Chat Transcript: What happened at Notre Dame; what will happen and what should happen

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Reporters and photographers surround Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly outside a bus as the Notre Dame football team arrives at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Jet Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 for its national championship matchup with Alabama five days later in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, post-Brian Kelly Era Edition. PLEASE INCLUDE your NAME and HOMETOWN along with your question.

Buckle up.

Kevin from Tampa: Eric, ND is playing like one of the best teams in college football and is better now than Cincinnati and Oklahoma State. The Irish deserve a slot over both those teams and alabama if they lose to Georgia. Do you agree, why or why not? My two cents on Brian Kelly is that he "got caught" looking at NFL job in 2012, almost lost the team with his "these aren't all my guys" comments in 2010, too many bad losses, never won a big postseason game, lost the program in 2016, never developed great elite QBs, sideline temper tantrums, and lied about never leaving last week. He is no Lou, Ara, Dabo or Nick Saban. Good riddance, BK. Looking forward to a new honorable coach who can win big games and championships.

Eric Hansen: Kevin, you were able to express your rant succinctly enough that I'm willing to include it. And I'll do so without comment, since that wasn't asked of me. ... To your question, Notre Dame is a much-improved team from its September version. But what happens on the field still has to matter. Ohio State, for instance, would be favored in Vegas against most of the teams ahead of it in the rankings, but the Buckeyes lost twice. Notre Dame doesn't have a top 25 win. That's a tough sell when comparing résumés against Oklahoma State and Cincinnati — two teams I think the Irish would beat.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric. I want to ask about Jack Swarbrick's comments on not wanting to name an interim coach. Do you think this is because he plans to name a new head coach soon? Or because he doesn't want to put Marcus Freeman in an awkward position as “interim” with the bowl game being possibly perceived as his head coach job interview? Or another reason? And how exactly would it work to prep for the bowl game(s) with no head coach, interim or otherwise? Much thanks.

Eric Hansen: Hi Jeff. I asked the interim question right out of the gate at Tuesday's press conference, and I was still dissecting the answer on the drive home. My assessment is that Jack Swarbrick was OK having shared leadership during this time ... at least at first. He could have named Jeff Quinn or Brian Polian (both of whom had been head coaches), one of the coordinators (Freeman or Rees) or Mike Elston, who had been associate head coach for a few years until taking over recruiting. Let's say he named Elston, but then Elston (theoretically) wants to join Brian Kelly at LSU. Then he would have to name another interim coach ... who also may go to LSU.

This is an unusual situation for Notre Dame that may never repeat. The outgoing coach wasn't fired. In Charlie Weis' case in 2009, there was nowhere for those assistants to go right away. Many of these assistants will get invites to join BK at LSU, so it's a different dynamic.

Ron from Delaware: Best of luck with the chat. I assume you may be deluged with questions surrounding Brian Kelly. I am disappointed in Kelly not delaying this process or decision until after the bowl game as he was obviously in the driver's seat, especially after Lincoln Riley took the USC job. I think he owed it to his players. My question is: Do you feel if coach Marcus Freemen is not selected, you lose him and present players who seem so supportive of him for the job. Secondly, the 2022 recruiting class has already lost one player. Any sense of how many more may decommit if no decision is made before the Dec. 15 signing date. Thanks for your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly couldn't have delayed his decision until after the bowl game. ... But to your question, I think if Freeman is not selected to be the head coach, it's difficult to concoct a plausible scenario that would keep him at ND. He could go to LSU with Brian Kelly as defensive coordinator. If ND selects Luke Fickell, he might be tempted to stay at ND but Cincinnati likely would offer him its head coaching job. He also will have other head coaching offers to consider. As far as losing recruits, ND lost Devin Moore yesterday. How many more will depend on how long the search lasts and who ND ends up with as Kelly's successor.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. As always, thank you for hosting these chats. Would you agree that the ND head coaching position is not a job for someone without head coaching experience? I appreciate that Marcus Freeman is a great recruiter and a very good defensive coordinator. But, unlike so many ND fans on the message boards, I think the program needs an experienced head coach — but certainly not Urban Meyer. Secondly, now looking back at this season and Brian Kelly, did you sense anything from BK that he was ready for a change. Finally, who are some candidates that you think would be a good fit for ND?

Eric Hansen: Hi Mark. Thanks for being here. The last five Notre Dame head football coaches hired with no previous head coaching experience were Charlie Weis, Bob Davie, Gerry Faust, Joe Kuharich and Terry Brennan. None of them ended well and some of them were at the top of the list of ND's worst head coaches EVER. And this spans many decades and eras. Having said that, I am intrigued by Marcus Freeman and believe if there's someone who might break that mold, it might be him.

He certainly deserves an interview. I think Luke Fickell is the safer and better candidate. Freeman brings risk that Fickell does not. but there's both timing and continuity issues here that make Freeman’s risk easier to stomach. Brian Kelly, for instance, was wary about elevating Clark Lea when Mike Elko left after 2017, because Lea had never been a coordinator. But he did know Elko's system inside and out, and he showed great potential. BK wanted continuity at that point, and his gamble paid off. So is the gamble worth it for Jack Swarbrick? My initial thought was that no one is.

Fickell comes with some timing issues, especially if Cincinnati wins Saturday in the AAC title game against Houston. ... So the more I ponder the equation, the more I want to get to the bottom of whether Freeman would work and the more I start to believe he could be the outlier who might be able to pull it off. ... There are other good candidates out there — Matt Campbell at Iowa State, Mark Stoops at Kentucky are a couple. But if I'm Jack Swarbrick, my focus is on Fickell and Freeman.

Matt from Los Angeles: Immediately after Kelly's departure, there seemed to be an outpouring of support from current ND players as well as ND commits for Marcus Freeman to take over as head coach.  That seems to speak to not just the team's support for Freeman, but their willingness to move on from BK so quickly. As an ND fan, I haven't closely followed any coaching changes in 12 years. In your time covering college football, have you ever seen that type of public support for a candidate from a team/recruits? Do you think it will have any effect on Jack Swarbrick's decision?

Eric Hansen: Matt, this is new for me too in a sense. I've only covered one coaching search, in almost four decades of doing this, in which the coach left for another job. That was Sam Wyche who was at Indiana University for one whole year (1984) before he took the head coaching job with the Cincinnati Bengals. The others: Lee Corso (fired), Bill Mallory (fired after I left the beat), Leon Burtnett (fired), Fred Akers (fired), Jim Colletto (fired after I left the beat), Bob Davie (fired), Tyrone Willingham (fired), Charlie Weis (fired) ... And in men's hoops: Bob Knight (fired after I left the beat), Gene Keady (retired after I left the beat) and John MacLeod (fired after I left the beat).

The player/recruit support for Freeman shouldn't be the deciding factor, but it is not insignificant. It says something that a guy who's only been at Notre Dame for 11 months is viewed as a leader. I think Jack Swarbrick should and will consider that when doing his calculus on a new head coach. Again, not a deciding factor, but one that needs to be in the formula for the decision.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, I hope you are surviving this crazy week. Do you think the deplorable way in which Brian Kelly left ND, will affect his ability to hire staff/assistant coaches at LSU? His pattern of lack of consideration for anyone but himself in these situations has escalated throughout his career. Do you think potential hires will look at that and realize they could very easily be the next colleague to be mistreated and embarrassed by him? In the non-football world this is a consideration of anyone taking a job. Already some, (Balis and Rees) have declined to follow him. Do you think they considered this aspect of his personality? Thanks for all your incredible work this week.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. That's difficult for me to gauge, because sometimes money talks more loudly than anything else. I would imagine there are assistant coaches who would factor in the way Brian hit the exit door.

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric. This should be an interesting chat. I read all your articles and everything else I could. I am going to sit back and listen to your perspective on all of this. Coach Kelly at ND had more to deal with then other schools. He sounded frustrated when asked about empty seats and quipped, “Do I need to sell tickets, too?” That is when I knew he was a short-timer. That and other statements showed the frustration of moving things forward — facilities, recruiting coordinators, etc., at ND, a different place, were taking its toll. I thought it would be retirement. It looks like he chose an easier path to a championship than ND. The irony would be if ND gets into the playoff and wins a game.

Eric Hansen: Len. Thanks, and again, since you didn't ask me to weigh in on these, I won't.

Marty from Lake Oswego, Ore.: Hello Eric. This must be a busy and exciting week for you. Listening to Jack Swarbrick on Tuesday, It sounded like he will be searching externally for a proven head coach.  Since you were at the press conference, did you get the impression that Marcus Freeman is not being seriously considered? I would hate to lose him. Do you have any info on who is likely to be considered?  How do you feel about it? And thanks for chats, very entertaining.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Marty. It's exhilarating and exhausting, and more the former than the latter. The last time I had a coaching search and a bowl game was 2004. Usually, it's one or the other. I did not get the impression that Marcus is not a candidate. Jack mentioned four qualities of potential candidates that will help drive the search: Fit, understanding how to build and manage staff, an X’s and O’s philosophy that works, and the ability to recruit and develop players. He measures up very well in Nos. 1 and 4.No. 3 depends on who he'd hire as an offensive coordinator. No. 2 is the wildcard and the unknown. When I talked to Jack about this in 2019 in hypothetical terms, he did not rule out hiring someone without head coaching experience. In December of 2009, it would have been a deal-breaker. in 2021, it's not that at all, because he said the program is in a different place and a better place.

Connie from Pacifica, Calif.: In his press conference, A.D. Jack Swarbrick emphasized that ND now has a high-level football program and that all components of that program — facilities, staff, organization, culture, and student athletes — are second to none. In other words all the elements exist to create long-term success. This is what leads me to believe that Swarbrick is tending toward promoting from within. He referenced that 12 years ago the program was in a dysfunctional state, so he brought in a proven program-builder. Now he doesn't need to do that. My thinking is that there are a lot of parallels to the women's basketball program where he went with Muffet's long-time assistant, Niele Ivey. My gut tells me it's Freeman's job to lose. Do you agree, Eric?

Eric Hansen: Hi Connie. I don't agree it's Freeman's job to lose, but as I've mentioned, I think he should and will be strongly considered.

Stosh from Canton: Eric, as always you are our lifeline! How much sleep have you had this week? As a journalist, have you ever been hit so suddenly by a bombshell as what Brian Kelly set off on a quiet Monday afternoon? Hang in there, Eric. Your factual reporting is a great antidote to all the internet rumor mongering. Just curious … but what are your inside sources telling you? Will this be a long search?

Eric Hansen: Stosh thanks. If you saw my appearance on the Dan Patrick Show Tuesday, you could guess what my sleep cycles look like. Ha. The length of the search in my opinion is tied to the level of interest Jack Swarbrick has in Luke Fickell and the timeline of Fickell's eventual availability.

Bob from Oxnard, Calif.: Eric, If Luke Fickell had dropped one or two of their close games this year, no one would be talking about him. Now we want to kiss goodbye our recruiting classes for the guy? Hire Marcus now.

Eric Hansen: Marcus would be the first guy to defend Fickell's prowess as a coach, by the way. After a 4-8 transition season following Tommy Tuberville, he's 43-6 ... with one loss the past two seasons combined ... to Georgia, 24-21.

Jim from Oakwood, Ohio: Hi Eric. Have you recovered from the seismic news yet? I’m not a grad … I’m an avid fan and NDI subscriber who reads all of the excellent reporting and analytical columns that you,Tyler and Tom write. I feel betrayed by Brian Kelly. All of his talk/preaching about “traits … character… fit … team first …” and he leaves his team at the altar on the cusp of a New Year’s Six bowl for what? A bag of $$$. He’s no more a Cajun than the man on the moon. He’s moneyball Brian. My rant … Thank you for listening. My questions and a comment: How likely will the playoff committee be to select ND for one of the top four spots Sunday when ND is without a head coach? I was very impressed by the character and commitment to team and ND, as reflected in the players’ and committed recruits’ tweets. Very encouraging and classy. Jack Swarbrick also exhibited poise and class in his comments at the Tuesday a.m. presser. Does JS have weeks or a month to select a new coach? That seems doubtful to me given the early signing period just two weeks away all the poachers. Be well.

Eric Hansen: Hi Jim and thanks. So to your playoff question. I'm sure you saw my story about how Hamilton's knee and ND's coaching status can factor in when considering the Irish for a playoff spot. If there's hairs to be split on Sunday, it could give the committee an out. ... The last time Jack hired a head football coach it was a week and a half, and the recruiting cycle was different. Again, Fickell is the wild card. If it's anyone else, I think he gets it done before the signing period for recruits (Dec. 15-17).

John from Jackson, Miss.: What is the likelihood that ND, not vindictively, just slowly begins to add asterisks back to Kelly's win total and more or less concedes the vacated wins to retroactively not have him break Rockne's record? Just interested solely based on the idea that Kelly may have burned bridges with how he left. Also, would love Freeman as the new head coach.

Eric Hansen: I don't think Notre Dame would do that. Seems awfully petty if they did. I just don't see it. I know people are angry, but that's not the way to channel it.

Dave from Tempe, Ariz.: Eric, what signal does Brian Kelly make to the football world (especially prospective recruits) when he leaves Notre Dame, because he thinks he can win a national championship at LSU and not at ND?

Eric Hansen: He never said that. His actions are saying IF he wins a national title at LSU (or not), he'll do so with a bigger bank account.

Jack from Boston, Mass.: Do players have the week off from practice? Wanting to know the general vibe amongst the players with this Brian Kelly news and whether they are hungry to win their bowl game. Also, do you think Kyle Hamilton stays if Freeman is hired?

Eric Hansen: Generally, this is a week where they condition and lift. No practices. BK's departure won't change that. And there's no coaches in town to coach them anyway. They're on the road seeing recruits. ... I don't think Kyle Hamilton will come back to ND no matter who the coach is in 2022. Too much at stake and he's ready for the NFL now.

Doug from Chesterton, Ind.: Eric, did Jack Swarbrick get caught with his pants down? If so, how long will it take him to get this crisis under control?

Eric Hansen: He had pants on when I saw him yesterday and way nicer than mine. Brian Kelly surprised his players, his assistants and his closest friends. Even if Jack knew, what could/should he have done? And why is this a crisis? What if Notre Dame hires someone better?

Steve from Kenosha, Wis.: Eric, As soon as news hit about Brian Kelly leaving for LSU, I needed to hear from you and your team to make sense of the college football world around me. As surreal as the news was, the move made no sense. In retrospect, I think BK’s decision to leave was telegraphed in his presser, when responding to a question about USC’s vacancy and only crazy money (my words) would force him to run it past his wife. I would like to inquire of you as to what your emotions were when you heard the initial news and how your journalistic team set about fact-checking and quickly putting a plan of action together for your significant readership. And, thank you for always being the steady, reliable presence in our obsession.

Eric Hansen: Hi Steve, and thank you. ... I'm not sure he was telegraphing anything, but that's my interpretation. I had a very good source on this, and when it was confirmed, I was shocked. I wish I could share with you the details about how the sausage was made on this story, but in doing so, it would hint at the identity of my sources, which is a path I just can't go down.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Eric!!! I know you’ve had a crazy 48 hours! I’m not even sure what to ask that won’t be asked 1,000 times. That being said, the title of this week’s chat, along with the pic you chose, gave me a really good laugh!! Well played!! Keep your head above the water and Merry Christmas!!

Eric Hansen: Merry Christmas, Alex.

Mick from Philly: Eric, no offense, but I watched your appearance on Dan Patrick's show and you looked exhausted. I know you're probably not getting enough sleep, but are you getting enough coffee? Seriously, your work on this bombshell has been excellent and we, your followers, really appreciate the 24/7 effort. Here's my question: I read a report that ND administration is making a concerted effort to keep Tommy Rees as offensive coordinator in light of BK dangling big bucks to entice him to go to LSU. That confuses me. Wouldn't it be the prerogative of the new head coach to hire his own coordinators? On the other hand does this mean that Freeman is the guy?

Eric Hansen: Hi Mick. You'll get no argument from me. And I fired up the Keurig machine as soon as the interview was over. The Rees retention thing is confusing. Usually, a head coach gets to pick his own staff. It doesn't necessarily mean Freeman will be the guy. And retaining Rees could be conditional, meaning the new head coach would have a choice, but Swarbrick wants him to have that option. Otherwise, he might already be in Baton Rouge. It is my understanding Rees would like to stay. Tyler is actually working on the assistant coach/recruit angle today, and Tom the Kelly/LSU presser while I talk to you guys. So keep an eye on our site for stories from those two along these lines later today.

Larry from Topton, Pa.: Thanks for taking these questions, Eric, and trying to help us ND fans calm down. I will try to control my whining, but I can’t promise that I am not barefoot. I have one conspiracy theory, and a few questions. As I was watching the game Saturday, I was perplexed when Kelly worked so hard to get Kyren Williams over the 1,000-yard mark during the last drive. Maybe BK knew that it might be his last game. … Questions: Jack Swarbrick mentioned that he was not surprised by the former coach resigning; how surprised were you? I am all in on hiring Marcus Freeman as head coach, but from your perspective, is there any chance he would not want the job, or perhaps not feel he is ready? How long do you feel ND has to decide, regarding whether Freeman is their man, before he takes off for other opportunities (including possibly LSU)? Thanks again Eric!

Eric Hansen: Hi Larry. The rules are all relaxed today, so you are free to spit, gamble and fight as well. Journalists and coaches never like to admit they're surprised about anything. But I want to be honest. I wasn't surprised. I was SHOCKED. ... As far as Marcus Freeman, he was involved in the Illinois head coaching vacancy after last season. I don't think there's ANY WAY he wouldn't want the head coaching job or think he's not ready for it.

Ben from Australia: Thanks for the great work, guys, and probably limited sleep in the past 48 hours. Do you think we will see more of Tyler Buchner in the playoff/bowl game?

Eric Hansen: Ben, if Tommy Rees is running the offense, I think we'll see similar percentages. If someone else is, yes, It's entirely possible that the ratio could change, but Jack Coan is playing the best football of his career right now.

Shelly from Lafayette, Ind.: Eric, I'm a journalism student and I'm fascinated with the inner workings behind all the tweets and articles regarding the Irish head coaching position. You have been the ND beat reporter for years, and no doubt you have built up a number of knowledgeable sources inside the ND football program. In times like these, do these sources contact you with info or do you pump them for news? Finally, how forthcoming have your sources been the last few days? Just wondering how the real world of journalism really works.

Eric Hansen: Shelly, you must get A's in your classes, knowing that my email box is overflowing and this is the best way to get your questions in front of me during this crazy time. If you have some follow-ups after the search is over, email me then, and I'd be happy to help. In terms of sources on a story like this, it's both. Some will call you. Some you need to call. And you need to prioritize those calls by who you think has unimpeachable information. ACCURACY trumps everything. Time is also a big factor. My sources have been outstanding on this story. I'm very fortunate to have people I can trust and are willing to help me.

Stephen from Burlington, Wis.: By leaving so abruptly, is Kelly saying: a) ND won't make the CFP playoffs or b) even if ND makes the playoff, they will lose? Or … is he saying both a and b?

Eric Hansen: In my opinion, he is saying neither.

John from Freeport, Maine: Eric, in your opinion, does Brian Kelly have to evolve at all as a recruiter in order to meet LSU's lofty championship ambitions, or instead might he be relocated to such a fertile talent region that he can continue to be modestly involved with it and succeed?

Eric Hansen: John, if he is modestly involved at LSU, the only thing he'll be able to recruit is crawfish.

Sam WIeteki from Ironton, Ohio: what’s the word from recruits? Too early?

Eric Hansen: Hi Sammy. There's been an outpouring of support from them, in both the 2022 and 2023 classes, for Marcus Freeman. Most of them — beyond Devin Moore, who decommitted Tuesday — are watching and waiting. And a handful of them are going to sign with ND no matter who the coach is. We'll know more in a few days, I would imagine.

Robb from Manassas, Va.: Thanks for the chats Eric, really enjoy them each week. Jack Swarbrick said he was not surprised when he found out Brian Kelly wanted to leave Notre Dame. Do you have any idea on the specifics of what Swarbrick was referring to? Were there bones of contention between the ND administration and the football program? What exactly were those signs that Kelly would leave that Swarvrick was picking up on? I guess there's no good way to leave once one of the parties decides to go — but the whole thing was handled poorly, I thought. Is it true, as reported on ESPN, that Kelly spoke to the team for only two minutes and took no questions? Thanks Eric.

Eric Hansen: Hi Robb, and thank you. I don't think there were bones of contention. Jack said he sensed a restlessness. He didn't really elaborate on that. ... I think it was closer to four minutes that BK talked to the team. Eleven minutes from when he got out of his car until he got back into it. No questions were taken. Dan Patrick asked a bunch on today's show. ... and really good ones. Great listen (if I can make that a noun).

Bryce from Raleigh, N.C.: I imagine that most of the chat will be focused on the ND head coaching position, as it should be. However, I have a question about Stanford’s head coach. What happened to David Shaw? It was not that long ago that Stanford consistently competed for Pac-12 championships and New Year’s Day bowl bids. In your judgment, will Stanford bounce back under his leadership?

Eric Hansen: Bryce, I don't follow their program closely enough to give you more than an educated guess, but the people who DO follow that program believe there will be a prolonged dip, that recruiting has fallen off.

Gerry Labelle from Waltham, Quebec: Eric, hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Kelly really is the jerk many people thought he was! To leave like that is insane!

Eric Hansen: Mini-rants are OK today.

Tim from Vancouver, Wash.: Hello Eric and Tyler. I appreciate you guys. Well, I’m bummed today, feel like a jilted lover, woke up asking myself “now what?”  I’m disappointed in Brian Kelly. I understand and respect ambition, and I respect that he may have burnt out with the job at ND. I imagine it is exhausting. But, the timing is terrible and to tell the young kids, “My love for you is limitless …” Is a silly thing to say in a social media apology, smh!  My question, one of my best friends (a huge Buckeye fan) said he read Kelly was something like the 60th-highest-paid coach. Is that true? If so, I can see him jumping for much more money. Thanks a lot you guys. Get us fans through this tumultuous period, please.

Eric Hansen: Hi Tim. We appreciate you too, sincerely. That is incorrect about where Brian Kelly stood in the coaches’ salary hierarchy. Some of these reports are not apples-to-apples comparisons. They'll report the base salaries of coaches from private schools, but the entire compensation packages from those at public schools (because those can be easily accessed). He is getting more money at LSU, but he was paid very well at ND.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Well now, Eric … When Kurt Herbstreit first mentioned Brian Kelly and USC together a few weeks ago, I was surprised and saw no possible credibility in the statement. Do you remember your initial thoughts? A coach leaving Notre Dame for LSU is one thing, but leaving for USC would surely be akin to a mortal sin in the eyes of Notre Dame fans. But for Lincoln Riley, I now think Brian could have made that move. Am I off-base? Good luck to coach Kelly at LSU, but I am super excited (Manny style $^&^#@@%&) for what is to come at Notre Dame. How about you?

Eric Hansen: Hi Denny. Dan Patrick asked Kelly that question point blank on his show, about USC, and Kelly danced around it (and not gracefully). With the right head coaching hire and with the right staff, I think the future is promising for ND football. Getting Matt Balis to stay put was a nice cornerstone to the next chapter (terrible mixed metaphor, but you get my point).

Buck from Wilmington, Del.: Let's face facts: ND suffered beatdowns in their College Football Playoff games, because ’Bama and Clemson had significantly better talent. It should be clear to everyone that if ND wants to be one of the big boys, it needs to hire a persuasive, enthusiastic, and relentless recruiter as a head coach. Kelly never seemed to be all that enthusiastic about recruiting. Who can take ND to the next level in recruiting? That's the most important question A.D. Swarbrick needs to answer. Do you agree, Eric?

Eric Hansen: Buck, recruiting aggressively and successfully is a big part of the formula for the next head coach, and Jack Swarbrick said as much on Tuesday.

Ernie from Silver Spring, Md.: Hi ERIC! Will you ever talk to Brian Kelly again?

Eric Hansen: I don't see why not.

Mark from Watertown, N.Y.: Eric. Not much to talk about today. During his presser (Tuesday) Jack Swarbrick mentioned some uneasiness with Brian Kelly over the past few weeks. Did anybody in the media pick up on that? I hang up and listen.

Eric Hansen: I picked up on how challenging the past two seasons have been, but for different reasons. And the COVID year was tough on everybody. But Brian's process was always to rise up to meet the challenge. And he expected that from everyone around him.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Eric, at the moment I don’t have anything to say about Brian Kelly that could be printed in a family newspaper, so let me try a different direction. I think the drift of college football is in the direction of professionalization. And I don’t expect the Division I Committee to do anything to stop that. So two questions: (1) Is that how you see it?; and (2) How much of a threat is that to Notre Dame, given Father Jenkins’ comments to the Times a few years ago to the effect that Notre Dame would not be interested in competing in a professional model? Thanks, as always. These are certainly interesting times.

Eric Hansen: Hi Bruce. The NCAA has lost lawsuits giving it any teeth to stop the new player freedoms (NIL, laxer transfer rules, etc.). President Jenkins objected to players being legally classified as employees. If that happened, ND would have an issue with that. But Jenkins also advocated for NIL before it was cool to do so. He reasoned that the student-athletes should have the same opportunities that the regular student population in that area.

Jack from Strongsville, Ohio: Hi Eric. As the media guy closest to the program, were you personally surprised at the Brian Kelly departure? Watched Jack Swarbrick's press conference on Tuesday, where he said he was not surprised and did not have a list of potential candidates. Do you believe him in that statement? And if you thought your head coach was looking, wouldn't it be prudent to begin compiling information on a successor? I bet you thought you might get a few easy days at the end of the football system. No rest for the best in the business.

Eric Hansen: Jack, thanks for the compliments. As I mentioned, I was shocked at Kelly going to LSU. Disappointed? In the way he carried himself through that process. Leaving for another opportunity is his business. Doing so in a way where you treat your players and assistant coaches with such disrespect should be beneath him. I don't think Jack Swarbrick could be any better or worse prepared than he is unless he wanted to go after Lincoln Riley.

Jim from Berlin, Conn.: Eric, I'm writing to you for the first time this season, although I wrote to you a number of times last season (not that anyone cares). You covered Brian Kelly for all the years he coached at Notre Dame. Were you shocked and/or disappointed when you found out he was leaving South Bend? And did you feel he was disingenuous when he said earlier that it would take $250 million for him to even consider going to another program? I personally think he will regret going to LSU and will wish he had stayed at Notre Dame after a few years of getting clobbered in the SEC. Thanks for all the great updates you provided to Irish fans all year. You have been a fountain of information.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks for writing now and in the past. I think he will regret going to LSU, not financially, but because of the broken promise he made to himself that he left behind at ND.

CJ. from Athens, Ga.: Eric, how about our Cardinals? Haven’t talked to you since I left STL. I have two quick thoughts. I hope Marcus Freeman gets the job, and I hope it happens in the next 10 days. I have a lot of respect for Jack Swarbrick, but a lot has changed since he hired Brian Kelly. If ND doesn’t hire Freeman someone else will and we risk losing most of the coaching staff and maybe half the recruiting class and we are back to 2016! Your thoughts and appreciate the way you cover the IRISH!

Eric Hansen: CJ., great to hear from you. I've thought about emailing you at times during the past couple of baseball seasons. Let's catch up when things slow down. I think Marcus Freeman represents the best chance of ND retaining the most assistant coaches and the most recruits. That's not an overriding factor, but it's a good asset for him to have as he pursues the job.

Greg from Chicago: Jack Swarbrick said Brian Kelly made Freudian slips that tipped him off that he might be leaving. Do we know yet what they were? What other things or signs alerted him to that possibility? Thanks for the chat. I guess people might now wish we were back to talking about the O-line.

Eric Hansen: Oh they'll get back to the O-line at some point. I didn't have a chance to ask him about the Freudian slips reference, and right now that's kind of back burner for me. When the time is right, I will follow up. Might be kind of interesting.

Phil from Foster City, Calif.: Wondering if your bleak assessment of Jack Conan’s NFL prospects has changed in light of his second-half performance? Also curious as to what you think ND’s final record would have been if Coan had not dropped into our lap? My guess is 7-5 at best. I suspect FSU, Toledo, Virginia Tech and UNC would all have gone south.

Eric Hansen: Phil, my bleak assessment is based on talking to NFL scouts and draft analysts. And I don't think having a chance to go to a camp and compete as an undrafted free agent is bleak. There' are a lot of guys who would die for a chance to do that. What the pros are looking for and how a QB fits on a college team can be two different things. Otherwise, Tim Tebow would be one of the all-time greats in the pros. Jack lacks a lot of the measurables the NFL is looking for. His strong second half makes what he lacks easier to overlook, but not entirely. ... Not sure what ND's record would have been. But they were better off for having Jack on the roster in 2021, that's for sure.

Jack from Clemmons, N.C.: Brian Kelly’s announcement may have shocked you, Eric —and many others —but more shocking was the resignation of At Parseghian in 1974 after beating Alabama in the Orange Bowl. He was just 51. Great coach and much loved and admired. Never been a more charismatic coach at Notre Dame. Hope the school goes with a young coach with charisma and big upside. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Jack. I was lucky enough to have several conversations with Ara about how his career ended. He wanted just to step away for a year or so and come back, and had a plan for Tom Pagna to take over, all written out on a legal pad. Father Joyce had other plans. Ara was amazing. Even in retirement. And, yes, a coach with charisma and upside sounds like a nice combination.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, in your opinion, what does it say about the character of Brian Kelly to leave Notre Dame before knowing whether or not the Irish are selected for the College Football Playoff? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: It betrays what he always said he stood for.

Marty from Sylvania, Ohio: Hi Eric. Thanks for chats. OK, now that it is done, I’m ready for the next person who can get that statue in front of the stadium. We need to move on. There are good candidates out there, but there needs to be the great get. The CFP committee holding no head coach as reason not to be selected is a travesty! What say you, Eric? One last thing. ND makes the CFP, players rally and win two games as national champs. Irish Lore! I can see the movie now, “What though the odds.” Irish Lore has happened. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: I don't think the committee should factor in Brian Kelly's departure. It's unfair to the players. And how could you possibly measure it?

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Eric, do you think Brian Kelly left because of the money, he wants a new challenge, or that he has a better chance to win a  championship  at LSU?

Eric Hansen: Cha-ching.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Eric, if you were the father of son that's committed to play football at ND, how would you advise him to handle the current situation at ND?  Also, if you could have a one on one interview with BK, what's the one question that you want to ask him?

Eric Hansen: I'd advise him to wait and see who the next head coach (and staff) would be. He could always sign in February instead of December. We'd want to get to know the new coaches first. ... I'd really want to wait to ask my question to Brian until after he had been at LSU for a year. Then I'd have a whole bunch for him.

Chuck from Cleveland: Hi Eric, here from the home of Parma pierogies, Rock & Roll HOF, The Flats, Cleveland Guardians, and, of course, most famously, Eric Hansen, the star of the Dan Patrick Show! Twelve years is two lifetimes of coaching at ND, so kudos for Brian Kelly in leaving to find more happiness in a warmer climate with NO RESTRICTIONS on recruiting. I realize that your queue is brimming with all kinds of personnel questions, so I will be brief: 1) Will Mike Elston stay? 2) Will Polian stay — last seen hugging BK on the sidelines at Stanford?  3) Great to see Balis staying and 4) WHO is calling the recruits DAILY to solidify their commitments, and what are they selling them? Thanks again. Great to hear you on the DP Show yesterday!

Eric Hansen: Hi Chuck and thanks for the intro and the compliment. 1. Elston ... will have a tough decision to make. 2. Polian will probably leave, likely for a head coaching job. 3. Balis staying is HUGE. 4) The assistants are all staying on top of the recruits right now and doing a great job at it.

Jeff from Shelby, Ohio: "It betrays what he always said he stood for.” Wow! Maybe that is a component of why BK was not able to win a national championship at ND. Go Irish! Beat Michigan.

Eric Hansen: I stand by what I wrote.

Reno Joe from Reno, Nev.: Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. What is the mood of the returning players? Not that Jack Swarbrick should take a poll. Just curious if they are angry. Maybe you already addressed this.

Eric Hansen: Shocked, disappointed and determined to transcend this and finish the season strong.

Bill from Lexington: First time submitting a question, but longtime fan. Besides the size of his salary, what do you think are the advantages of being the head coach at LSU vs. ND? Love your perspective on ND football.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Bill. At LSU, there are advantages. You can recruit in a smaller geographic radius. There are all kind of great supports and perks and top-notch facilities. But you have Nick Saban in your division. And no gimmees. And to be honest, is Brian Kelly a fit at LSU? I'm curious how that'll play out. I think LSU is the easier job. I think ND is the better job. For the right person.

JDub from Fort Wayne, Ind.: From my perspective, this program under Brian Kelly is at its height. He truly has done a great job adapting and changing when necessary to get to this level. They have had sustained success for several years. Recruiting is going better than ever before ... and then he leaves? He built it and then left before he saw the job finished. Really weird. In any of your conversations or pressers did you ever think to yourself that Brian Kelly was that type of person who would do that, where money was more important than the sustained success at ND? I really, truly believe they are closer to a national championship than ever before and he bolted.

Eric Hansen: I had a conversation with someone the other day who has made millions of dollars in their lifetime as a coach. I don't have the same frame of reference. I asked him: How many millions does someone need to be happy? And I was serious. Is it greed? Is it ego? Because in my profession, it would be a question of what's pragmatic, leaving for a job for more money. The answer is not universal. People already with more money than they don't know what to do with would answer that differently. So yes, Brian likes to be paid well, but I thought his ideals and the school's ideals would overpower anything else. And I learned that I was not correct about that.

Gene from New York: Hi Eric. Thanks for all the great coverage. Looks like you'll be working OT this month! A rather unbelievable week. It is what it is. Let's look to the future. There seems to be a lot of support inside the program (and recruits) for Marcus Freeman. Seems that it is unlikely that any candidate checks all the boxes, so how important is the previous head coaching experience in your view and in Jack Swarbrick's? I believe the strength in recruiting provides a fair tradeoff. Bigger question, should Freeman (a defensive-minded coach) be promoted, does Tommy Rees have what it takes to be offensive coordinator without some assistance from a head coach — similar to what Kelly likely provided? As for the other hot item: If Oklahoma State wins, does Notre Dame have any shot at Top 4? Having ranked them No. 3, I cannot believe anyone on the committee actually watched the Alabama game, as they were out played for 59 mins by a .500 team with a backup QB. Is it that they can't be bothered or perhaps they don't understand football and react to familiar names?

Eric Hansen: Gene, thank you. And since I answered the coaching questions earlier, let me focus on your questions about the CFP rankings. Alabama is tough to deal with. The coaches have them No. 2. The CFP No. 3, and AP has them No. 4. I had them fourth on my AP ballot and wondered if that was too high. It comes down to which team you're comparing them with. Alabama had close calls, but so did Cincinnati, ND and Okie St. Alabama's have been the most recent. Really it's a tug-of-war between the team you think they should be and the team that they've been on the field. Ultimately, the latter needs to carry more weight.

BIll from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, thanks for holding the chat this week, which has to be on very short sleep! Looking back this season, I recall the postgame presser Brian Kelly had immediately after the Virginia Tech comeback win. He was obviously quite angry with the ND media (and I’m not saying all the ND media, and the ND fan base too) to what he believed was the negative press and online comments he was getting (much which I assume was directed at not being able to solve the O-line problems at that time). It seemed to me to be a bit uncharacteristic of him, and perhaps the job might have been getting to him. Do you recall that press conference and perhaps agree that it might have been an inflection point for him?

Eric Hansen: Bill, it didn't strike me as odd. He has done that before from time to time and not left for another job at the end of those seasons.

Steven from Athens, Ga.: How do you feel about Brian Polian getting a shot at head coach?

Eric Hansen: Not at Notre Dame at this time. No.

Steve from Grand Rapids. Mich.: Eric: I get my Notre Dame football information from three sources 1) Watching each game at least twice. 2) Watching all Brian Kelly press conferences and 3) Reading every word my favorite sports writer, Eric Hansen, writes. I love to analyze what BK says and read between the lines of what BK doesn’t say. I am fascinated reading your articles from the press conferences I watch. What distinguishes your writing is the observations/analysis/insights in addition to the words spoken or not spoken at the pressers. Here’s my question: Did you do defer opining on BK’s job coaching the 2021 season last week (several times) to await the results of the bowl season? Or because you saw/heard/perceived this week’s events might be coming?

Eric Hansen: Steve, thanks and wow. I hope Santa has you on the "nice" list. There's no magic to my resistance. I just think it's unfair and often inaccurate, unless you're going to label it as a "midyear evaluation," etc. So what's my grade now? The players get an A. Kelly gets detention.

Mike from Baton Rouge, La.: Eric, showing up late, so sorry if this has been asked. On the topic of facilities, ND (the administration?) seems hesitant to approve upgrades or new ones all together. Is it from a perspective of making sure the team stays a part of the student body/university community? When I hear what ND has (which sounds amazing, at least compared to when I was there — in my old-man voice) compared to other schools', those other places do sound like football players almost don't have to set foot on the rest of campus.

Eric Hansen: Mike, what ND has is amazing. The next step was a Guglielmino Athletics Complex expansion. And that was in the works back in 2017. The problem is private funding. Not something philosophical. And getting that isn't just a cosmetic benefit. There are many practical reasons, including (injury) recovery, academics, weight training even how the training table is run. So no hesitancy other than getting the funding.

Eric Hansen: OK, I wish I could go five hours, like last week, but I have other commitments. So that's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions and for a huge live audience today. We'll do it all over again next Wednesday at noon EST.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI