Sorting out top recruiters biggest challenge in naming All-2000s coaching staff

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Because recruiting is so collaborative when it’s done right, identifying the top Notre Dame football recruiters of the 2000s was perhaps more intuitive than empirical.

That remained the case even when we enlisted the help of some national recruiting analysts with long and familiar histories with the assistant coaches of Brian Kelly, Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham and the final two seasons of the Bob Davie regime.

Coming to a consensus on the other positions for the Tribune’s Notre Dame All-2000s coaching lineup was easier to both concoct and defend.

In the end, we didn’t name a full staff. Instead, we went with a head coach, an offensive and defensive coordinator, the top two position coaches — one on each side of the ball — and the two top recruiters.

And if you’re wondering why former wide receivers coach Urban Meyer didn’t land on the list somewhere, the sample size was too small. His one and only season at ND in the 2000s was the year 2000, and even then it was mitigated by the head coaching of Davie.

Among the names that came up from the current staff for top recruiters of the 2000s were recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and defensive line coach Mike Elston. One analyst made the case for Kelly’s predecessor Weis, who assembled some impressive offensive talent but struggled to get elite defensive front-seven talent until his very last recruiting cycle.

We stuck to assistants anyway. Former offensive line coach Harry Hiestand also garnered strong consideration.

The two recruiters we settled on were two who recruited well positionally and geographically for all positions, the latter a facet not as utilized in ND’s current recruiting structure.

Both had talent-rich territories but tough pulls given the competition and the climate difference. Former running backs coach Tony Alford, currently at Ohio State, won some tough battles in Florida, while Mike Denbrock, now at Cincinnati, was a force on the West Coast.

Alford coached under both Weis and Kelly; Denbrock did so for Willingham and Kelly.

Kelly’s bottom line made him the easy choice for head coach. Denbrock and current defensive coordinator Clark Lea earned the coordinator spots, largely because they have the highest percentages of exceeding (or stifling) their opponents’ average per-game output in both points and yardage of any offensive or defense ND play-callers in at least the past 15 years.

A blend of strong recruiting and elite player development made Hiestand and Elston the choices for top position coaches.

One of Notre Dame’s top recruiters of the 2000s, Tony Alford, has moved on to Ohio State. Tribune File Photo