Notebook: Brian Kelly dismisses suggestion of leaving Notre Dame for USC
SOUTH BEND — Kirk Herbstreit didn’t hesitate during Saturday’s “College GameDay” when asked who he would try to hire if he were making the decision on USC’s next head coach.
“I’d hire Brian Kelly, no questions asked,” the ESPN college football analyst said.
Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback who has worked for ESPN since 1995, suggested Kelly’s name as a worthy candidate earlier this year.
Former Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard agreed with Herbstreit on “College GameDay.”
“I think that would be a great hire. I would go hard. I think he’s taken Notre Dame as far as he can take them.”
On Monday, Kelly was asked for his perspective on his name being repeatedly mentioned as someone who could take over the program of a Notre Dame rival.
"It's interesting,” Kelly said. “Where your name is brought up is where they probably want you to look, so you're not looking where you should be looking. It's a smokescreen. It’s just this time of the year, where they throw names out there so people don't look where they're supposed to look.”
As a follow-up Kelly was asked if he could see himself leaving Notre Dame, where he’s coached since 2010, for anything other than retirement on his own volition.
"No,” Kelly said. “(Pittsburgh Steelers head coach) Mike Tomlin had the best line, right? Unless that fairy godmother comes by with that $250 million check, my wife would want to take a look at it first. I'd have to run it by her.”
While Kelly sounded pretty absolute about his future at Notre Dame, the Irish coaching staff has already had conversations with many of the juniors, seniors and graduate seniors about their options for next season. Calculating the scholarship math has become a bit more difficult with the extra season of eligibility granted to players by the NCAA during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those evaluations have already taken place before Saturday’s regular season finale (8 p.m. EST on FOX) at Stanford (3-8).
Depth chart::How the Irish will line up against Stanford
Ahead of Notre Dame’s Senior Day game against Georgia Tech last Saturday, the Irish roster included 24 scholarship players listed as academic seniors (15) or graduate students (9). Only four of those players will be out of eligibility after the season: quarterback Jack Coan, kicker Jonathan Doerer, nose guard Kurt Hinish and offensive guard Cain Madden.
Notre Dame will have to choose which players it’s willing to invite to return to the roster next season. Those players will have to decide if they want to stay too.
“We’ve done our due diligence on everybody in the program,” Kelly said. “We feel pretty good where we are. We’re going to have a pretty solid number of guys coming back. Some guys are still making decisions. We have a really good grasp of what our roster’s going to look like.
“But transparency is No. 1. Our guys clearly know what kind of football team we have coming back next year and many of them want to be part of that. There’s some that know maybe it’s a tough road for them too. But you have to be upfront and honest and have that kind of one-on-one conversation.”
At least three juniors will have compelling NFL Draft decisions to make too: safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Kyren Williams and defensive end Isaiah Foskey. The first two seem most likely to leave given Hamilton’s high first-round projections and short career span for NFL running backs.
The Irish might be able to convince Foskey to stay despite a breakout season with 10 sacks to date. Foskey pushed himself up draft boards this season, but another successful season could elevate him into the early first round. A similar return by left tackle Ronnie Stanley in 2015 worked out for the Irish and Stanley, who was taken with the sixth overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2016 draft.
"We've already started that process,” Kelly said of recruiting Foskey to stay. “That started about a month ago. We've already met with the family. We weren't waiting as long as we waited with Ronnie on that one."
At least one junior appears to be on his way out: punter Jay Bramblett. He was announced as a senior during Saturday’s pregame ceremony meaning he’s on track to graduate soon. Kelly didn’t provide clarity when asked if Bramblett intends to graduate transfer following the season.
Notre Dame added a recruiting commitment from punter Bryce McFerson on Sunday. Chris Sailer Kicking ranks McFerson as the top punter in the 2022 class. He will join the Irish on scholarship next season. Notre Dame typically carries only one scholarship punter on its roster.
"We've had that conversation,” Kelly said of Bramblett. “I don't know that we're ready to publicly talk about it. But he has made a decision. And then I think we're going to make most of these decisions based upon where guys are going to find themselves, here in the next week or so once the season wraps up."
Thankful for Brian Polian
Kelly tried to avoid answering the Thanksgiving-themed question: Which assistant coach are you most thankful for?
“Listen, once I do it, he’s coming in for a raise,” Kelly said with a laugh.
After some pauses and talking through his thoughts, Kelly settled on Brian Polian, the team’s associate head coach and special teams coach.
“He makes my life the easiest,” Kelly said.
“Because special teams,” Kelly said. “It’s so hard. It’s a hard job. That’s a lot of work. A lot of the little things on a day-to-day basis that go along with that. You have to take that whole group: O-linemen, D-linemen, DBs, linebackers. That’s a lot of work.”
The right ankle injury rover Jack Kiser suffered in the second quarter of Saturday’s Georgia Tech game shouldn’t keep him sidelined for long.
“It was explained to me that it's not high-ankle — muscular in a sense — and that he should be good to go,” Kelly said. “It'll be a matter of just working through the next couple of days.”
Team-leading tackler JD Bertrand had his back evaluated by X-ray, but the images were clean, Kelly said.
The team continues to battle the flu with one unnamed player coming down with it Sunday. Offensive linemen Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg played through it on Saturday.
“Knock on wood, every day has been an experience,” Kelly said of the flu. “We're hoping that we're coming out on the other end of that."
• The talkative nature of Notre Dame’s roster has been on display after plays throughout the season. Running back Kyren Williams might be the most obvious talker on the team, but Kelly said there are others who might not be noticed unless observed carefully.
Kelly doesn’t have a problem with the chatter as long as it doesn’t turn into disrespect.
"We've had conversations about what we think is sportsmanlike and what crosses the line,” Kelly said. “If it is the right banter within a competitive spirit of the game, like, 'Hey, great hit, great play, bring it on.' When it crosses the line and becomes personal, we're pulling them off that. That's not what we want to be.
“But we don't mind genuine, enthusiastic banter and play amongst our guys as long as it's done in the right fashion. You have to be in the right zone to do that. If you're out of control, we're going to pull you out of that. But our guys have been mature and have handled themselves the right way.”
• Kelly and his coaching staff will hit the recruiting trail following Saturday’s game at Stanford. Kelly himself will start on the West Coast, but he’ll end up in other parts of the country throughout the week. Notre Dame’s committed recruits who intend to enroll in January will be among those first on Kelly’s visit list.
Notre Dame’s 2022 class of 23 verbal commitments ranks third-best in the country, according to both Rivals and 247Sports. The three-day early signing period for the 2022 class will start Wednesday, Dec. 15.
• Two of the six finalists for the high school version of the Butkus Award are verbally committed to Notre Dame. The recognition for the nation’s top high school linebacker, which trimmed its list of 16 semifinalists to six finalists Monday, included Notre Dame commits Joshua Burnham and Jaylen Sneed. They were joined by Jalon Walker (uncommitted), C.J. Hicks (Ohio State), Harold Perkins (uncommitted) and Shawn Murphy (Alabama).
Notre Dame’s other linebacker commits in the 2022 class, Niuafe Tuihalamaka and Nolan Ziegler, were among the 16 semifinalists. The Irish swept the college and high school versions of the Butkus Award last season with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Prince Kollie, respectively.
HOW TO WATCH NOTRE DAME VS. STANFORD
Who: AP No. 5 Notre Dame (10-1) vs. Stanford (3-8)
Kickoff: Saturday at 8 p.m. EST
Where: Stanford Stadium; Palo Alto, Calif.
Radio: WSBT (AM 960), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Notre Dame by 17
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.