Chat Transcript: Talking Notre Dame recruiting pitfalls and improvements, and the future at QB

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, the final-week-in-January edition. Please remember to include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question. Lots of questions in the queue and more coming, so let's get started.

Travis from Newport Ky.: Eric, thank you for doing these every week. Admittedly, I don't catch them live. I wait for the transcript every Thursday and read them at my desk, so thank you for giving me something to look forward to every week. My question, like so many others is regarding our quarterbacks. I am just as excited about Tyler Buchner as every ND fan, but I think people need to relax their early expectations on him and remember that he's only played one year of high school football. Why do you think so many fans are skipping over Drew Pyne's potential? I know he's undersized, but this kid is a four-star recruit who had offers from the likes of 'Bama and other big programs.

Eric Hansen: Travis, thanks for following the chats and for your question. You make a really good point about Pyne's offer list. it's impressive: Alabama, Miami, LSU. Florida State, Texas A&M, Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma, among others. I really do think it comes down to size, and the fact fans feel like they've seen that movie before. He's listed at 6-foot, 194 pounds. He was 181 pounds when he signed. All the other QBs on the roster are 6-2 or 6-3. Pyne may be viewed very differently internally than he is from the outside looking in. We'll get a much better feel for that this spring. It's too bad both he and Brendon Clark didn't get a chance to show what they could do last spring.

Tony from Fairfax, Va.: Hey Eric. I love these chats. Finding time to read between finishing work and trying to wrangle an infant and a toddler is tough, but totally worth it. My question: Although I think the outward messaging is now there regarding the need to have top 5 recruiting classes, I feel that there was a lot of rationalizing of the teen-rated recruiting classes under Brian Kelly as a result of the academic standards that Notre Dame brings. However, this did not seem to be case with Charlie Weis in a couple of years where he was bringing in some clout on the trail. Sure finding the right player that fits the coaching scheme is important and development is important (see what Kelly did with Weis' players in 2012). I know there are a million factors as to why high schoolers make the choices they do and a million variables in recruiting, but I have not really bought the narrative that the academic standards are the reason for not having top 5 classes. I think player development has been above par for sure, but imagine if the players are starting with a higher ceiling. I guess my question is, do you have any thoughts on this?

Eric Hansen: Tony, I've been in your shoes with the infant/toddler double-team, though many, many years ago. Good luck with that ... and enjoy it. You'll miss it someday. ... To your question. I think the most important dynamic in what you described is Brian Kelly's belief that academic standards shouldn't be a stumbling block to upgrading recruiting. I think he's realistic about fit being important, but he also knows Notre Dame can do better with the pool of players to which they have access. If HE believed there was a ceiling ND couldn't break through, then that would be problematic. It starts there. Now as the pandemic eases (and even before it does), Notre Dame has to follow through on its blueprint of how to improve recruiting. I'll be writing soon about one particular facet that I believe will improve ND's "hit rate" significantly.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Hello Eric. A question pegged to the recent troubles at Tennessee: When a program starts to engage in egregious rules violations of the type alleged against the Vols, does this behavior become an open secret among media that are around the program a lot? Or are they as surprised as the rest of when the NCAA investigation becomes public? Do reporters know or are at least suspect that the culture has turned? I understand that you may not be able to comment on the Tennessee situation in particular — just using it as an example. Thanks, as always, and I hope you’re getting some offseason rest.

Eric Hansen: Bruce, thanks. I will kind of answer this in the hypothetical, since you gave me that out. If reporters do know about egregious rules violations and don't look into it and report on it, then what are they doing in the journalism business? I hope it came as a surprise to those covering the team. Now, they may have suspicions and can't find substance — that's one thing. But if they're covering up for a program, that's about as lazy and/or unethical as you can get.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric. If I am anything like the other chatters, I would like your guidance on the type of questions to avoid for this chat. I think the vast majority of chatters just want to learn about ND football, but also we like to see our questions posted and answered. I realize time dictates that not all questions can be answered. And of course there are the eternal ground rules, but what other items/subjects are almost guaranteed to meet your delete button? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, math and time constraints really factor in more than anything else. I just looked at the analytics from my last three chats. I answered 35%, 38% and 36% of the questions. I usually have to cut things off after three hours, because I have a print deadline and/or another work commitment. If someone doesn't include their name and hometown, that question better be Pulitzer Prize-caliber or it goes to the back of the queue. ... Some other mechanics: I try to toggle between the questions that come in early and those being submitted live. I avoid questions — even good ones — that are going to slow down the flow of the chat for too long. Sometimes I'll make a phone call or shoot an email ... and if someone gets back to me, I can get to that question. If someone's asked a question already, or if it was asked and answered last week, or if it's overly broad or overly loaded, I skip it. If I think the question won't have enough mass appeal, I'll skip it. ... Like why did Notre Dame run the single wing formation in 1937? That kind of thing. Also, if someone asks like 10 questions, I try to be fair to the others in the queue and maybe pick the best one of those 10. I hope this helps.

Jeff from Cleveland: Eric, At least according to Carter Karels, it seems like Jack Coan is set to be the starting QB this season, and Tyler Buchner is destined to be his understudy. Is this what you are hearing as well, or is Carter just reading between the lines with regard to Coan's transfer, and is assuming that it's Coan's job to lose?

Eric Hansen: I reread Carter's story and checked in with him with my phone-a-friend lifeline, and that's not what he was trying to imply. I think Carter and a lot of other media believe Jack Coan is the favorite because of his experience. However, I do think there will be an open competition with the possibility of someone else emerging. And that happens more than you realize with grad transfer QBs. I agree Jack will start spring as the favorite, but not the heir, to the position.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric – Hope all is going well for you and yours! Do you think we’ll see a lot of restrictions this coming season due to COVID 19? Thanks mucho and keep up the GREAT chats.

Eric Hansen: Hi Ken. I'm not sure if you mean COVID restrictions pertaining to players/coaches ... or fans. In either case, there's the potential to move toward normalcy as the year goes on. If Johnson & Johnson's vaccine gets approval next month (and it's one shot, not two) and it's as effective as the first two vaccines that are out now, that could move the timetable way up on moving toward herd immunity. Right now the numbers in our county (St. Joseph) are plummeting, and that's a good thing. The new variants are a wild card. A lot of what happens depends on us.

Phil from Litchfield, Conn.: Hi Eric. Thanks for the great football chats during these cold and lonely times at the end of January. Not sure if you covered this in last week's chat, but what's up with the selection committee for the FWAA Freshman All-America team? I certainly congratulate Kyren Williams for making the team after his terrific year in 2020, but what about a tight end selection? They instead chose three WRs and no Michael Mayer at tight end?? That's nuts! Was he so good they forgot he was only a freshman? (P.S.: The football roster on your SBT website says 2020 in the title instead of 2021.)

Eric Hansen: Phil, thanks for the heads-up on the roster. I was able to fix that. When I saw the all-freshman team, I was surprised and disappointed that the FWAA took the approach of modifying the positions. And Michael Mayer was certainly deserving. You're right. It is nuts not to include a tight end, period.

Peter Burke from Coto De Caza, Calif.: When do you estimate ND will announce, "thanks but no thanks" to the ACC for 2021?

Eric Hansen: Peter, that's the assumption, that Notre Dame will play its normal 2021 schedule, as designed. If there somehow a reversal in the positive momentum and that needs to change, ONLY then would there be an announcement of another ACC season. Again, that would be shockingly unexpected.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.:Enjoyed your Rees article, hoping for a massive offensive overhaul in the red zone in2021! When ND recruits. do the coaches have a prototype profile regarding height, weight, body mass, speed, etc., by position? Or are they primarily looking for position need and best athlete available who can meet academic requirements? Stay safe, Eric. Hope YOU know you’re the best!! Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Bill, thanks. Yes, Notre Dame has certain measurables they're looking for when they're recruiting certain positions. Sometimes a prospect outside of those measurables feels too good to pass up. Sheldon Day is an example of that. And, yes, they go into the recruiting cycle looking at needs. There are exceptions. Let's say they want to take two wide receivers, and they have two commitments already, but there's an elite five-star guy still in play late in the cycle. They'd wait on him and take him, but not necessarily any other third receiver.

Larry from Topton, Pa.: Hi Eric! Thank you for keeping the chats going during the offseason. I always learn a lot from reader questions and your answers. As you have mentioned, with four quarterbacks having freshman eligibility in 2021, QB recruiting could get challenging going forward. What can you tell us about the status of QB recruiting for 2022? Thanks Eric!!

Eric Hansen: Larry, Notre Dame has extended scholarship offers to three QBs in the 2022 class. In August, offers went out to Steve Angeli (6-2, 205) from Oradell, N.J., and Gavin Wimsatt (6-3, 200) from Owensboro, Ky. This month, they extended a third offer, to Ty Simpson (6-2, 185) from Martin, Tenn. Simpson is the highest-rated of the three, followed by Wimsatt and Angeli.

Fred from Richmond, Va.: As always I enjoy reading your chats and staying on top of everything related to Notre Dame football. You seem to more informed than anyone except maybe coach Kelly. What is the current status of quarterback Brendon Clark. This young man's potential is extremely intriguing. I saw him in high school and was blown away by his accuracy and scrambling ability. He played in a very strong high school program, which produced many excellent college players. Everyone seems to be handing the job to Tyler Buchner, and forgetting about Clark, which I believe is a big mistake. Certain players have that "it" factor, and he is one of them. I thank Ian Book for all he accomplished, but he never had that "it" factor. I have been thankful for everything coach Kelly has done for the program, but his inability to develop strong quarterback play has been troubling. We have had great offensive lines and have placed several receivers in the NFL, but no quarterbacks. Do you see this as a problem as many others beside myself do?

Eric Hansen: Fred, first thanks for the kind words. ... Now to Brendon Clark. The knee Clark had surgically repaired in high school started giving him trouble late this past season. There's reason to believe he's undergone surgery since the end of the season, but that has yet to be confirmed, so don't run with that. As soon as Brian Kelly is available, we'll get a better read on where that's headed. If he has to miss spring or is limited, it will hurt his chances of winning the job or even being the No. 2 option. From what I've seen of Clark, I like him a lot and want to see more, but it's a very, very small sample size. I can't disagree with you about ND's quarterback recruiting and development needing to take a big step forward. That's not a knock on Ian Book. He, by far, exceeded what was expected of him. But ND needs to take a big step forward on the recruiting and development fronts if it aspires to compete for national titles.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. I hope your week is going well. What do you think of Tommy Rees' recruiting and evaluation potential? After watching Marcus Freeman tear it up the last several weeks, I wonder if Rees has the chops to recruit the talent necessary to compete for championships. For example why was ND so late getting in on the Ty Simpson recruitment? Also I read where Tyson Ford said he had no contact with Brian Kelly during his recruitment as opposed to six to 10 meetings with (Oklahoma head coach) Lincoln Riley. Do you really think BK is serious about upping his personal recruiting efforts? If so, this is not a good look or a good start. Thanks for hosting the chat. Always look forward to your opinions.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. You are a mind reader when it comes to the first part of your question. I was thinking the same thing yesterday as I was writing my column that focused on Rees. I actually reached out to someone in the recruiting business to get those answers. We talked off the record, because there's a hesitancy by some to be too candid publicly and risk getting avenues of information cut off because of that candor. What I've learned so far from that conversation and others before it is that Rees is very good at evaluating quarterbacks, He's very good at reciting Notre Dame's selling points. He comes across as authentic. But there are a lot of unknowns as he broadens into the offensive coordinator on the recruiting trail, and not just a position coach. Can he evaluate other offensive positions as adeptly? Is he willing to extend offers to kids Notre Dame is starting way behind with and has steep odds of eventually landing? Is he able to win a tug-of-war for a coveted undecided prospect? This 2022 recruiting cycle will help fill in those blanks.

The Tyson Ford question has come up a lot today. For background, this was info from a story Pete Sampson did for The Athletic on a recent verbal commitment from a standout DE recruit from St. Louis, who recently committed to the Irish. I don't doubt the reporting. What I'm not sure of is the context. Some of the time BK wasn't texting the kid, he was in fact, busy trying to hire Marcus Freeman and keep him from taking an offer for LSU. And you could explain how from mid-December on, he was locked in on getting ready for Alabama.

When I talked to BK in July, one-on-one, about upping his game in recruiting, he sounded sincere when he claimed he needed to be more involved at critical junctures. Ford was offered in April, so not to have talked to BK from April through January has a bad look, as you pointed out. Now would Ford have talked to BK if he had been able to make a visit? Very likely. What I hope to get to the bottom of is this: Was BK unwilling? Or was this a lack of organization, and someone dropped the ball on getting him involved? In either case, the response to make sure it doesn't happen again is what's important now.

Greg from Natrona Heights, Pa.: Eric, I love these chats.. Truth be told, I read them while I am at work, so please don't tell on me. What are your thoughts on other positions that we may be able to add through the transfer portal and what areas do you think the coaching staff needs to address though the transfer portal? Keep up the great work and GO IRISH!!

Eric Hansen: Greg, thanks. Your secret is safe with me. And if your boss finds out, tell him to call me and I'll set him straight. ... With Houston Griffith doing a portal U-turn, there's less urgency to look at a safety. I would be looking at quality grad transfer cornerbacks and defensive ends, perhaps taking one of each. With school starting next Wednesday, the Irish may wait until after spring practice, look at the numbers and then either get more serious about those positions I mentioned or back off.

Andre from Baltimore: Thanks for your column. It's fine that we almost always call for a fair catch on punts. But as long as we're not going to run it back, why not go for the block much more often? Why block the gunners when we don't care how fast they get downfield? The only downside I can think of is the possibility of running into the kicker, but if we practice blocking the punt all season and do it several times a game, wouldn't we get pretty skillful at it?

Eric Hansen: Andre, other than the risk of penalty, as you pointed out, I see no holes in your argument. At some point, when Brian Polian is available for non-recruiting questions, that's one I'd like to send his way ... the whole philosophy around punt returns.

Paul from Annandale, Va.: What is the most important position that needs to be filled? From current players and recruiting?

Eric Hansen: Quarterback, and it's not even close.

Gabriel Weiss from North Liberty: Hello, Mr. Hansen. Why did Notre Dame run the single wing formation in 1937? Haha just jokes ... Happy Wednesday Mr. Hansen! I'm excited for the young receivers coming into the program or have been in the program for a year now. Do you expect any sophomores or freshmen to make an impact in the receiving game next year? Will Jordan Johnson play a major role? Thanks, as always, for your time.

Eric Hansen: Gabe, you got me. It'd be one thing if I were alive in 1937. I'm not THAT old LOL. ... To your more timely question, I think they, the freshmen and sophomores, need to be competitive for positions. There's a lot of talent in those two classes. I'm really eager to see what Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts and Lorenzo Styles Jr. can do in a receiving corps that will include Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy, among others.

Chris from Salt Lake City, Utah: Any chance that ND goes after Clemson transfer linebacker Mike Jones? Appreciate the Irish warmth you bring in snowy Utah!

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Chris. I should have mentioned Mike Jones Jr. in my answer to Natrona Heights Greg. Because of the caliber of player he is, I think you have to do your due diligence with a guy like that. If his skill set transfers to whatever Marcus Freeman is going to call the rover, Jones is very much worth a look if you can make the scholarship numbers work. If he's a better fit inside, then I'm going to pass.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. Bruce from Centralia, Ill., asked an interesting question about Tennessee and rules violations. Your answer was superb. It put me in mind, however, of a book I recently read and one I am reading now. The former is "Shake Down the Thunder" and the latter is "Onward to Victory." Both are by author Murray Sperber, as I am sure you are aware. In these books, he goes back in history after accessing archives no one had previously accessed, to reveal many things and explode many myths about Notre Dame football, Knute Rockne, and college football in general. Among the things that I found interesting was the relationship between media members and the schools, especially Notre Dame, back in the days during and prior to World War II. That relationship has changed greatly in the years since, as you attested to in your response to Bruce. I just wanted to recommend these books to your readers. "Shake Down the Thunder" focuses strictly on the creation of Notre Dame football. "Onward to Victory" on all of college football.

Eric Hansen: Tim, thanks. I read "Shake Down The Thunder" years ago, and enjoyed it. I've also gotten to know Murray Sperber ... very interesting guy.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. Thanks for hosting these chats. Can't express enough how your coverage of ND football has provided us fans with a sense of normalcy in these less-than-normal times. My question is what exactly do these latest NCAA recruiting violations mean in terms of being on probation? I understand the fines, and and restrictions, but what ramifications does being placed on probation mean?

Eric Hansen: Other than the sanctions, which we listed in their entirety and you touched upon, it means: Don't do this again while you're on probation, or the sanctions will be more restrictive. Thanks for the normalcy to all of you. I enjoy this.

Neil from Indianapolis: Thanks for these chats, Eric. Your combination of thoughtfulness yet respect for the fact that these are still college kids whose names are in the public domain never ceases to impress. A coach once told me that when two players have similar ability or performance, the tiebreaker on playing time should always go to the younger player. Do you agree in the context of major college football, and do you see that with the Irish?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Neil. I think the tiebreaker question logic that was shared with you is sound, but I wouldn't be rigid in applying it. Sometimes the sense of urgency of a player who hears the clock ticking is going to break the tie in the other direction. Sometimes the older player works harder. I would take all those factors into account. In terms of whether I see that with the Irish? I don't see all ties going to the younger players. It's more about who they project will improve faster and more sustainably from that point forward,

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, since the 2016 season, ND has certainly been trending in the right direction. I feel they're at the upper part of the Tier 2 teams with sights on Tier 1 (Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson). What pushes ND into the top tier? Is Marcus Freeman someone that can help push into the top tier with his recruiting? Seems like he's getting his foot into some doors that weren't necessarily open on the recruiting trail to ND.

Eric Hansen: Doug, if Marcus Freeman coaches the way he did at Cincinnati and closes in recruiting the way he's kicked down doors, then yes. Huge step toward moving on up. But modernizing the offense, or evolving might be the better word, is critical too — through recruiting, through getting speed and talent on the field and through scheme and play-calling.

Jim from Terre Haute, Ind.: Hey Eric, last week you mentioned you would be interested in seeing how receivers such as Jordan Johnson, Braden Lenzy and one or two others developed coming into this spring, but no mention of Kevin Austin. Was this omission intended or by design? Do you know something the rest of us Irish fans don’t know regarding Austin? Thanks, as always, for your responses to our questions.

Eric Hansen: Jim, with Kevin Austin having to undergo postseason surgery on that foot, I'm not sure what his availability is going to be like in the spring. Some of that will be affected by just when spring practice is held. The later it's staged, the better chance you'd at least get to see a limited version of Kevin in the spring.

Stephen from Toledo, Ohio: Hi Eric!!! Glad to have the chats back and can’t wait for some more Irish news. This year is gonna be interesting with all of the exiting offensive linemen and the addition of new coaching staff. I recall an article someone did on Mike Elston and his wife’s cookies and how he met Brian Kelly and grew to be one of his main staples in his programs. I was wondering if you had any plans on doing in-depth stories on the updated staff. I’d really like to get to know them, their experience, college play, coaching influences, schematic ideals and even family life and how they tie in to BK himself. Was wondering if this was something on the docket or something you’d consider? If you have time, obviously, since you have so many coaches in the program. Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Stephen. I did the cookie story, and the best part of it was that Beth and the Elston girls months later made a sack of cookies each for Tom, Tyler, Carter and me. Tyler and I actually tried them out during our podcast. I can tell you this. (Sorry mom) best cookies I've EVER tasted. ... but that's not your question. We would LOVE LOVE LOVE to do more personality profiles on the assistant coaches. Limited access because of COVID and limited access because that's kind of the way BK wants it are the two hurdles. Generally, we get a chance to do those stories in the summer for our magazine/special section. My hope is, at the very least, we get a chance to do some of those stories then.

Gene in New York: Eric, thanks again for all the great coverage and giving us something to look forward to during these difficult times. After watching the playoffs, my question is not so much about talent disparity (yes, it is apparent) as talent development. Main reason ND gets there is that QB and offensive line were all in their third solid year of development. How often is that going to happen? Until this past year, where Book surpassed most everyone’s expectations, I believe the best QB years under Kelly were Book’s and Kizer’s first year, where both started that season on the bench. Why is that? Alabama loses a top receiver and another receiver ends up Player of the Year. Clemson loses a QB and RB next year and are pre-preseason No. 1. ND loses two speedy receivers and in big games there’s no receiver to be found. The offensive line took three years to reach expectations. Why? How do you speed up development?

Eric Hansen: Gene, you speed it up with better recruiting. When you do that, your depth is better, your margin for error is better, you're playbook works better. There are three programs that have that talent/player development/culture/coaching quotient down. And 127 others are chasing. It's not just talent. Otherwise USC and Georgia would be celebrating national titles in the past decade. But camera-ready talent is a great equalizer.

Nick from Minnesota: Looking back on last season, it seems to me that Ian Book played by far the best football of his career (or at least the season) in the Clemson I game and the North Carolina game, and then couldn't get back to that level in the ACC Championship or the playoff (although I recognize that wide receiver play was not as good in those games either, especially the championship game). If he had been able to stay at that level, do you think those games would have been one- or two-score losses instead, and would we now be talking about how close ND is to reaching the next level?

Eric Hansen: I think the score in each of those games would have been closer. I don't know the outcome would have been different, but the postgame feel would definitely have been. 

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, Anthony Weaver and Dave Ragone were just named as defensive and offensive coordinators in the NFL. Do you know if either has expressed any interest in coming back and coaching at ND or if ND has reached out to gauge their interest recently or for future positions?

Eric Hansen: Doug ... with Dave Ragone, I think you're thinking about Mike Ragone, the former Irish tight end. Dave, the NFL coach, went to Louisville. As far as Anthony, I think he'd be great and I've heard his name come up in speculation at different points. He's only coached full-time in college one year (2011) and has been in the NFL since, so I'm not sure how appealing coaching in college at this point would be for him.

Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: We Irish fans are a impatient lot. How long should we wait for Tommy Rees to show he can be a difference-maker? Second, in your opinion, would we be better off with a separate QB coach?

Eric Hansen: I think it's important for Rees (and other assistants) to show improvement every year. Football is an evolutionary game. Now if you're asking me, when should he be mentioned in the same breath as Steve Sarkisian ('Bama), Kevin Wilson (Ohio State), and Tony Elliott (Clemson), I think Brian Kelly's expectation is that Rees' learning curve will be quick and his ceiling high. So I would say to expect more than an incremental step forward in 2021. Better off with a separate QB coach? I don't think so. I'm good with that being the same person.

Rich from Phoenixville Pa.: Maybe a bit off-topic, but it seems apparent that Jack Swarbrick is closer to the end than the middle of his tenure. I've not seen it mentioned, but it occurs to me that he'd be a great candidate should the Power 5/FBS decide to strike out on their own in football, more or less split off from the NCAA/bowl alignments. Lawyer, shrewd negotiator, NCAA experience, knows the Power 5 conferences without being aligned with any one. Years of experience managing the most prolific football program in the country (IMO). What do you think? Would there be interest based on your interactions with him?

Eric Hansen: Jack and I have only really had one discussion about how he views retirement, and him doing something different didn't come up in that conversation. I think it's a viable alternative, but at age 66, doing some fishing might sound pretty good, too. I wouldn't rule either out, but he does ooze passion about what he's doing now, at Notre Dame.

Jim Heckart from Whereabouts Unknown: Eric, this will be more of a reflection than a question for you. I was fortunate enough to have you publish two of my questions during your chats in the past month or so. I don't know how other questioners feel about having their issues discussed, but when I saw my questions being answered, I felt like a celebrity. I told my wife and daughter and son-in-law about it, and basically walked around our house like a new author who had just had his first novel published. It was exciting seeing my name in print and having a guy like you, who knows so much about Irish football, answer my questions. Thanks for being there every week to keep us all updated on the ins and outs of our favorite football team. Keep COVID free, and as Norah O'Donnell of CBS News says: "Stay positive and test negative."

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks for the nice note ... but next time include your hometown, please!!

Jay from Columbus, Ohio: Eric, what steps, in your opinion, does Tommy Rees need to do as an offensive coordinator to get ND on the same page as other top 10 teams? Is Brian Kelly holding him back? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: As I mentioned in my column today. he did some of those things this year ... playing to the strengths of his current roster, and committing to and coaxing physicality from an offense that needed to move in that direction. The next step is getting more dynamic. Faster receivers. A QB who can be in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency, and a scheme to match. Some of that involves recruiting and player development. As the OC, he needs to have influence there. Is BK holding him back? I don't know why that would be.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Thanks for the chat, Eric! Just a couple questions: I understand things are fluid, but no news on Mike Elston taking a new job would lead me to believe he is staying at ND? Any chatter? Also would it be of interest to promote Mike Mickens to pass-game coordinator and handle cornerback and safety recruiting since he’s been touted as a recruiter and ND has lacked in that department with the exception of this year's class? Does Nick Lezynski play a role? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Tyler, Mike Elston is staying. His choice. Not lack of options. ... I'm not sure about how Mike Mickens' role will fit with who ND ends up with as the safeties coach. He'd welcome more responsibility and I would think could handle it. But let's see who the safeties coach is first. ... I believe Nick Lezynski will come back as an analyst, but that's not official.

Rick from Sinking Spring, Pa.: Do you see any chance that Marcus Freeman could turn into a head coach-in-waiting at some point?

Eric Hansen: Again, this is a concept ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick isn't fond of, especially if we don't know the end point of the current head coach's teunure  or if it's too far into the future. That's the case right now.

Jason from Amber, Pa.: Unfortunately, Marcus Freeman will eventually discover that he can't recruit the best players, because ND will not admit them. When I watched Cincinnati play, it was obvious their overall defensive speed was far superior to the speed, or lack of speed, in the defensive backfield. Will ND ever come to the reality that their elite academic standards will never allow them to win a national championship? Are they happy that games are not sold out? Do they think they can continue to raise ticket prices to make up for the lower attendance at games? I know this discussion is about football, but will Jack Swarbrick finally realize that Mike Brey needs to be forced into retirement?

Eric Hansen: Jason, when I was asked earlier what kind of questions that I usually pass on, I should have included this. You answer your own questions within your questions. If you're not going to come at this with an open mind (and we don't have to end up agreeing), then why come at all?

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Eric, what is the difference in Del Alexander, and Todd Lyght, other than the positions they coach? They seem to be getting very similar results on the field. I would give Alexander the edge on recruiting. Make or break year for him?

Eric Hansen: I think you have to give DelVaughn credit for stepping up in the last recruiting cycle when it was imperative that he did. And yes, I think that same opportunity is there as far as player development this year. It's critical there needs to be a lot of it at a very talent position group.

Jay from Columbus, Ohio: Thanks Eric. Read the article this morning. Refreshing to hear you are a Rees and BK believer in getting the offense on par with the defense. Makes me wonder what they have been waiting for?

Eric Hansen: I think there was a time when you could win a national title with a game manager at quarterback and an elite defense. Now you still need that strong defense, but the offensive pyrotechnics are very much a necessary part of the formula. This season was a referendum on that.

John from Munster, Ind.: 6 2, 260: What position will improve the most? Which player will surprise us?

Eric Hansen: John, what's your 40 time and do you have any eligibility left? Position that will improve the most? It needs to be wide receiver. It will probably be interior defensive line, which isn't a bad thing, maybe cornerback. Surprise player? I'll say Lorenzo Styles Jr. on offense, and Jordan Botelho on defense.

Jason from Amber, Pa.: Well, Eric, I'm just stating the obvious. My friends and I used to travel to South Bend even if we didn't have tickets. We would pay a scalper. Now that we can get tickets, we usually aren't interested in attending. ND is losing fans and those that remain loyal usually expect them to lose the big games. The question isn't about will we lose, it's about how bad will we lose.

Eric Hansen: Maybe it's obvious to you. Intermittently throughout the time we've been doing the Pod of Gold podcasts, I've asked our guests whether they thought ND could/would win a national title while BK was still coaching. I've gotten one "no." And you can't say they don't win big games. They beat the No. 1 team in the country THIS YEAR. As far as attendance, it's not a Notre Dame thing, it's a college football thing. It's industry-wide, and I've done stories on it. You have your right to be interminably miserable and pessimistic, but don't try to pass it off as something that's factual.

Jeff from Phoenix: Eric, what is taking so long with hiring the secondary coach? Any imminent announcement?

Eric Hansen: A lot of the coaches were out of the office last week. Look for momentum to pick up this week.

Bill from St Joseph, Mich.: Really appreciate your wonderful coverage of ND football and continuing these chats. Two questions: Regarding the Alabama game, do you think that Shayne Simon was too aggressive when he rushed himself out of his run fit or was he trying to protect the edge against Najee Harris (the play where Harris hurdled Nick McCloud)? Second question, what is your favorite Barbeque joint in your neck of the woods?

Eric Hansen: Bill, I'd have to watch the play over again. I don't generally do film studies, but I can rewind sometime and take a look at that. ... My favorite BBQ place in South Bend? Frankie's, of course.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hey Eric, I was wondering if you could explain the dynamics of a story that you would write about a commitment. Kind of like a human interest background story, that sort of thing. Do you approach the recruit and get permission? Would you ever do a story without permission? Do you try to get a scoop and in return promise a story (not implying anything unethical about this)? What would the accepted, ethical considerations be? Thanks so very much.

Eric Hansen: Denis, full disclosure, Carter Karels handles most of these. I have done some when both Carter and Tyler James are off. The last one I did was a 2022 linebacker recruit from Michigan named Nolan Ziegler. I did as much background as I could that morning once I knew he was going to commit. Better background = better questions = better story. I'm not sure if that's the answer you were looking for, but that's how my process works.

John from Munster, Ind.: Who will be leading rusher and receiver?

Eric Hansen: Kyren Williams and Kevin Austin.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric, now that Notre Dame has played in a conference for the first time, what were the thoughts of Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick on the experience? I will say that although I hated the outcome, I did love seeing ND play on Conference Championship Saturday. And it appears the conference route is a much easier route to get in the CFP. The only game I really missed seeing was playing USC. Do you think this past year makes it more or less likely ND will ever make the move to a conference?

Eric Hansen: I've written about this from both of them. In a nutshell, they enjoyed it. I don't think this year changed Notre Dame's desire to be an independent one iota.

Bill from St Joseph, Mich.: Understanding that we are a couple months from spring practices, nonetheless, what do you project the starting defensive line to be?

Eric Hansen: Isaiah Foskey, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, Justin Ademilola.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Hi Eric, having these chats at this time of year is such a blast. It's so great to be able to discuss ND football after the season has ended. Thanks for continuing to do this. Of the number of Irish players down at the Senior Bowl, how many do you believe have a realistic chance of having an impactful career in the NFL? And along those lines, if you had to guess, do you think that Ian Book will be on an NFL roster come this September? The opinion on that seems to greatly vary depending on who is offering an appraisal. Take care.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. I'd say the three with the best chance of an impactful NFL career are Liam Eichenberg (who I think had to withdraw), Aaron Banks and Ade Ogundeji. You could argue all three of them might have their best football ahead of them. Of the other four, I'd take a flyer on Daelin Hayes if he can stay healthy. As for Book, someone's going to like him enough to at least put him on the practice squad.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for this week. I'm ready to stay in weekly mode one more week, so let's go ahead next Wednesday at noon ET. By the way, I improved my percentage to 62% of the questions answers. Thanks for all the great questions.

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