Chat Transcript: Modernizing the Notre Dame offense, and the best of Louis Nix

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to a special Tuesday edition of Notre Dame Football Live Chat. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick answered a lot of questions you all have been submitting in recent chats during our recent two part Q-and-A. If you haven't had a chance to check those out, here's your second chance:

Jack Swarbrick on Notre Dame closing the gap, Brian Kelly's role in recruiting

and

Looking at Notre Dame's football future through the COVID lens with Jack Swarbrick

Eric Hansen: A friendly reminder ... please include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question. Off we go.

Gabriel Weiss from North Liberty: Hello Mr. Hansen. Thanks again for taking our questions. Hope you are doing well. This is not directly related to Notre Dame, but why is there a top 25 poll and not a top 30 or some other number? I could not find it anywhere online and could only think of you to ask!

Eric Hansen: Gabriel, I am doing well thanks, and ready to get my second shot of Moderna tomorrow. ... The AP poll was the first one and started publishing continuously in 1936 with a top 20. For some reason, they reduced it to a top 10 from 1962 to 1967, then back to a top 20 in 1968. The switch to a top 25 came in 1989. I couldn't find an official reason in my research, but my best guess is the expansion was to anticipate a growing number of teams in the FBS division, which has been the case. I think 30 would be too many. As a voter, I find it difficult some weeks to find worth teams once you get to around No. 21 or 22.

Tom from Downers Grove, Ill.: Are there any clear indications with the coach's recruiting preferences between QB targets Gavin Wimsatt, Drew Allar, and Steve Angeli?

Eric Hansen: Tom, I'm going to start a new feature later this week that will be a roundtable of sorts of national recruiting savants/experts/gurus that will touch on various recruiting topics on a regular basis. That will be one of the questions I ask them. So if you want the opinion of someone smarter than me, just wait a few days. The sense I get is the Irish coaching staff likes all three, with perhaps Angeli for a while holding the edge. I think when they offered a scholarship to fast-rising Ohio prospect Drew Allar, I got the sense he's on at least even footing. Again, I'll ask the question in the roundtable and get you perhaps a different/better answer. Allar is my personal choice.

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Hi Eric. Until I see ND's first flea-flicker or double reverse or three running backs in the backfield to disguise who will be receiving the ball on an obvious running down, I will always and continuously see ND's offense as Brian Kelly's offense and not Tommy Rees' or previously Chip Long's. To me, Kelly seems to be still calling the plays regardless of what we are being told. An ND fan once said a few years ago if ND has to resort to running a flea-flicker to score a TD, we have no offense. I totally disagree as I see Clemson and Ohio State run trick plays to spice up the O, keep the opposing defense honest or catch them off guard. Do you agree Eric? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Mike. You're awesome, but I disagree with a lot of what you have submitted here. It's ironic that the very first play Brian Kelly had Rees run as a quarterback was a flea-flicker. And it ended up being the first of his 37 career interceptions. Brian Kelly certainly has input into the offense and veto power and the ability to make suggestions. But you already seem to have your mind made up, so I may be wasting my time here. Keep in mind coaching is a collaboration at its best, and if you're the head coach and you're not contributing on one side of the ball (or both), then what is your worth to the team?

Brian Kelly didn't hire someone diametrically opposed to his own philosophy. I do think the offense needs some modernization, if you will, and that's what makes this spring and the 2021 season so fascinating to me. I think trick plays are fun and effective when used judiciously, but if you have to make a living on them, then you're not very good. And they can backfire. That ball Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah took away from Travis Etienne in ND-Clemson I was apparently going to be a halfback pass. JOK turned it into an ND touchdown. Wide receivers who can spread the field will do more for ND's offensive evolution than any trick play.

James from Dallas: This software is almost unusable, Eric. Among all its other issues, when we click “return” it sends the message!

Eric Hansen: James. I'm sorry you are having that problem. It gets me too sometimes. If you do a soft return, you can avoid it. The software for me works great. If I can help further. let me know.

Jim from Oakwood, Ohio: Hi Eric. Such a sad, sad story about the death of "Irish Chocolate." What is your favorite memory of him? I especially liked the Pod of God with the attorney on the NIL issue. Very interesting. Stay safe and thank you for all of your excellent work covering the Irish football team.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. There are so many Louis Nix stories, I could fill up a whole chat. ... I will share four. 1) One time I was late getting over to the Gug from my radio show, and Louis made sure I got everything I needed and didn't mind if I had to repeat questions that had already been asked. 2) When I spent the day with him for a magazine story I did in 2013, among the places we went was the South Dining Hall. It was amazing how many people came over and sat down with us during that conversation, one right after the other. They all loved Louis. 3) When I called Louis during his prep for the NFL Draft, he'd always have a funny way of answering the phone: 'Louis' House of Beauty" in a falsetto voice was one.

4. Our last conversation before Christmas after he got home from the hospital. After we did the interview (about 10-15 minutes), he asked me the question I wrote about the other day ... "Did I matter?" We then talked about life, his dreams, my dreams, my grandkids, his mom, Brian Kelly. lots of things for about 45 more minutes. I'll never ever forget it.

Ryan from Mars, Pa.: Good afternoon, Eric. Very sad about Nix. Any stories from when Stephon Tuitt and Nix played at Notre Dame? Jjust wondering. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: The funniest thing involving Nix and Tuitt was when Louis used to do a video blog called "Chocolate News." I wish I knew where to dig those up. There was one episode when Nix somehow convinced Tuitt — then a freshman — that he needed to swallow a large quantity of salt. Which Tuitt did. Their reactions were hysterical.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, GREAT to chat with you again. In your opinion, just how close is ND to beating the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world to win a national championship? Thanks Mucho. GO IRISH!!!!!

Eric Hansen: Ken, I think a lot of pieces are in place. I think Oklahoma is another program that can say the same. But there are missing pieces. ND is furthest removed from the latest national championship model when it comes to quarterback play, with speed at wide receiver also a "gap" issue. Those teams' depth of talent means they have a much greater margin for error in those playoff games. The one thing ND can't control in the gap discussion is whether those teams also improve/evolve. The Irish can only control their own program.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Eric, this will be a long question. I’m from Michigan and now live in Ohio. I’ve known of Brian Kelly since his dominance at DII Grand Valley and turning Central Michigan into a MAC power and success at Cincy. With that being said, BK's success at those programs came with a high-powered tempo offense that spread you out and took advantages of mismatches. So far at ND the offense has been a mixed bag, and more so this year with a heavy does of run game. Do you see Kelly going back to his old philosophies and incorporating more tempo and spread concepts? Our best shot to win last year was a reliance on the O-line and Kyren Williams, but ironically what 'Bama did in 2012 is not what wins you games in 2021. I feel the offense needs to have a revolution like our defense did when we canned Brian VanGorder. Less thinking and more go make plays. Thanks for the time. As always go Irish ☘️

Eric Hansen: Tyler, I don't think what Brian Kelly was doing at UC or GVSU is going to win a national title in the 2020s on the FBS level. Football evolves on both sides of the ball. What Kelly/TommyRees did this season was smart, in my opinion. They built the offense around the personnel. They played complementary football to keep their defense from being exposed. It worked well enough to get to the playoff. Then came the referendum as to whether that methodology could still work in today's football against an emerging new national championship formula. I didn't. Notre Dame in 2020 was much more similar to Alabama in 2012 than it was to Alabama in 2020. Kelly learned some lessons from 2018 about what he needed to do in recruiting. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are two parts of that. Kevin Austin/Braden Lenzy etc. need to be part of that. Ian Book's successor needs to be part of that. 

I believe both Kelly and Rees know this and see this and will address this. I'm not sure 2021 is the year when they will have a complete enough team for this to show up ... but 2022 may be when it comes together better.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.:Hi Eric. I hope that you and your family are doing well. When evaluating assistant coaches, is it more important that they be effective recruiters or that they demonstrate the ability to develop talent?

Eric Hansen: Caleb, thank you. I think both are extremely important. I don't know if you can survive at a place like Notre Dame for very long if you're not great at both. Those who were one of the other — or neither — didn't last.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Hi Eric. ND is a prestigious university whose highest priority is to provide the best possible education to its students. With that being the case, why is there such a demand that the football team win a national championship? One would think that nine or 10 wins a year, graduate all your players, commit no violations, and make a reasonable financial profit would be enough.

Eric Hansen: Because putting limits on dreams isn't what Notre Dame is about. Never has been. Notre Dame is about overcoming odds. Just like in life. Why would you direct your football team to aspire for something less than that?

Todd from South Bend: In regard to the roundtable you mentioned earlier, will that be a live chat like this one or will you guys take questions, discuss them in private and write a piece or film a segment on it. I love the idea and would like to see it in chat form.

Eric Hansen: Todd, thanks. And maybe it can evolve into that. For starters, I'll give them 4-5 questions and get their take on them. Then write it up. For example:

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly essentially doubled down on his December 2019 notion and commitment that the Irish should be able to consistently fare better in the national recruiting ratings. Are we seeing evidence that could happen in the 2022 cycle?

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Thank you, Eric. Very, very well said, good commentary for sure. I love your word "modernization." It 100% applies to what you and I are thinking, I think. I just think doing the same plays year after year is not productive. Again, Thank You! … And lastly, the software is fine, no problem at all.

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Mike.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Hi Eric, great to once again be able to get in on a chat. Thanks for all your wonderful coverage. Given all that they meant to the Notre Dame program and their undeniable importance, I think it's imperative that the Irish honor both Paul Hornung and Louis Nix III during the upcoming season. Having the numbers of 5 and 9 emblazoned on either the helmets or jerseys would go all long way to paying testament to what these two standouts meant to the program and its history. Do you think the university and team will give serious consideration into this possibility? My very best to you and yours.

Eric Hansen: Jim. thank you. It's a cool idea (though Louis wore three different numbers during his career). I'm not sure how those things are determined when so many great players have died. It's certainly something I'll look into.

Johngipp from Lititz, Pa.: Holding a chat shows you are well. You noted six players to watch in spring. I feel another big one is Zeke Correll and his ability to nail down the center position. This would allow Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg to move to more natural positions and solidify 60% of the line, which could be a major problem this year. Your take.

Eric Hansen: Doing great here, thanks. I based those six on players I needed (and the coaching staff to) get to learn more about. I guess I felt very confident that Zeke is one of ND's three best linemen at this juncture and would not have a problem nailing down the starting center position.

Palm Beach Irish: Good day from 84-degree Palm Beach. Can the mational Notre Dame presence impact the student-athlete licensing of images to be a impact on recruiting?

Eric Hansen: I've asked that question to two people who know the NIL issues much better than I do -- Sportico's Michael McCann and athletic director Jack Swarbrick. I think all three of us would say that national brand would be an asset. But just how much is impossible to say, because there's so little known at this point as to what NIL will actually look like.

Pat from Springfield, Ill.: That was a nice piece of work two weeks ago about the five position groups and how important their improvement will be to a successful season. Say that four of those five groups reach elite status; which one can afford to be only pretty good and still be good enough to get ND to the Final Four?

Eric Hansen: Thanks Pat. To review I wrote about quarterbacks, wide receivers, offensive line, safeties and linebackers. I'd say linebackers, which may be the reality.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, I really liked the progress of defensive tackle Rylie Mills as last season played out. Going into 2021, what are the expectations for Mills and do you believe he will remain at defensive tackle or see more time at defensive end? Thank you for answering my question.

Eric Hansen: Alan, I think Rylie Mills has star potential down the road. I think this spring he'll get looks both inside and at the big defensive end spot because of need (outside). I think where he can ultimately have the most impact is at defensive tackle. Think Jerry Tillery's skill set.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: No question from me. Just sending my sympathy to you Eric. I’ve always thought Nix held a special place with you. It appears through your writing, you really thought highly of him. My son and I were sad to hear of his passing. His joy was infectious through the television. I can’t imagine how much more it was in person. Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer to everything in life...*deep sigh...

Eric Hansen: Alex and son, thank you. One of the reasons I love what I do so much is that you meet people like Louis whose dreams, fractured or intact, and the way they go about chasing them changes you forever.

Archie from the West side: According to WWE.com, former ND lineman Parker Boudreaux is at the Performance Center in Orlando training to be a wrestler. Do you think he gets signed? Also, during your years covering sports, have you crossed paths with any professional wrestlers?

Eric Hansen: Archie, the nuances of WWE are kind of outside of my purview. It's my understanding that he's signed a developmental contract. I would imagine that could lead to something more lucrative. One thing Parker is really good at and always has been, that would help him in the WWE, is marketing. He's great at building a following. When he as a backup lineman at ND, he had the largest Twitter following of anyone n the team. Today it's almost 100,000. He's also a natural showman.

Yes, I did cross paths with a professional wrestler -- once. It was 1987 or '88 and I was working in Hammond, Ind., at what is now The Times of Northwest Indiana. I was walking near the front desk to the newsroom and the receptionist tells me someone wants to talk to me. I was the only sports guy in the office at the time. I look up, and in front of me is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound, purple-haired woman who introduced herself to me as Matilda the Hun. Who was I to say no? I brought her back to our break room, bought her a cup of coffee and a sleeve or Oreos and I sat there and listened to her story. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Neil from Indianapolis: Given the number of new pieces on offense, is there greater value in keeping Josh Lugg as the sixth man on the O-line to avoid further shuffling in the event of an injury? Or is Lugg that much better (right now) relative to other potential starters that he really needs to start?

Eric Hansen: Neil, Notre Dame's philosophy is to get your best five linemen on the field and then retro fit them to positions. Lugg is no lower than third. So he needs to start. There are plenty of other players who have at least tackle/guard versatility. So Lugg is much more valuable THIS year as a starter.

Mark from Orange County, Calif: Hi Eric, thank you for these chats. I especially wanted to thank you for sharing so much of your last conversation with Louis Nix with your readers. It was quite moving. Yes, without a doubt, Irish Chocolate mattered and impacted the program. He also brought out Brian Kelly's lighter side, which also helped. Do you know if you will be allowed to attend any spring practices in person?

Eric Hansen: Mark, thank you. I'd say there is a very good chance we'll be at at least one, and maybe two or three if there are more staged in the stadium. I think some of that depends on the vaccination pace in Indiana. It has suddenly sped way up. Today it opened up to the 55-59 age group, which captures Brian Kelly. We're not too far away from open season. I think ND will err on the side of caution, though. My hope is if we can't be there in person, perhaps there's a way we can watch via live stream.

David from Jackson, Mich.: Who would you predict to be the three starters at wide receiver for the first game of the 2021 season?

Eric Hansen: Today I would say Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy and Avery Davis. But a lot could change this spring and in training camp. I certainly like the chances of Jordan Johnson and Lorenzo Styles Jr. to be in the rotation.

Richard from Warner Robins, Ga.: Greetings from down South. Thanks for the great info on ND. It really keeps my spirit up during this pandemic as well as the incessant noise from SEC fans. My question is: "Has anyone coached at Notre Dame longer than Brian Kelly without winning a national championship? I look forward to your answer.

Eric Hansen: Thanks Richard. The answer is easy. Brian Kelly is beginning his 12th year. The only other Notre Dame coach with a longer tenure was Knute Rockne (13 seasons), who won multiple national titles.

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric, thanks for all the hard work you have put into these chats. Realistically, can a small private Catholic school in the rust belt, with today’s culture/climate, bridge the overall talent gap to enter and stay among the elites in the sport. The last three years have been fun for fans. If we can get back into the stadium, with the team's success. I just wonder what I should hope for?

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks. I think as long as Notre Dame aspires to win national titles and puts in the work, strategies and financial commitments to do so, I wouldn't undersell that goal. I can remember when a lot of the national media (in the Faust and Davie eras) thought Notre Dame could never been a top 10 team again.

Patrick from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Eric, how can a 20-inch snowpack melt in a week without flooding? Crazy Indiana weather. To my question, I have heard little to no talk about Jacob Lacey on the defensive line. How was his 2020 season and what is his future?

Eric Hansen: Jacob Lacey has a world of potential that got diminished last season by injuries. Expect a surge from him in 2021.

Tom from South Bend: No more Carter and recruiting coverage at the Tribune? I also wanted to say I am sad to see him go.

Eric Hansen: Carter Karels announced on Twitter a few minutes ago that his position was eliminated by The South Bend Tribune's parent company, Gannett. Tyler James and I will be adding recruiting to our responsibilities. ... I don't want this to come off sounding transactional. It's not. Carter Karels is like family to me. I'm proud of the work he's done and will smile when he gets his next opportunity. This decision had nothing to do with ability. What it did have to do with — no one has sufficiently explained it to me. The business model of newspapers must evolve.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Beginning to doubt ND’S nationwide searches between Tommy Rees and the new safeties coach? Despite Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah's glowing endorsement, what positives can you tell us about Chris O’Leary? We need all the help we can get, and this sounds like another comfortable cost-cutting Kelly move? Please tell I’m wrong. Did your Raiders favorite ever get a look-see? Stay safe Eric, and thanks for being the VOICE for ND Nation!!!! RIP BIG LOU hope he wasn’t crying out for help that no one noticed.

Eric Hansen: Bill, thank you for the kind words. To your question, I think it's unfair to those coaches who have earned promotions from within to assume they're undeserving. Clark Lea was a recent promotion from within as was Jeff Quinn, and I think those hires turned out to be excellent ones. Tyler James did a nice profile of the new safeties coach:

How Chris O'Leary climbed from unheralded roles to Notre Dame's safeties coach

As far as Lou and I cry for help, we're still not exactly sure what happened. It appears the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is investigating it as an accident. We'll see. I think Louis would be comfortable with me sharing that when we did talk, he knew he needed help and wanted help and was determined to get help. He had resources to do so through his company (Cintas). He was dealing with a lot, yet was happy to be alive. Whatever the cause turns out to be, it's a reminder of how important it is for us to pay attention to our own mental health and be there for others when they need us.

Erik from Granger: Thanks for being here! And great pic on the chat article. I’ll always remember Big Lou for his off-the-field charisma as much as his on-field play, and appreciate you connecting us with him these last few months. With Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa kicking outside to end, does this two-deep D-Line have the opportunity to be ND’s best ever? Best of Kelly Era? Or is that 2012 line with Nix, Tuitt, et al. still up there?

Eric Hansen: Erik, I'm not ready to call Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa's move to end as an absolute and permanent until I see it over an entire spring. Having said that, there is an incredible amount of PROVEN depth and talent at the interior line positions and some exciting UNPROVEN talent on the edges. So I'd hold off on the comparisons. I also wouldn't rule out a grad transfer on the edge, if there's an elite one who's also a fit available.

Charley from Ridgeland, Miss.: To Bill's question:. What about Marcus Freeman?

Eric Hansen: Great hire. To my point, there's not one way to do things. Sometimes an outside hire is best. Sometimes an inside hire is best. Why limit yourself to one or the other?

Chris from Louisville: What are your thoughts on Alabama announcing the return to a full stadium this fall? I’d be happy with a 50% full stadium this fall in South Bend — have a feeling that may be a stretch ...

Eric Hansen: My thoughts are that is an ambitious proclamation in March. It may not look as bold in June. We're getting more data every day about how difficult it is for vaccinated individuals to spread the virus. If the final data matches some of the early returns, then it changes the outlook of large gatherings quite dramatically.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, thank you for graciously answering my questions. Plus, I really enjoyed the article with athletic director Jack Swarbrick. All the best.

Eric Hansen: Alan, thank you!

Pat from St Paul, Minn.: Happy March, Eric! If I am following the recruiting buzz properly, it feels like the Irish are being more active, perception or reality? Care to wager on the second running back in the 2022 class? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Pat, Happy March to you. Yes it feels not only like the Irish are more active, but that they're getting involved with more ELITE prospects, especially on the defensive side of the ball with a realistic chance to close on many of them. ... I will not bet on the second running back. 17-year-olds are fickle creatures. I had two of them myself way back when. I know better.

Travis from Newport, Ky.: Happy Tuesday, Eric. I noticed all of Notre Dame's early commits for 2022 were all bumped down in the updated rankings. I'm far from pulling a panic button, as it's so early, but obviously that's not the best sign. Any thoughts on that?

Eric Hansen: Travis, I wouldn't concern myself one way or another. This has been a tough time for the recruiting services, because there's limited data in which to make these kinds of evaluations. If that changes this summer. I'd expect the Notre Dame commits to benefit from that.

Walter from Bremen: I find the ND home field quite boring. Do you have any idea how much work or how much money it would take to put the ND Leprechaun on the 50-yard line facing the NBC cameras and maybe putting Notre Dame in one end zone and Fighting Irish or 11 National Championships in the other?

Eric Hansen: I don' t think it would take much money or much work. It's a matter of taste.

Phil from Chicago: Hi Eric. Rough week for the Notre Dame family with the passing of Louis Nix. I can tell from your writing this was hard for you as well. It seems like Notre Dame has had an abnormally high amount of recent former football players pass. From Kona Schwenke and Greg Bryant to the Atkinsons and now Louis Nix. I know each case has their own unique circumstances, and I don't want to sound insensitive, but is there anything to this? I am more dialed in to Notre Dame, so maybe this is happening at other schools, but it just seems like a high number at Notre Dame.

Eric Hansen: Phil. I'm not sure. It's not something I've been moved to research. I do think nationwide, more attention has been put on mental health of college-age kids, especially during the pandemic. I think that's a positive as we move forward.

Jay from Palos Hills, Ill.: Linebacker recruiting is trending positively this cycle. Do you see ND taking multiple targets at the same positions (Mike, Will, Rover or whatever we're calling it) or do you see it as first to commit gets the spot?

Eric Hansen: I think Notre Dame will take more than three linebackers in this cycle, and I think they have prioritized their board to make sure they get the best of the rather impressive bunch.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. Let's do this again on St. Patrick's Day -- ideally before the celebrations begin -- at noon EDT.

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