Chat Transcript: On transfer portal additions and U-turns, modernizing the Notre Dame offense
Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat on a snowy Wednesday here in South Bend. As a reminder, please include your name and hometown with your questions. Last week, I wasn't quite caffeinated enough, and asked for your name and ADDRESS. That level of specificity is definitely NOT required. The queue is full and still building, so let's get started.
Denny from Liberty Hill, Texas: Eric, there are reports that Brian Kelly and Marcus Freeman are trying to get Houston Griffith to return to Notre Dame in 2021. He is in the transfer portal but enrolled at ND to graduate in May. Can he practice with the team in the spring and remain in the portal pending a decision whether to stay or transfer? Do you think he is the likely starter opposite Hamilton if he remains with the team?
Eric Hansen: My colleague, Tyler James, had a really thorough rundown of what's happening, including Griffith's options and his timeline:
Notre Dame working to convince safety Houston Griffith to stay with program
In it, it's mentioned that whether he stays or decides to go somewhere else, he'll finish up his a degree work this spring. In the event, he picks another school, he would NOT practice with the Irish this spring. It would be my expectation that he would start at strong safety alongside Kyle Hamilton at free safety if he decides to return.
Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. I hope the beginning of 2021 is treating you well. Not infrequently you will hear in recruiting that ND does not have a chance with a certain player, because they were not in early enough. It is often times highly talented/ranked players, so it is not as if ND didn't recognize the talent early on. Why is this happening at a place like ND, which it seems would have the resources to be in early on as many players as they want? What is the downside of going after a lot of top talent early and casting the net far and wide? I know numbers come into play, but even with getting in early, at best you are only going to land a couple of the top talents each year. At the very least it seems like they have the relationships that would allow them to be in early with any highly talented player at a large majority of the Catholic High schools. Would improvement in this area help ND in getting top five classes? Thanks for hosting chats in the offseason. It is greatly appreciated.
Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. Thanks for the kinds words, and your questions are greatly appreciated. There are a few dynamics in play, the first and most significant of which involves academic requirements. So let's say Notre Dame started extending offers to elite freshmen. But over the course of their high school careers, either their grades didn't sync up with what ND was looking for or they didn't meet the math or foreign language requirements, for example. They'd have to offer a conditional scholarship, which may help build a relationship and may not. The down side is you end up with players who have to decommit — often at the 11th hour, because they did not meet the conditions. Marquese Stepp is a fairly recent example, and there are more. He would have loved to come to ND. Another factor is what if the player hits his ceiling early and doesn't turn into the prospect you thought he'd be? Do you rescind the offer? I do think there's room to establish that early relationship and show legit interest in ELITE prospects without extending a formal scholarship. And if ND's goal is upping its recruiting game — and it is — this is certainly a discussion that needs to happen in exploring whether they could make this work.
Chad from Toledo: Hi Eric! What’s your take on Jack Coan coming in to start in front of our three upcoming QBs? To me that’s a bit unsettling, because it’s their time now! Why would you stick around when you're not sure if the coach is going to bring in a fifth-year transfer with a load of experience? Let’s take our bumps with a young gun and develop him?
Eric Hansen: Chad, thanks for the question, but no one — except perhaps someone in the media — has named Jack Coan the starter. Brian Kelly certainly hasn't. Now he may very well end up as the starter, Sept. 5 at Florida State, but he'll have to compete for that. There are a lot of grad transfer QBs who do not win the starting job at their respective new schools or aren't able to retain their No. 1 status. Even so, if Coan does win the job, the other four QBs on the roster all have four years of eligibility left. That includes junior-to-be Brendon Clark because of redshirting and the COVID exemption year. Why would any of them leave under those circumstances? If they did, what does that say about their competitiveness? Now let's say true freshman Buchner was named the starter and he was extremely successful, that could prompt others to look elsewhere — or not.
Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Do you see an overhaul in the design of ND’s pass plays? We seem to throw too many 50/50 balls. And compared to teams like North Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama, our receivers don’t appear to be open as quickly. Maybe it’s question of a lack of outside speed or a combination of lack of speed and design? It is something that jumps out at me as I continue to hope for a strong-armed QB. As always, I’d value your astute observation! Please stay safe Eric, and thanks for the thought you put in these chats. Go Irish!!
Eric Hansen: Bill, staying safe here, and hopes for you as well. ... You kind of have to call the plays and fit your offense around the players on your roster. ... the healthy and ready players on your roster, that is. Notre Dame had tall, physical receivers at the top of its depth chart last season. Next season, there's a potential to have an abundance of speed at all three WR positions. So the kind of plays we see in 2021 may look very different.
Jules from Joliet, Ill.: Eric, thank you for conducting these sessions. It’s a great way for the average fan to communicate with an insider. My questions: 1. Several weeks ago you spoke of Clemson’s ability to steal their opponents' signals. In that article you mentioned the large number of people on their football support staff. I think it was around 75. How large is Notre Dame’s staff for comparable positions? 2. My perception is that ND will not spend money comparable to what the elites spend for things like support staff, assistant coaches salaries and other amenities. I seem to recall a podcast from a few years ago that said the top programs had private jets for use by the football staff for things like recruiting trips, while ND coaches used commercial flights. Are my ideas on Notre Dame spending perception or reality?
Eric Hansen: Jules, thanks. I am a bit confused. I did mention Clemson's alleged propensity to steal signals, because Brian Kelly was asked about it and acknowledged it heading into the teams' first meeting on Nov. 7. I did not mention the difference in support staff or the number "75," so that must have been something you read elsewhere. I think your perception about ND and assistant coaching salaries was very much true 20 years ago, but not these days. I think there's a pragmatism to Notre Dame's thinking when it comes to facilities and support staff, so it may be less than say Alabama with support staff but not less than most schools. Right now all athletic departments are reeling financially from the revenue lost due to the pandemic, so I don't see this as a time to expand personnel.
The private jet thing has to do with how much more ground Notre Dame covers in recruiting than its peers, which often have huge talent bases in their backyards. So having a private jet available for assistants would certainly be an asset, especially considering the delays of commercial airlines in bad weather. I think your ideas kind of fall in between perception and reality. I think ND has more of a financial commitment than you have picked up, but I also think there are ways to improve the program that will take an additional financial commitments. Until there's a steady revenue stream — and that could be in 2021 — that's a tough ask right now.
Steve from St. Louis: Thanks for the chats, Eric. Was wondering if you could discuss some of the similarities and/or differences we will see with coach Marcus Freeman's defense.
Eric Hansen: Steve, a couple of things stand out. One, Cincinnati — under Freeman — attacked more than Notre Dame has the past few years. Two, they flip to three-down linemen more than ND has since Bob Diaco was the DC (2010-13). Three, they tend to play more man than ND does. Now Marcus is going to adjust based on ND's personnel, the kind of offenses the Irish face and what Brian Kelly wants. So I'd expect to see some differences but not a total makeover philosophically.
Tim in Atlanta: It certainly seems that more player rotations are utilized on the defensive side of the ball. Thus, we seem to have more able bodies per position on defense than on offense. Would you agree? If so, why?
Eric Hansen: Absolutely, and it comes down to the philosophy of the coordinators/position coaches and the realities of certain position groups. You would not, for instance, want to do heavy rotating on the offensive line, because it would threaten chemistry and continuity. On the defensive line, it's great to bring bodies in waves and to stay fresh. Chemistry and continuity aren't concerns. It's great to rotate WRs, but if the QB doesn't have the timing with some of the peripheral rotation players, you see the offensive coordinator kind of roll back into a tighter rotation.
Matt from Nappanee: Eric, thanks for the chats during the offseason! You have consistently said you feel ND needs to be in the top 15 nationally in passing efficiency to get their offense to the next level. One, has Kelly ever talked specifically about this statistic? Secondly, how do they get there? Is it more about recruiting or scheme?
Eric Hansen: Matt. I've not heard him volunteer that stat. I'm pretty sure I asked him about it before then 2017 season, but it's something that I'd like to revisit with him this offseason. Just not sure what our interview opportunities are going to look like yet. How do they get there? Yes, recruiting is a big part of it, both with the QBs and WRs. And you could throw tight ends, running backs and O-line in there, because they all affect how versatile and unpredictable an offense can be. I think it's more about talent — and DEVELOPMENT — and putting defensive coordinators in tough predicaments than it is about scheme.
Sean from Greensboro N.C.: Eric, hope you had a good weekend. Since we need to jump start our creative thinking on offense, has Kelly considered outside help to enhance our offensive thinking? Surely, he could send Tommy to one of the many fine offensive minds in the college or the pros for some instruction. I see where the NCAA does not limit on the number of analysts and support staff. Thanks for your answer.
Eric Hansen: Sean, coaches visiting other coaches and talking with other staffs is what good and great coaches do. It's certainly something Brian Kelly has pushed during his time at ND. You're right about the rules being loose about analysts and support staff. But ND is in a hiring freeze right now when it comes to creating new positions, so this may be something for down the road but would be difficult to pull off right now.
Justin in Houston: Eric, you’re the lean, mean ND Insider supreme!!! I have more recruiting questions. I’ve heard from other media outlets that cover ND and some say that Brian Kelly isn’t a dog on the recruiting trail — that, for example, Urban Meyer or some of the other head coaches are. From your perspective, is that true to any extent? And are the “changes” in recruiting that coach Kelly talked about to get the program into the top 5-10 of the rankings include him being more of a grinder? IMHO if Kelly was more than a closer and put in more effort like an Urban Meyer to recruit these elite players, along with his coaching, ND would turn back into the juggernaut we all want them to be. Appreciate you being a dog on the ND beat!!!
Eric Hansen: Justin, thanks for the introduction. I feel like I'm ready to be a pro wrestler. ... I think Urban Meyer will go down as one of the all-time great recruiters, both in terms of the time he put into it and what he was able to do with that time. Brian Kelly, admittedly, has been more of a closer — and a very good one in that role. Could BK up his recruiting game? Absolutely. Are there limits on that, given how many other things he has to deal with that other schools don't have to? Absolutely. Brian Kelly is pulled in a lot more directions than the average head football coach because of Notre Dame's academic mission and those academic powers-that-be requiring his presence in that process. That's just one example of the extra layer of time commitments away from football/recruiting BK has to fold into his day. Having said that, Brian admitted he needed to be more present earlier in the process with certain key prospects and throughout the process in certain cases. And I think that commitment is starting to pay off. We'll get a truer picture of that post-pandemic.
ND Harvey from South Philly: E, hi. Hope all is well. Big fan of tight end Kevin Bauman. Do you see a bright future for him? Also, I know it’s early. but will there be a Blue-Gold Game this year, and with fans? Thank you. Be Safe. Go Irish.
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Harvey. Tight ends coach John McNulty is a big fan of Kevin Bauman, and that's what matters most. Because of the pandemic, I haven't seen much of Bauman, but McNulty's word is good for me. Kevin will play a lot next season. ... It's too early to read tea leaves on the Blue-Gold Game. My sense if there is one, it would be just for students/faculty and staff/players' families. Keep your eye on the virus numbers in March, and you'll likely have your answer. I'm much more optimistic about the prospect of fuller stadiums in the fall than anything going on this spring.
Larry from Topton, Pa.: Your analysis of the NCAA eligibility changes was really eye-opening. I did not realize the impact it was going to have on years 2022 through 2024. My question concerns the no-sit-out transfer rule: Is that expected to be a one-time offer, or will the change be permanent? Between the roster challenges created by the extra year of eligibility and the no-sit-out rule, we are going to see college free agency in record numbers. Roster challenges for all teams will lead to players having to find new homes, which will have a domino effect at their new schools. It would be interesting to hear how Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick intend to approach roster management post-2021. Thanks Eric!
Eric Hansen: Larry, thanks. It's called a one-time transfer exemption and it's not going to go away. It'll be with us for the foreseeable future. I think early on you're going to see lots of movement. I think that will eventually fade a bit, because the novelty will wear off and there will be players who jump into the portal who have trouble finding new homes because of the glut of players trying to move. I've spoken with Jack about this quite a bit and Brian to a lesser extent. There are still lots of parameters to be worked out in terms of how late in an offseason you could transfer and still expect to play in the season ahead, for example. Once we have a better idea of the parameters, it's certainly worth circling back to both of them.
Johngipp from Lititz, Pa.: Eric, if you are holding chats, it means you and your family are well. Muse these thoughts with me. If Book would have played with Alabama, would he be a top 10-rated QB? Would ND have been able to hang in much better with a healthy Tommy Tremble. Was Patterson the O-line man they could least afford to lose? Was Jordan Johnson voted onto any of the Freshman All-Missing teams? Thanks for the chats and be safe.
Eric Hansen: Johngipp, for some reason your handle struck me as something that would have fit in well on the old TV show, the Waltons. ... With regard to Book, he'd have another elite offensive line and better receivers on Alabama's team, but I don't think he'd be top 10. Higher? Yes, than No. 33, which is where he finished. But let me tell you who was Nos. 11 and 12: Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma and Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and future shampoo commercials. That's how tough it is to crack the top 10. Both Clausen and Quinn did so as juniors after some less impressive earlier years. ... Tremble is a beast, so more Tremble is good, but not sure it that could have affected the margin. I think Liam Eichenberg would have been very tough to replace as well. I see what you did there with Jordan Johnson. I can't wait to see him in the spring.
Paul from Annandale, Va.: Any of next season opponents still in the 2021 schedule?
Eric Hansen: Every single one of them at this time.
Brendan from Raleigh, N.C.: Hi Eric. Happy New Year, Sir! Do you expect any of the incoming freshmen offensive linemen will see meaningful time in 2021?
Eric Hansen: I do not, because meaningful in an O-lineman's case is starting. But I wouldn't rule out offensive guard Rocco Spindler. And again that's not a knock on their talent. Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson all redshirted as freshmen and all became first-round draft choices.
Dale from Placerville, Calif.: Eric, I first want to thank all of the Fighting Irish players, coaches and support staff for their commitment this year to have a football season and to bring all ND fans a bright light during this crazy year. They sacrificed so much from June to January to be safe, stay healthy and give us something to cheer about on Saturdays and then talk about on CHAT day! Are there enough weapons around a new QB to offset any growing pains from that position? Even though the O-line replaces many parts, do you think they will be able to ramp up quickly next season (hopefully with spring practices included) to provide a solid running game to help our new QB? Wishing you and your family good health in the coming months. Thanks for the chats.
Eric Hansen: Dale, thanks. To your questions, no, there are going to be growing pains at the QB position. That doesn't mean the growing pains will be severe or the reason ND loses games. But whether it's one of the young guys or Jack Coan, there's going to be adjustments. If it's Coan, he's going to be running a very different offense conceptually and different parts of his skill set that he didn't use at Wisconsin may come into play. With the younger guys, it's the pre-snap chess match at the line of scrimmage that'll be a big hurdle. As far as the O-line, there's certainly talent. And getting a full spring in and informal summer workouts will help a lot. 2020 would have been a terrible year to replace so many O-line starters. Not having Jarrett Patterson in the spring will be a hurdle. If they can commit during spring to which position he'll be playing in the fall (left tackle or center), that will help.
Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Eric, hoping you and yours are having a great New Year so far. Could you offer your opinion as to the factors that led Brian Kelly to select Marcus Freeman as defensive coordinator as opposed to Mike Elston. I like the fact that Freeman brings a new voice and a different perspective. Also, he's super energetic and has already shown he can connect with ND players. And I don't believe this is any way a knock against Elston, who is a fine coach, leader and man. Also, what was it about Notre Dame that was more enticing to Freeman so that he felt more comfortable going with the Irish instead of opting to head down to LSU? As always, so grateful for these chats. Thanks much.
Eric Hansen: I think the biggest knock on Mike Elston in BK's mind this time was lack of coordinator experience. Now that seems like a double standard when you consider Tommy Rees didn't have coordinator experience, Chip Long had a year of it basically before he was hired, and Clark Lea didn't have any formal DC experience. Not every hiring opportunity, though, is a parallel experience. The circumstances change. Having said that, I think Mike Elston would have done a great job. And we do have a small sample size from the end of the 2016 season to back that notion up.
As it turns out, Kelly ends up with BOTH Freeman and Elston on the same staff, which is the jackpot for Brian Kelly. As for Elston, who's a committed family man, I think there will be a happy ending for him, both personally and professionally. He's just got too much going for him for that not to happen. I'll say this again, he's profoundly affected the trajectory of Notre Dame's program and especially at critical junctures. Regarding Freeman and LSU, I wrote in my hiring story about Marcus' affinity for ND during the recruiting process as a player. That hasn't changed. Money wasn't going to be the deciding factor. Fit and family concerns were, and ND came out on top on both of those fronts.
Paul from Chicago: Do you know anything new about the safeties coach opening? Would they consider moving Kerry Cooks to that spot? I think he is still an analyst with the program, correct? I remember him as being a solid recruiter during his first stint at ND. Would the hire at that position affect Houston Griffith?
Eric Hansen: I think we'll see the safeties coach opening get momentum and clarity next week. There's a couple of internal candidates, including Kerry Cooks. Las Vegas Raiders assistant Taver Johnson is a strong outside candidate. I don't think that choice will affect Houston Griffith's decision to come back to ND. Brian Kelly and Marcus Freeman very much will affect that decision.
Smitty, Tempe, AZ: Eric, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the "coaching school" that Nick Saban has going. It amazes me that he's able to get former college (and NFL!) head coaches to come in as position coaches and analysts. How much of an advantage do you think this allows, both in recruiting and game planning/management?
Eric Hansen: Smitty, a lot of those coaches go there to resurrect their stock and to learn from a man many consider the best football coach of their lifetimes. I think it has a much more profound effect on game planning and management than it does in recruiting. Recruiting is about relationships, and at Alabama, it's also about Saban and the culture. So they recruit well more in spite of the revolving door than they do because of it.
Adam from Dayton, Ohio: Eric! Thank you for your fantastic coverage and running the best chat around. We appreciate this more than you could know! So, officials apparently won't confirm it, but there appears to be a new support position in the hiring of Chad Bowden. Which would be awesome. Are you hearing anything in regard to ND investing in more resources/hiring more support staff in general, to try and close the gap with the three elite programs right now? In your estimation, what is a tangible (and realistic) thing ND could do to try to get some more of those top 100-type players? Is it as simple as just having better recruiters on staff, which we think Marcus Freeman will be? Assuming he does what we think he can do as far as defensive recruiting, are there any reasons for optimism as far as Tommy Rees and offensive recruiting? Thank you!
Eric Hansen: Adam, thanks for your kind words. You packed a lot into your questions. Let's start with Chad Bowden. Weird story at this point. ND has a hiring freeze university-wide when it comes to new positions. So is he filling an existing opening and rebranding that position? Is there a loophole? I think it will be next week before we get clarity. He's a good-idea guy if it happens, but remember this is a behind-the-scenes kind of position, not getting out on the road. ... I mentioned earlier, the pandemic is keeping a lot of athletic departments from adding personnel (or anything else) right now. They're trying to keep from substracting. More top 100 players? That's an attainable goal. Adding a strong recruiter, like Marcus Freeman, is one of the pieces that helps you get there. Getting to the playoff is another. As far as Tommy Rees, as the offensive coordinator, his possible impact in recruiting expands. He's worth watching this cycle to see if he takes the next step as a recruiter.
Joey from Westernport, Md.: Eric, what are the odds that Houston Griffith suits up for the Irish in 2021?
Eric Hansen: The easy answer is 50-50, because then you're always right. So let's not play that game. I'll go 60-40 that he comes back.
Joey G. from Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Eric. Looking ahead to spring football, what position group are you most eager to see? And who in that group are you hoping steps up and takes a starting spot?
Eric Hansen: Man, there's a lot and QB is so important, so I'll start there. A close second is wide receivers. I'm very curious to see how Lorenzo Styles Jr., Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts and Braden Lenzy perform this spring. I don't have hopes for anyone to take a starting spot. That's not my job, but I'll have my opinions about who does end up as starters.
Rick Fairman from Markham, Ontario: Eric, how much freedom do coordinators have in setting an offense or defense? How much say/limitations does coach Kelly place on them?
Eric Hansen: I think the defensive coordinator has more freedom (and there are good and bad examples of how that worked out). But there must be a meshing with what Brian Kelly's overarching philosophy and vision is for the program.
Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hey Eric! Logan Diggs has me confused. Sounds as if he will commit to ND but is still waiting. Do you know what the delay is — like perhaps he wants to announce on his birthday, etc? Also, I have heard conflicting reports on what his game is, specifically regarding his speed. What do you think his strengths are? I want to say thanks for the podcasts today. I keep expecting them to be done for the offseason. So thanks for the great job. Always look forward to them. Best thing I ever did was when I decided to submit my first question and see if I would get a response.
Eric Hansen: Denis, I'm sure glad you did submit that first question ... and many more since. There are now two signing periods — a three-day window in mid-December and the traditional February signing day. Most kids sign in December. Diggs remained committed but elected to sign in February. So the earliest he can do that is Feb. 3. Recruiting is full of weirdness, so there are never absolutes, but it would be a shock if he didn't sign with the Irish. I'm not sure about his speed. I know he's dabbled in track. But his versatility is what stands out the most ... runs with power and elusiveness and tremendous balance. Really good receiver and really good in pass protection.
Jeff from Cleveland: Eric, what do you think are this team's greatest needs going forward, specifically the 2021 season? Here's my own personal opinion on the matter. 1) One of the QBs to take ownership of the position early on and settle in to lead the team this year. I'm hoping it's Tyler Buchner (a lot to expect from a true freshman, but I'm hopeful). 2) Multiple wide receivers to step up and establish themselves. 3) Multiple people to step up in the secondary, beyond Kyle Hamilton. 4) And finally, although I feel there's talent on both sides of the ball, I think both the offensive and defensive linemen need to establish themselves and consistently improve throughout the season. How do you think I did? Any similar sentiments Eric?
Eric Hansen: I like it. I'd add some clarity at buck linebacker and a strong rover candidate (and there are some good options there).
Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: You can pick any 2020 college offense to pair with ND's defense to take on Alabama. Which team would you pick and what would the score be?
Eric Hansen: OK, I'll play along. I'll take Ole Miss' offense. They were third in total offense in 2020, pretty balanced, and put up 48 points against Alabama this season. Given Ole Miss had the second-worst defense in the FBS, I think ND can improve upon the 63-48 final score. Not sure if ND's defense/Ole Miss' offense wins (and Bama's defense improved as the year went on), but I think it's a game where both teams score in the 40s if the offense plays fast tempo.
Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, my concerns and question are on recruiting. I have read the excellent columns from you, Tyler, and Carter on the challenges of upgrading the talent to reach a championship. But California recruiting seems to have slipped, and USC has a stated goal to "take back the west" in recruiting the local talent. The Rivals 2022 list includes 10 recruits in the top 100 from California, and the vast majority (nine of 10) are from Catholic schools like Mater Dei/Servite/Bosco/Serra/St. Bernard/Bishop Alemany that have a legacy of sending solid student-athletes to ND. What is the gap in recruiting — perception of ND by recruits, lack of effort/de=prioritization by Brian Kelly's staff, or something else? Much thanks for your insights.
Eric Hansen: There was a tremendous talent drain from California pre-pandemic that has gone the other way during it. So not only has ND lost out on some elite California talent, so have others such as Clemson, etc. Once players can start taking in-person visits again, that could turn right back around, especially if USC has a bad year on the field. Notre Dame did take five players from California in the 2021 cycle, which now has that state leaping over Ohio and into second place for the most recruits of the Kelly Era. Florida is No. 1. Georgia and Missouri are surging. Now, those five aren't top 100-level players. I think a fair evaluation will be once assistant coaches can get back out into those schools you mentioned and players can take paid official visits to ND. Then let's revisit this conversation.
Stephen from Toledo, Ohio No questions come to mind for the first time in forever. That being said, I just wanted to thank you for your awesome insights and opinions. They really made the year feel a little more normal during this pandemic, and it was one of the few bright spots. Hope we have another great year ahead, even with all the question marks. I’m curious to see what Brian Kelly can do with the team this upcoming season and think it is a big moment to see if he’s really an elite coach or one that builds up to certain years of relevance instead of reloading. Thanks again Eric!
Eric Hansen: Wow Stephen, that means a lot. Thank YOU.
Danny from Massachusetts: Yes, they need more talent on offense. But the bigger issue is actually the system! Look at Georgia — five-stars all over the field and their offense is also mediocre because of the system. Do you agree, and if so, why does no media member ask Brian Kelly about why he still has his fingerprints over the offense?
Eric Hansen: Danny, I'll be honest with you. This kind of question ticks me off. First of all, let's assume no one has asked Kelly about his influence on the offense (which is absolutely false), what will be gained by asking him. ... or what do you hope will be gained. That he'll say, "Gee, since I'm being asked about this, maybe I should just shut up and do some yoga?" He's been asked ZILLIONS of times, though perhaps not with the intent you'd have. And the answer has changed over the years. But if you're the head coach and have offensive expertise, why wouldn't you want to be part of the solution rather than a bystander? As far as Georgia, look at how much better they were once they went with J.T. Daniels at quarterback. And I'm not sure Kirby Smart has proven to be an elite in-game strategist. So it's not just talent. It' s not just coaching. It's not just play-calling, it's being really good at all of that stuff.
Clara from Indiana: What changes do you think Kelly makes to the offense? Or do you think he’ll just stick to what he’s done in 12 years and keep trying to chase 2012 offenses?
Eric Hansen: Clara, being an elite coach and team is about evolving, because football is constantly changing. What worked 12 years ago doesn't work today. Notre Dame's vaunted 2012 defense wouldn't function well in today's football, and that wasn't that long ago. So no, I don't expect ND's offense to remain static. I do thank you for your question. I did a big piece on just this subject just ahead of the CFP semifinal if you'd like to read more:
Analysis: Notre Dame, the gap between the Irish and playoff ogres, and the chase
Cole from Washington:Will Kelly learn in year 12 that he needs to adapt his offense to the landscape of college football in 2021? Nick Saban won titles and then realized he needed to completely overhaul his offensive system to keep up with the way the game is changing. Will Kelly do the same? He hasn’t shown the ability to do so, because that would require him not having some control over his offense. That’s why I’m wondering.
Eric Hansen: Cole, quit peeking at Clara's paper.
Mike from Indiana: Why can Clemson find a way to get E.J. Williams, rated lower than Jordan Johnson, on the field but Kelly can’t get Johnson on the field? Seems like if you get a five-star commit, you should be finding packages to get your talented guys on the field, no?
Eric Hansen: Because maybe E.J .Williams adapted to the overall college experience more easily than Jordan Johnson did. I understand why you ask the question, though. You look at an ND team without a guy likely to be picked in the first two days of the draft and wonder why a five-star talent can't get on the field. If ND was thriving at that position and if JJ couldn't offer a different skill set, then maybe the question is moot. I'll put it this way. This is a big year for wide receiver and offensive development. A lot of eyes will be on DelVaughn Alexander and Tommy Rees.
Circling back to Clara's and Cole's questions. Notre Dame didn't have the roster to get to the playoff with Alabama's formula. They did have a roster to get to the playoff with a ball-control model. The referendum at the playoff level is that model isn't going to win games on that stage without a perfect game from ND and some really bad bounces for the favored team. Given ND's roster composition next year and recruiting priorities, my expectation is that they'll try to push toward a more explosive/dynamic offense to pair with a top defense.
Gabriel Weiss from North Liberty: Hello Mr. Hansen. Thanks for your time and insight. Do you think if Brian Kelly retires in the next few years and Elston is still here, that he would be considered for the head coach position? Or would it be only coaches with offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator experience? I am a big fan of his and also think he is a great recruiter.
Eric Hansen: Jack Swarbrick told me in an interview a little over a year ago that head coaching experience wouldn't necessarily be a prerequisite this time (post-Kelly), because the program is in a different place than it was when Charlie Weis was fired. And I like Elston's potential as a head coach somewhere. But I still think the preferred path is having head coaching experience elsewhere. And whether it's Swarbrick or his successor making that decision, that's where I'd expect that search to finish ... with an experienced head coach.
Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric, have you heard anything further on how Louis Nix is doing? Do you stay in contact with many ND football player alumni?
Eric Hansen: I need to circle back to him. We exchanged texts on New Year's Eve, but I need to get back to him. Yes, I do keep in contact with a lot of them. Not on a weekly basis, but periodically. Some are Facebook friends. And a lot of them come on our podcast, so that's a great way to catch up.
Megat Muzaffar from Kuala Lumper, Malaysia: Hi Eric. Do we need to reinvent and introduce a radical Brian Kelly Offense 2.0 in 2021?
Eric Hansen: Megat, I wouldn't say radical. I think there's a natural growth pattern and elements you'd want to keep, like a really good running game (which Alabama also had). But I like the 2.0 part of that.
Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, new year, new hopes. What is the greatest need for ND to return to the College Football Playoff this coming year? Thanks for all of your GREAT work on the chats and football stories.
Eric Hansen: Happy New Year, Ken. I'm not projecting ND to be a playoff team in 2021, but it they were, we'd see elite play at the quarterback and wide receiver positions.
Eric Hansen: I'm out of time. Thanks for all the great questions and for joining on a day where there's a lot more important things going on in the world. Let's continue to do this weekly at last for another week or two. So next Wednesday at noon ET. Thanks again.