Chat Transcript: Talking portal peril, the newest QB and Notre Dame's Alabama aftermath

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat post-playoff edition. Please remember to include your name and hometown along with your question. We've got a full queue, so if I don't have deadline obligations at 3, we're going to sail into overtime today to get to more of your questions. Let's go.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, Thanks for doing such a fantastic job hosting the chats this year. They have been something to look forward to every week. The lack of offensive creativity during the game was disappointing. I am sure Tommy Rees will be a brilliant offensive coordinator one day but has a ways to go. What specifically can he work on in the offseason to improve his abilities? Is it possible he could spend some time learning from a seasoned college or NFL OC to help speed up his learning curve?

Eric Hansen: Marie, thank you for your great questions and your passion. There are more layers to this question than it might seem. First, when you get to these playoff matchups, you're going against as good as there is in coaching. Brent Venables from Clemson, and the best defensive mind of our generation and maybe all time in college football, in Nick Saban. Next, when Notre Dame has struggled in the big-stage games, it's usually been the offense that has set the table for problems on both sides of the ball. So that's not just Rees, but Chip Long and Brian Kelly. Specifically to Rees, about moving up the timetable somehow, I think John McNulty's presence on the staff helps some in that regard. Knowing Tommy, he'll look for ways to learn from his mistakes. I still think he had a really good year, but did not finish strong.

There's one more important dynamic. Notre Dame's commitment to play ball-control football and complementary football. It was smart, because it got them to the playoff. It worked against Clemson the first time and a prolific North Carolina offense. But Brian Kelly found out it's not going to win playoff games. Not without playing the perfect game and getting an incredible amount of luck (multiple turnovers from the opponent). I think he knew that before this season, but he built a system that fit his current personnel. Notre Dame needs a QB who can be top 10 in passing efficiency nationally moving forward. Not a knock on Ian Book, but it's what the next step looks like.

The next wave of receivers, is speedier and twitchier. That group has got to be developed. That's not a position where experience is an absolute necessity. Notre Dame's recruiting is starting to reflect that. So there's hope.

Johngipp from Lititz, Pa.: Hey Eric. Hope the new year finds you and your family safe. I have a question about wide receivers in general and coaching in particular. You did not need to be a football guru to see the disparity between Clemson/Alabama and ND at this position. It's obvious recruitment needs a big upgrade. What also concerns me is that the receivers toil in obscurity until they are upperclassmen.

Eric Hansen: John, I agree with that. With the talent that is on the roster and the talent that's coming in, there needs to be quantum development. I give the program a bit of a pass last season, with one spring practice and a crammed session of training camp, when there wasn't time or circumstance to work as much with chemistry/timing with the younger receivers. This year, I'm going to assume there won't be that obstacle or at least it won't be so formidable.

Rick from Northville, Mich.: Regarding the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, some experts are saying that "herd immunity" will not be achieved until late 2021 or early 2022, depending on the rate of vaccinations. This delay could possibly present problems for the 2021 season similar to 2020. Are you aware of any contingency plans to stay in the ACC for 2021 if COVID is still a problem? Also are you still of the opinion that ND should remain independent in light of this year's success in the ACC and possible future changes in the NCAA?

Eric Hansen: Rick, the COVID picture is ever-changing, and I'm far more optimistic than you are about more normal elements to the 2021 season. That doesn't mean I'm right. If it appears the conditions in the fall of 2021 aren't that much different than 2020, I'm sure Notre Dame and the other schools will address that this summer. My sense is ND will play its original 2021 schedule. What I'm less sure about is how the whole thing with fans will work. To your second question, I don't make the decision on that. Notre Dame wants to be independent, and nothing this year has changed that. If I were in charge, I'd also remain independent if I were ND.

Matt from LA: What are you hearing regarding some of the defensive players, like Ovie Oghoufo and Houston Griffith, entering the transfer portal? Are they intent on leaving or are they exploring options while they wait to see if they have a place in the new defensive coorindator's system?

Eric Hansen: They're not just doing this to explore. And once you're in the portal, you're not guaranteed a spot to come back to. Given Notre Dame's relationship to the hard cap of the 85-scholarship limit, I can't imagine there would be room if anyone reversed field on their transfer. There's also a soft cap for players who would have had expired eligibility, due to the COVID exemption. That will affect only Kurt Hinish for sure and likely Jonathan Doerer.

Dave from Washington, D.C.: Does the coaching staff meet with players one-on-one after the bowl game to discuss what their role will be moving forward? And, to your knowledge, has this discussion ever prompted players to make a decision to transfer?

Eric Hansen: Dave, they used to do it after the bowl game, back when recruits used to sign in February. Now they have those discussion long before, because of the early signing period in mid-December. They want to be as efficient as possible with roster management and hitting that 85 number on the nose, if possible. And yes, there have been conversations that have prompted players to want to explore transferring. There also have been others that have led to players staying as well.

Jeff from Cleveland: Eric, how do you see the Wisconsin QB transfer, Jack Coan, impacting the QB competition? I am hoping incoming freshman Tyler Buchner, takes advantage of the opportunity and this is all a moot point. I know it's a lot for me to expect out of a freshman, but I think (based off what I've read and videos I've seen) he has the pedigree for it and is up to the challenge!!

Eric Hansen: There are a lot of Jack Coan questions in the queue. This one is open-ended enough for me to hit on several aspects of this grad transfer. I think Jack comes in with the expectation of getting a chance to earn the starting job. I don't think it's a slam dunk, but I think he'll have an edge. The tough position Tyler Buchner is in is that he's only played one year of high school football, and he had a phenomenal junior year. But he was injured as a sophomore. And California canceled the fall season of football his senior year after he had transferred to La Mesa Helix High to play against tougher competition. Drew Pyne will also compete, as will Brendon Clark if he's healthy. I suspect the uncertainty with his knee is one of the reasons ND chose now instead of after spring practice to peruse the grad transfer QB market. Ron Powlus III will also be on the roster.

Javier from South Florida: Eric, thanks for all the ND info you provide to us, and your excellent analysis. The 2020 season was amazing! It went way above my expectations for the regular season, but the postseason was (expected but) disappointing, with the two losses to the CFP blue-bloods. As ND looks to reload, next season's expectations are not huge. What do you think are the development keys to make it a fifth consecutive 10-win season, both in players and coaching?

Eric Hansen: I think there is the makings of a pretty good defense, so hiring the right coordinator, who can also recruit, is the starting point. Notre Dame has to get better at the Buck linebacker position, and there's plenty of competition there. And they need to find an answer at rover. There are some good candidates. There's questions at safety beyond Kyle Hamilton. Cornerback needs to get more dynamic and deeper. Maybe another grad transfer at each of those positions? I love the D-line. There's talent on on the offensive line, but chemistry will be the challenge. Running backs are in a good place, and there's no reason the wide receivers shouldn't be in the same place. Tight ends are great. QB play is huge. Notre Dame must begin to evolve away from the ball-control model. It's great to have the capacity to do that within certain games and against certain opponents, but the offense must evolve to be more explosive.

Mike H from Arlington, Va.: Hello and thank you for being awesome at your job! Sir, my question is: Do you see the transfer portal becoming an issue in college sports? I believe you hit on this before — sorry, For example, the players looking at what NBAers do and jump to other star teams AND where is their will to try and give it a year and not just give up. Is it a generational issue?

Eric Hansen: Mike. You're awesome. And thank you. The one-time transfer exemption is going to change college sports. And we already can see by the sheer numbers nationally in the portal that it brings a different dynamic. I don't think all of that is necessarily bad. But there's going to be fallout. What happens to the kids in the portal who can't find a suitable opening on another roster in 2021? I think after a few awkward years and adjusting some rules around the portal, it could be a system that works for everyone. I don't envision the NBA scenario for quite a few reasons, rest assured.

Ted C.: I know that with the new transfer rule there was the expectation that there would be a lot of movement this offseason, but it seems a lot of players jumped in fairly quickly. How many more do you believe enter the portal, and can all of this be attributed to new rules and lack of playing time? Or is there something going on "behind the scenes" most of us aren't aware of? Also, I try not to read into any player's social media, but it seems Jordan Johnson's Twitter seems pretty ominous. Any rumors of him leaving South Bend this offseason? Thanks answering all our questions.

Eric Hansen: Ted. Please include your hometown next time with your question. ... I'm going to do a story on roster management in the age of the one-time transfer exemption and the COVID rule this weekend. So I can get into a little more depth there. 1) Yes, it's a national phenomenon, so it's not just ND. 2) Notre Dame signed 26 players in December, will add at least one in February and added a grad transfer QB with possibly more grad transfers to come. There were 13 players with expiring eligibility. That meant the potential for 72 players to return. Add 28 to that, and you have 100. The hard-cap scholarship limit is 85. So there were going to be 15 departures at least, one way or another.

Peter Burke from Coto De Caza, Calif.: Can you explain the recruiting numbers rules this and oncoming years?

Eric Hansen: Peter, if I understand your question, players with expiring eligibility this year are the only ones who don't count against your hard cap. Notre Dame had 13 such players. Only two are expected to return, so ND can be at 87 for 2021. That exemption goes away if you transfer, so Jack Coan from Wisconsin counts against the hard cap of 85. Had he stayed at Wisconsin, he wouldn't have counted in the Badgers' 85. Next year, schools have to be back at 85 no matter what. There is hope among athletic directors, including Jack Swarbrick, that there will be some allowances to go over in the coming years, because of giving everyone another year of eligibility. The way things are constructed now, it would put a huge squeeze nationally on the number of recruits in the 2022 class.

Sean from Portland, Ore.: Hi Eric. I am surprised about the number of transfers. Particularly Ovie Oghoufo, Jack Lamb, Isaiah Rutherford and Houston Griffith. In the case of the others like Jahmir Smith and Jafar Armstrong, I'd probably transfer too. Is this a red flag? Does it have to do with Clark Lea leaving, lack of playing time and opportunity, or both? I fear that this is a really bad thing. Talk me off the ledge please.

Eric Hansen: Sean. As I mentioned earlier, ND has to make the math work. They are more interested in upgrading talent at certain positions than they are keeping someone on the roster who's never going to get to start or play significant time. Ideally, those players would have their ND degree, before jumping in the portal, and many of them will. I don't see the red flag. Ovie surprised me. Houston Griffith didn't necessarily. He's a hard-working talented kid, who continues to get beat out by players who are not nearly as talented. Perhaps a fresh start is all he needs. Had Lamb stayed healthy, he'd probably be in a position to challenge for more playing time, but it'd be hard to jump over three players to get there at this point. Are you still on the ledge? I'd say a healthy amount of roster churn is a good thing, especially if they're walking away with ND degrees in hand.

Patrick from South Bend: Thanks for another great year of coverage. Hope you and your grandkids get to hug soon. Two-part question: Is it likely most of the guys in the transfer portal like their chances for playing time elsewhere, go with Kelly's blessing because of numbers game and second part, how many if any might end up at Vanderbilt? Thanks for all you do to keep us up-to-the minute on ND football despite all the restrictions.

Eric Hansen: Patrick. thanks. The 9-year-old, I think, wants to live here. And he would certainly upgrade the place. I can't wait 'til they can come over whenever they want. ... thanks for that thought. I would say the transfers are going with Kelly's blessing. Again, you have to get the math to work. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple ended up at Vandy. They'd certainly be able to handle the academic load there, but it's a steep, steep rebuild.

Fred from Huntsville: I expected to lose but also expected to score more than seven legitimate points against a defense that is only slightly better than average. I read the article stating ND needed playmakers, but I think that is only part of the issue. I think Ian Book again played poorly under the spotlight and Tommy Rees again showed his inexperience. I would probably assign each of these issues (lack of playmakers, QB, and Offensive coordinator) equal blame in the offensive debacle. Would you agree with this assessment?

Eric Hansen: Fred, you know your football. Or you and I are equally deficient, because I do agree with you for the most part. Let's go with option No. 1.

Ron from Dover, Del.: Happy New Year, Eric. Another great job by you again this year with these chats. As a senior in my generation, you were taught to not give up and keep working whether it’s sports, school, etc. We were taught, "don’t quit." Today it appears the message is if I don’t get what I want, I leave, I run away and not try to succeed. Looking at Houston Griffith, Isaiah Rutherford, and Ovie Oghoufo, that’s seems to be the message. I get a grad transfer with one year saying, "I won’t play much, so I will go somewhere else for one last year." But undergrads doing it is troubling. It seems to reinforce that I am not in school for an education but to play ball. So am I wrong about these guys? Does this portal concept encourage this behavior? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Ron, I understand and appreciate where you are coming from. But today's football player wants and education AND a crack at the NFL if they're coming to a place like Notre Dame. And there's a chance Ovie and Houston will have their degrees when they walk out the door. Full disclosure, I just got back to work today after a little time off, so I haven't had the chance to dig into their individual situations. Jack Lamb, an early enrollee in 2018, will have his degree at the end of spring. Ovie and Houston were also early enrollees in that class, so it's possible they'd have it by spring or summer. I think the portal makes it easier for kids to make a quick/rash decision, but sometimes a change of scenery is needed.

Stan from Rockford, Ill.: Eric! Best wishes to you and your loved ones. WE so appreciate these chats, especially after we need healing from the last two losses. Quick rant! I hope you’re ready for the dismissive incoming attacks re: everything ND football after those two lopsided losses. The questioning of coaching strategies is fair game to me. NDs always predictable O’ game plan doesn’t work against healthy prepared elite defenses. It puts our players in unwinnable situations, making the attacks on the players uncalled for and sickening. Questioning their drive for excellence and desire to win, and calling them quitters or losers, are too prevalent on ND blogs and discussion boards. And from most, I trust, who show far less commitment in their lives than these players. OK! Rant over! My question: Which players at ND might benefit both themselves and ND from another year at ND?

Eric Hansen: Stan, thank you for the kind words. I hope you feel better that you got your rant out. There are only two players out of the 13 with expiring eligibility who either have committed fully to coming back (Kurt Hinish) or are leaning that way (Jonathan Doerer). So that answer it pretty easy. Honestly, of the others, I might have said Nick McCloud.

Tom from Springfield Ill.: Hi Eric. Who do you see in the primary rotation as receivers going into spring practice and most likely to emerge in fall?

Eric Hansen: Tom, I would expect it to be an open competition. If everyone is healthy (and Kevin Austin Jr. will be coming off foot surgery), I would put Austin, Braden Lenzy and Avery Davis on the inside track. BUT, I think the coaching staff will take a long look at Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts, Joe Wilkins and Lawrence Keys. Lorenzo Styles Jr. is enrolling early and I am expecting him to make a splash.

As for the fall, I'd like to see Austin, Lenzy, Davis, Styles, Johnson, Watts.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Prior to the game, Brian Kelly gave an interview about how poor the prior bowl games were, and how great football was about to be played. His team then goes out and gets beat with ease. He then has an attitude when he is asked tough — but absolutely legit — questions about how his teams play on the biggest stages and where the program goes from here. I don’t understand why he can be so arrogant prior to, and so tender-hearted when people ask him legit questions afterwards? Maybe I am missing something? Not sure I have a question, but more a thought. From my perspective, he is difficult to deal with as a journalist. I admire you all being professional, yet asking real questions. He could stand to learn from you, Eric, when it comes to professionalism. Not exactly a great role model for young men when it comes to dealing with the media when adverse times are present.

Eric Hansen: Alex, thanks, and I think I can address your thoughts. I think Brian would admit that he could have handled the postgame presser better. Maybe not in that moment, but once he got beyond it. I am not standing up or defending his shortcomings in the postgame setting, but let me try to explain what I think is the dynamic that led to that outcome. In reality, Brian pushes himself harder than his critics do. The Irish have accomplished something that 125 of the 130 FBS schools have not done, and that's get to the playoff more than once. The next step is winning a game (or two) on that stage. The frustration Brian feels is the impatience to get to that next step without people maybe acknowledging the increment that ND accomplished. I also think this season took a lot out of all coaches, with the testing, quarantining, etc.

Where I give BK credit — and I wrote about this in depth —is that he doesn't put limits on the program, he accepts and acknowledges that it's a different and more challenging path than at other places, and that he's willing to evolve and be open-minded to continue to make the next steps. But those next steps are hard, not just for ND, but for everybody that's not Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State.

Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Happy. New Year, and looking forward to your excellent reporting for another year. Kelly and his staff seem unable to recruit and develop an elite QB. Ian is a nice story, but hardly exceptional, regardless of how many games he won. On the big stage, we flop again. Why does he not hire a person who can recruit an elite QB and develop him? Does his ego prevent this? Otherwise, we will be be stuck in this endless cycle of blowouts. Very frustrated. Thanks .

Eric Hansen: Sean, thank you. Today's football requires a QB who can be elite in passing efficiency. So I agree, Ian Book got them to a certain point, and now you're looking for the kind of quarterback who can help get you to that next level. I am in no way disrespecting Book and what he accomplished. This discussion is about where ND needs to go at that position from this point forward.

Ian Book did great things with his legs, with his moxie, with his intangibles. The next ND QB needs to do that and finish higher in the pass-efficiency ratings. The two QBs playing for the title Monday night are No. 1 and No. 5. Last year Joe Burrow of LSU was No. 1. Trevor Lawrence was No. 12 as a freshman when he led Clemson to the title. Going back to the 2012 season when Bama beat ND in the BCS National Championship Game, there has only been one QB on a title-winning team that finished below No. 20. That was Jake Coker (31st) in 2015. Ian Books was 33rd this season. To your final question, BK feels he has hired that person. I do think Rees got the best out of Book. Now the talent and the expectations should be higher for the QBs going forward.

Steve S. from Kenosha, Wis.: Eric, thank you so much for your exemplary coverage over the years. What is your preliminary assessment of the transfers occurring thus far? Will the Irish be better or worse for it factoring in potential incoming transfers? What might scholarship numbers look like factoring all non-returnees?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Steve. Because of the grad transfer market, I think ND can upgrade at the positions where it's losing some of the transfers. ND is well above 85 still, but coming down toward that number. They don't need to be at 85 until the first day of fall-semester classes.

Jude from Watertown, N.Y.: Is it just me or has the performance of Del Alexander been underwhelming? Perhaps Del's Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy plans were derailed through no fault of his own, but the production from the wide receivers that he's recruited is underwhelming. The 2020 season numbers for those WRs recruited from 2017 (Del's first year) to present: 22 catches, 217 yards, two touchdowns. Not great!

Eric Hansen: Jude, he is the assistant who perplexes me. I want to be fair to him, and we really haven't had many opportunities since he's been at ND to get to know him and ask him questions. Last recruiting cycle was one where I felt was critical for him in proving himself, and I think he passed that test. I also felt last year was a big year for him to prove himself from a developmental standpoint, and I think he was hamstrung to a degree by COVID. So this is the year — 2021. It should be plain for all of us to see what the answer to your question is at that point.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Don’t want to diminish in any way sacrifices made by all players amd coaches in 2020. Enjoyed your with or without Kelly article. Thought his rant showed his indifference for lack of a better word, and why he probably won’t ever deliver what he wants to. Looking at 2022 schedule, don’t you think he would be better off starting Tyler Buchner rather than a grad transfer?? Quickly, I can think of two freshman QBs who have beaten him! Sincere thanks for the sacrifices you have made to preserve our sanity last year! Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Bill, thanks and thank you all for helping to keep me sane. I think it's healthy to have an open QB competition. But to your point about whether to make a move in 2021 based on the 2022 season, I think you have to play for the year you're in. It's not fair to the players (especially seniors) or yourself if you do it any other way. But if Buchner isn't starting and he's a guy you see being a future starter and a capable backup, I'd make sure he got into some games to get experience without the outcome being in the balance.

Chris from Marco Island, Fla.: Happy New Year. Thanks for all the great articles in this chat! I noticed that Ohio State was well aware of Clemson‘s signal-stealing and made some major adjustments that threw their defense off and negated the defensive coordinator. My question is did the ND coaches realize Clemson steals signals and did they make any attempt to negate or counter the signal stealing?

Eric Hansen: Yes, wrote about that before and after ND-Clemson Part I. When I say I've written extensively about it, I'm not trying to be condescending. I realize people have busy lives and they're not necessarily going to catch everything we write. But rather than repeat the answer that others already know or just ignore the question entirely, I choose this path.

Ced Walker from Saginaw, Mich.: Do you see Brian Kelly taking a grad transfer at wide receiver, safety or defensive end? I really see Jack Coan starting at QB.

Eric Hansen: I wouldn't be surprised to see them look at the grad transfer market at safety, cornerback or defensive end.

Tim from Atlanta: The combination of ND's lack of recruiting with the emergence of the transfer portal spells trouble as I see it. It now becomes necessary for Kelly to actually play young players to keep them engaged and developing. Especially quarterbacks, wideouts and defensive backs. Do you think Kelly will shift and actually do it or just ride the wave to retirement?

Eric Hansen: Tim, you lively minx. Those are the two choices? Play young guys OR coast to retirement? Nick Saban doesn't do either. He's built a culture where the best players play, and players know they may have to wait. Players like Najee Harris, and they willingly do so. I think playing the best players, regardless of age, is the fair way to do it. If you play someone just to make sure they don't transfer, how fair is that to the kid that busted his butt to beat him out?

Michael from Chicago: At the moment, what do you think are the toughest games on the schedule next season and why?

Eric Hansen: I would say the five-game stretch of Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina. I'd put North Carolina as the toughest game. Why? Because Sam Howell is back and North Carolina's defense is going to improve.

Matt from Nappanee: Now that Notre Dame knows about Aaron Banks (going pro), what is your prediction for the O-line next year by position?

Eric Hansen: Really tough because there can be some young talent, like Tosh Baker or Rocco Spindler, who could push their way into the mix. But let's assume for a moment that doesn't happen. You always start with answering this question: Who are you best five to start the spring regardless of position? And let's pretend Jarrett Patterson is healthy. He isn't, but he's in your top five. Then you fit people in positions. The top three to me are Patterson, Lugg and Correll. Then it gets interesting. I'd probably go with Kristofic next and then a pool of Dillan Gibbons, Quinn Carroll, Baker abd Spindler fighting it out for No. 5. Then as you place these guys, who's the left tackle: Kristofic or Patterson?

Ultimately, I'll go Patterson LT, Spindler LG. Correll C, Lugg RG, Kristofic RT, but in no way is that set.

Chad from Denver: Eric, I wish you and your family a happy and healthy New Year. I'm sure we all hope it is better than 2020. I'm sure you are getting this question a lot, so I'll just pile on, do any of the transfers (in or out) surprise you? And if we are fortunate enough to have a normal football season in 2021, is a New Year's Six bowl a realistic expectation? Keep up the great work!

Eric Hansen: Thanks Chad, and same to you. Ovie Oghoufo and Isaiah Rutherford surprised me. To a certain extent, Houston Griffith did, because he had such a clear apparent path to starting. Yet it's been that way ever year he's been here. ... I don't have this team targeted as a slam dunk for a New Year's Six, but I don't think it's a ridiculous expectation if it can answer its offseason questions as emphatically as it did last offseason. Keep your eye on the QB competition and how the O-line comes together.

Kim from Wichita, Kan.: Eric, I really enjoyed the chats. Luv your insightful perspective on all the issues. What are your thoughts on Jack Coan? Hope all is well with your family and have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Eric Hansen: Happy New Year, Kim. I'm going to do a little deeper dive in my research om Jack Coan this weekend. There's a lot to like about his accuracy and his poise and his experience. My question is how does a guy with negative career rushing yardage fit in a system where a quarterback with a running dimension is desired? And how do you square that with Tyler Buchner, who is a gifted runner? Run two different offenses? I still like the move, whether he turns out to be a starter or he's a nice insurance policy who is also an asset in the QB room.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Happy New Year! I’m sure you’ll get plenty of questions about the new defensive coordinator and all the personnel changes, so I’ll stick with the game for now. Please fill in the blanks about what you wonder the most about the game plans. Why did ND _____ (e.g play so much soft coverage)? And why didn’t ND _____ (e.g. throw to the WRs more)?

Eric Hansen: Erik. Upon further reviews, I think I might have misunderstood the question. Here was my original response: They played soft coverage, because they didn't want to give up 70 points. The strategy was to keep everything in front of them. They didn't throw to the WRs more, because Book wasn't willing to do what he had done in the first Clemson game, in the North Carolina and Pitt games, and that is throw into a tight window and let the wide receivers go make a play. Happy New Year, Erik.

Jim from Albuquerque: Hi Eric...No question today, just a comment and reflection. I’m beyond proud of our football team! They struggled through a difficult season, endured hardships and played their hearts out. No they didn’t win a national championship, but they won the hearts of their loyal Notre Dame community. They’ll keep knocking at the door and one day they will break it down. It’s my fondest hope that the university will never surrender its academic standards for athletes. Best to you and yours.

Eric Hansen: Jim thank you and Happy New Year,

Emily from Carmel, Ind.: Happy New Year, Eric, to you and your family. Thanks for hosting these sessions for us each week. I am wondering if you see any parallels of tunnel vision between how Joe Madden kept using Chapman in the the 2016 MLB playoffs for the Cubs and how coach Kelly adamantly praised Ian Book? Both athletes dominated weak opponents, but looked less than impressive when it really counted. Both Madden and Kelly then bristled whenever they were challenged by the press after the big games. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Happy New Year, Emily. I think it's natural to defend your players, especially someone like Ian Book, who really did try to break through a ceiling others had set for him. I think, as a coach, you get great satisfaction out of players who become great leaders, who work tirelessly to improve and those who are successful at doing so. I think there was a stretch this season where Ian did reach new heights in his game. It did not sustain itself into mid-December and beyond, but it wasn't for lack of effort.

Jim from Phoenix: Hi Eric, Thank you for your outstanding work. Question re graduate transfers: Do you sense that players who have dedicated years to ND feel think allowing "rentals" to come in and play immediately has a certain amount of unfairness?

Eric Hansen: I think there's that kind of potential. But in talking to Clark Lea about this, the Irish are very selective in not only choosing a match academically and athletically, but also someone who is good for team chemistry ... who's willing to earn respect and their spot in the two-deeps. ... And thank you.

Stan of Stancakes in Chester Va.: From what you say about the potential talent pool in the skilled positions, it would seem the Irish could be an offensive juggernaut next season, but unless the O-line jells, no matter who the skilled athletes are, getting production could be more than a little offensive. Has the NCAA made allowances for COVID-19 and permitted coaching staffs to spend more time with the team than would be normally be allowed? By the way, I really appreciate your work and look forward to the time you can get one-on-one access to the coaching staff. It must be frustrating to have such limited contact. Hope 2021 treats you far better than the previous one.

Eric Hansen: Stan, thanks. I am looking forward to that too, but my job is also to overcome any obstacles. And quite frankly, I was happy to have a season to cover. So far, there has not been additional allowances for more coach/player interactions during the offseason. I think Brian Kelly would settle for a "normal" spring practice, which I expect will be held later than usual this year.

Dan from Palatine, Ill.: Eric, thank you for all of your coverage of ND football, I really enjoy the content you provide. What are your thought on the right candidate to replace Clark Lea? Would you consider Mike Elko (if the rumors are true) or pursue someone like Freeman from Cincy?

Eric Hansen: I've said from the start, my top internal candidate is Mike Elston and my top external candidate is Marcus Freeman. And I'm going to stick to those two.

Chris, Louisville: Eric, thanks for keeping us sane this year. My question is with fans for next year. Do you see policy being in line with the Summer Olympics? In that fans will have to provide proof of vaccination to be allowed in the stadium?

Eric Hansen: Chris, I'm not sure there's going to be a uniform policy from sport to sport and team to team. A lot can happen between now and September. What if there is relative herd immunity by then? We just have to let this play out a little more.

Stephen from Toledo, Ohio: Hey Eric! Hope the new year finds you well! I’m loving all the offensive questions here, but my first primary concern is who our defensive coordinator will be and the extra coach hired (if it’s Mike Elston). Any word on the DC hunt/interview situation?

Eric Hansen: I understand Marcus Freeman has done a Zoom interview and likely an in-person meeting is next. There are other external candidates being considered and of course Mike Elston internally. I don't expect this to drag on for very long at all.

John Clarke from South Egremont, Mass.: I read an article that Tommy Tremble is on the bubble as far as returning but probably will return. Is that the way you see it?

Eric Hansen: I do. He has a pro future whenever he leaves. It would seem to me another year would improve his standing with the pros.

Michael from Chicago: Will ND have a conversation with Markese Stepp now that he's in the portal?

Eric Hansen: I don't see that as a match. I also don't see it as a need.

Jason from Amber, Pa.: Why was Ron Powlus III given a scholarship? Scholarships are needed for good and elite players, so why waste one on someone who will never do anything but run the scout team. The Alabama and Clemson games showed us how far we are behind the best programs. We can't afford to waste scholarships.

Eric Hansen: I think there's some flexibility in being the son of an ND employee that he could be a non-countable player toward the 85 if the Irish need that scholarship. And they very well could need it in the 2022 recruiting cycle.

Pat from Bordentown, N.J.: Hi Eric. Thanks for all the outstanding coverage (again) this season. Always the No. 1 source for ND football info! Curious on your take — at Cincinnati, coach Kelly ran a spread offense with talented/speedy skill guys. Why can he not seem to get those kind of players at ND?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Pat. Well, I think it's relative. Marty Gilyard was a fourth-round draft pick and Tony Pike was a sixth-rounder. So I'm pretty sure I'd take Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, etc. over that bunch. In understand your question and the concept you'd like to see. I think that's reasonable. But his Cincinnati personnel isn't going to get him to a national title.

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: Do you think ND goes to the transfer portal even further at other positions short term or at the end of spring practice when more of this movement occurs?

Eric Hansen: A lot of it has to do with numbers. Do they have room? Then you factor in need post-spring. So yes, that's a possibility. Now again, most of the transfers would be grad transfers and not underclassmen without their degrees. It's very difficult (but not impossible) to get the credits to match up.

Shaw From Whereabouts Unknown: Thanks for your articles and educated opinions, Eric. I have one simple question: Where was Kenny?

Eric Hansen: Um. Where's Waldo?

Dave from Cary, N.C.: Hope you are staying safe and healthy. With all the people leaving the program, both for the draft and via transfer, what is you early crystal ball view for the 2021 season? Enough guys to step up at an elite level? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Dave, that equation is always going to depend on a lot of things going right in the offseason. Since 2016, ND has been accomplishing that pretty consistently. But to take the next step, there also needs to be an evolution to the approach to offensive football, and recruiting and player development to match that new model. That's oversimplified and vague, but it's January.

Dave from South Bend: First, Eric, thanks for your good work and insight into ND football. Questions 1) Is this the new standard at Notre Dame? Celebrating statistical improvements? Being glad to “stay in the game?” Is this program going to do what is necessary to bring in enough players to compete for championships, or not? A child can see we aren’t close to having enough athletes to win a championship. I mean, next year is his 12th year. does there ever come a point where this job becomes merit based? As in, it’s time to win a championship or it’s time to go somewhere else? 2) When is someone going to hold Kelly accountable for his ridiculous postgame conferences? We competed in that game? There was literally not a single minute where it felt like we were competing in the game. And not a single person that I talk to disagrees. And, side question, why does Kelly constantly talk as if defense is the reason we lost? The offensive genius and his pupils have managed to score 10 points outside of garbage time in the last TWO playoff games. Unbelievable that this guy is still here. Get lost.

Eric Hansen: Dave, there's a lot there, but let me get to what I think is the core. First off, if you're going into your 12th year and you're relying only on the lessons learned in, say, year 7 or 10, or 2, you're toast. Football is an evolutionary game. In recruiting too. The questions change and so do the answers. Continuity can be an asset if you can learn from mistakes. I think Brian Kelly largely has. You want him to make the next step. He wants to take the next step. You're not satisfied. He's not satisfied. I think that's a good place to be, actually.

Rich-Key West: I know Shayne Simon must have some outstanding qualities that earn him the playing time he received this season. Those qualities just don't seem to result in many tackles. What am I missing?

Eric Hansen: Rich, it's a head-scratcher. Smart, hard-working, fluid, tough athlete. Sometimes all the tumblers don't click into place until later in a career. Sometimes they never do. In Simon's case, I believe he's worth keeping the faith in and letting him compete. The competition will be even tougher next year, because Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau will be more complete.

Howard from Gainesville, Va.: Hi Eric: Somehow the Irish D managed to have a freshman corner go 1-on-1 with probably the best player in the country for much of the game. The result was predictable. How could that happen?

Eric Hansen: It happened in 2012 with Amari Cooper and KeiVarae Russell. You put your best players on the field. Would you have felt better if it were a junior playing against DeVonta Smith and he got torched?

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric and Happy New Year! Comment: I think there were two things to be especially thankful for this past year. The fact that we had a great football season at all (think back to July/Aug.) is a testament to the courage and discipline of the players, coaches and administration. Also thank you Ian Book for what you did for Notre Dame. You, as much as anyone who has ever attended Notre Dame, demonstrated what it is the be an exemplary Notre Dame man. You were a great leader, you persevered in difficult circumstances and you always gave all you had and left everything on the field. You were never quite good enough for the media and some critical fans, but you will Always fit the definition of a true SPORTSMAN. Notre Dame was fortunate to have you, and I know you feel blessed to have played for the Fighting Irish. Thank You!

Eric Hansen: Duly noted. And Happy New Year.

Michael from West Virginia: Is Tom Rees the answer for offensive coordinator moving forward? Personally, I would rather see Kelly go back to calling plays with the offense he ran at Cincinnati. Would be better than anything he has had at ND. I know coach has said he ran those offenses to put people in the seats and placed too much stress on the defense, but I think it would be worth a try.

Eric Hansen: I've addressed some of this in previous questions. The part I wanted to address is whether Kelly calling plays next year made the most sense. Part of his post-2016 makeover was to more accessible to the players, be more involved in the defense. That doesn't square with retaking the reins of the offense.

Larry from Topton, Pa.: Not really a question. I just want to thank you for another great year of ND coverage for us fans. I read all your stuff, and especially enjoy the chats. I know they will be less frequent during the offseason, but we will take as many of them as you can give us. And the Pods Of Gold are great; I just wish there were more of them, and I hope they continue periodically during the offseason (I am used to listening to you daily on the radio, so hearing you only once a week has caused me to suffer from withdrawal). Happy New Year Eric!

Eric Hansen: Larry. thank you and I am humbled by your non-question. Truly.

Tony, Fairfax, VA: Hi Eric, probably a lot of questions related to Jack Coan, but want to add another. Drew Pyne was still a pretty highly regarded recruit, Brendon Clark was not as much, but I heard is a real competitor. Does the staff not think he is progressing in practice enough or is Jack more of an insurance policy i.e. do they think that he will be needed or more want to have him there to push Drew and Brendon. Coan isn't much of a runner/scrambler, and I think that aspect is critical for this offense's success. So curious your take from what you have seen, because it almost makes me nervous that we don't trust the guys we have that Jack is being seen as a GREAT pickup. And I am not sure I see it that way. I would almost rather have a guy that will be here a few years, start, then have an experienced good qb that puts the inexperience clock back an additional year. If you don't think you will compete for a natty in 2021, why not get someone experienced in 2021 that will be make 2022 more likely?

Eric Hansen: Tony, I addressed a couple of elements of this .. and agree with you pumping the brakes on Coan for now. ... If Tyler Buchner had played a senior season in high school and Brendon Clark was 100 percent healthy, then maybe a transfer QB was not the right move. But considering that and really limited reps for Drew Pyne, it makes sense to have Jack Coan come in and compete. Not be handed the job. Compete.

Eric Hansen: OK overtime is over. I have an interview I need to do. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll go at it again next week — Wednesday at noon — as there is the interest and the news to keep us going in weekly mode.

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