day. This is a new set of circumstances I've never encountered during my career. If you could tell me how long this will last, I'd have a better answer for you. Certainly there will be stories about how players are coping/training at home, if there could be practices in the summer, etc. Right now it's so new, and it seems to change every hour.

John from St. Petersburg, Fla.: Eric, thanks for the chat. I like the addition of Chris Watt as a graduate assistant coach. What duties and responsibilities can a GA perform? I also am assuming he will be very involved with the offensive line. Is that a correct assumption?

Eric Hansen: Unlike an analyst role, graduate assistant coaches can do actual on-field coaching. They can help with breaking down film. Essentially they're a coaching in training. Chris will work with the offensive line. Once normal activities resume. we'll make sure to tease out that story line a little more for everyone.

Manny from San Pedro, Calif.: Eric!!!!!!!!!! Love that the chat is back. This virus stuff is crazy. Any chance spring practice gets canceled or any other offseason activity?

Eric Hansen: Manny!!!!!! I have been worried about you. Glad to have you on the chat. For now spring practice is suspended and not canceled, which means theoretically it could resume at some point if conditions warrant that. Keep in mind, we really don't have a precedent for this, so I think the tendency by those making the decisions — at ND and elsewhere — is to lean on the side of overreacting rather than risk not doing enough.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, thanks for having the chat. Which players. if any, do you think are the most likely candidates to switch from offense to defense this season? Avery Davis has been the ultimate team player. It would be great if he could see some meaningful playing time this year. Which position do you think gives him the best chance for that? Do you ever get to talk to him and ask him where he would like to play? One final question: It may be too early to tell but can you get a sense of how involved John McNulty will be with helping to coach the quarterbacks? Quarterback development has not been strong in the Kelly era. I'm hoping maybe he will be able to help give it an upgrade. As always. thank for the great coverage.

Eric Hansen: Marie. thanks. I would say Xavier Watts and Joe Wilkins would be the most camera-ready to make the switch to defense, though I'm not predicting either at this point. Still, haven't talked to Avery, but I did talk to someone close to him who expects he'll stay on offense and that Avery likes that. I think where he is right now, slot receiver, is the clearest path to playing time for him. ... In the one practice we saw, John McNulty only worked with tight ends, and Brian Kelly kind of suggested that's one reason he liked that hire, to give tight ends full attention. That doesn't mean McNulty's coordinator experience and experience coaching other positions won't be valuable in the meeting room, including pertaining to quarterbacks.

Mark from Pittsburgh, Pa.: Eric, interested to know where you would rank Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah among ND outside linebackers for the last decade. Seems to me right now he's as good as anybody aside from Jaylon Smith, and he still has an upside.

Eric Hansen: He is an ascending player, so this answer could be a little different come fall. Jaylon played only one year outside, though he would have been great there, had he not moved inside out of necessity. Danny Spond was really good on the 2012 team. Remember, Notre Dame ran a 3-4 through 2013, so Darius Fleming, Prince Shembo, etc., were outside linebackers. But that feels like an apples-to-oranges comparison, given the vastly different duties Jeremiah has versus those guys. I would say if he's not there yet at the top of the list, he will be there this fall.

Neil from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric, is there any update on the recruitment of Will Shipley and Rocco Spindler? Do you know when they plan on making their decision?

Eric Hansen: I think Rocco was closer to a decision than Will, and Notre Dame is very much in play for both. Because recruiting has also been suspended — both on-campus visits and coaches going out on the road for the spring evaluation period — I would think both decisions would be delayed.

Brian from St.Louis: Eric, You see teams such as Alabama, LSU and most of the SEC add former head coaches (Charlie Strong to Alabama) and offensive/defensive coordinators (Chip Long to Tennessee) of Power 5 programs to their off-the-field staffs. Where does ND stand in this regard and do they have the same number off-the-field positions of some of these SEC schools? If so, who are they? The only name I've heard is Bill Rees, Tommy's father, and most recently former DB coach Kerry Cooks as a defensive analyst.

Eric Hansen: Brian, here's a link to ND's entire football staff:

Eric Hansen: Notre Dame has fewer analysts than Alabama, and Brian Kelly does not feel that has put them at a competitive disadvantage. Jeff Quinn, for instance, was a senior analyst before he succeeded Harry Hiestand as offensive line coach. There are other very valuable roles that are not analysts. Bill Rees is director of scouting, for instance. Dave Peloquin is director of player personnel. Again. in these types of roles, Alabama has more, but ND is happy with its quality.

Jim Toledo: Good to have Chris Watt and Kerry Cooks back. Could you expand on the duties/responsibilities of grad assistants and analysts or even the number of them at any given time of year?

Eric Hansen: I outlined the grad assistant role a little earlier. Analysts can do many of the same things coaches can do EXCEPT actual on-field coaching. When Jeff Quinn was an analyst, he brought a lot of analytics to the table, which in turn helped the coaches make better in-game decisions. Christian Parker spent a lot of time talking to players directly, so his analyst role was a bit different. They can't go out on the road recruiting, but they can talk to recruits during visits, I believe. So there are restrictions on them, but it's not a one-size-fits-all in terms of responsibilities beyond those restrictions.

Neil from Grand Rapids, Mich.: With our 2020 recruiting class set, our 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes potential trending up right now, I personally think that Notre Dame will not only make the College Football Playoff, but they have a great chance of winning the whole thing in 2023. I know there are a lot of variables that go into recruiting, but I just wanted your opinion on the realistic chances that our Fighting Irish can win a national championship by 2023.

Eric Hansen: I think they're positioning themselves to support your argument. They still have less margin for error than the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world, but the better they recruit, the better their chances.

Matt from DC: (A) Did Brian Kelly really want Tony Jones, Jr. back? I was surprised that he left a year of eligibility on the table when it was pretty clear he was a long shot to get drafted. Did BK tell him he wouldn’t be the starter next year, and nudge him in that direction? (B) How will ND handle the (totally bogus) vacated wins in their official records, and why? For example, is BK closing in on the Holtz/Rockne win total, or not (if the wins are taken away)? How will ND handle that awkwardness? (C) I still don’t get why ND won’t consider a lawsuit to recover those wins. Jack Swarbrick told you that wasn’t an option, but Penn State successfully sued to restore JoePa’s wins. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Matt we answered a couple of those on the Pod of Gold podcast, as you requested. With Tony Jones, he would have been welcomed back, but he knows more tread on the tires is not necessarily a plus for running backs who aspire to play in the NFL. So with degree in hand, he bolted. He knows he's a long shot, but he may have been even more of an NFL long shot had he stayed one more year. That isn't the case with some of the other positions, like offensive linemen.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, how do you think that the missed practices affect the team as we get ready for the new season?

Eric Hansen: I would imagine there will be other teams that follow this pattern, so that eventually everyone is in a similar situation ... so no competitive disadvantage. The unknown is how long does this last? A month? A few months? Into September? I'm sure the decision-makers are working on different contingency plans as we speak, depending on the length of suspended activities. Certainly doing some of this in the summer is a possibility if we're back to normal by then.

Murph from South Bend: Hey Eric! Thanks for your time. Why is the ND/Wisconsin series not taking place on campuses? My assumptions are money and money. Sure you can make the argument a Shamrock Series game helps with local recruiting, but overall these neutral-site games are a travesty. Not getting to experience Madison for an ND game is sad, but hey, SOLDIER FIELD!

Eric Hansen: Here's Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick's response when I asked him that question:

Expanding this two-game Wisconsin series to four games, and including games on the respective campuses, was intriguing but not practical.

“The available inventory is such that you would be so far out that it was better to focus on what we could do right now,” Swarbrick said. “We would love to do that. We think getting to Madison would be great. But when you’re trying to find these windows — we did an unusual deal recently with Arkansas, where the games are split by so many years (2020 at ND, 2025 at Arkansas).

“Most schools don’t want to do that, so you’ve got to find two windows that are right back to back, and we don’t have a lot of those.”

Lee from Lancaster, SC: Brian Kelly's teams win 10 games a year and most of his players graduate. Why does he have to win a national championship to be considered a great coach, particularly since ND prides itself on being a premier academic institution and not a football factory?

Eric Hansen: The bar at Notre Dame is national titles. And ND doesn't believe being a premier academic institution and football excellence are mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, they're proud that they strive to do both.

Eric Hansen: I'm going to end things here. At the top I mentioned doing the chats weekly through the spring. Until there is news that dictates otherwise, we'll suspend the chats for now. We will be working on story lines pertaining to ND athletics in the meantime. So be sure to stay connected to Thanks for all your great questions and for trying to add some normalcy to this very unusual circumstance we are experiencing.

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