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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 3, 2016
South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: Good afternoon. It's an exciting day for the families and certainly all those that have signed national letters of intent to attend the university of their choosing. In particular what we're focused on the 24 that have already signed here at the University of Notre Dame. Today is a celebration for them and their families, a culmination, if you will, of the hard work both on and off the field, and that celebration is that they will be attending the University of Notre Dame. It certainly has been a long process, not only for the student-athletes and their families, the countless hours of sacrifice and dedication to their sons to put them in a position to be where they are today, but certainly the start of an exciting journey.
As I was saying, today is a celebration, but it shouldn't be the highlight of their career moving forward, national signing day.
It's been a journey for Notre Dame and our recruiting efforts. A year ago we made some substantial changes within our recruiting office. It started with me handing the reins over to Mike Elston on my staff as the recruiting coordinator and asking him to reshape the look of our recruiting efforts, and I think in a very short period of time, he's done a very admirable job, but more importantly a very creative job, one that has addressed the needs that we have within recruiting, but has also embraced what recruiting looks like right now and moving forward.
To do that, we've had to put together a staff, and I think we've put together a great staff in our recruiting office, led by Aaryn Kearney, who's done a great job. Aaryn has really led our office in the recruiting organization and developed the whole spearhead of this recruiting effort in '16 and moving forward in '17. Jasmine Johnson, a Notre Dame grad, has been incredible in her work on campus and certainly working with our ambassadors here. But both of them in particular have been instrumental in changing the face of our recruiting.
I think Luke Pitcher has done a great job in creating the stories to be told relative to social media and graphics, and in particular that office now has got great momentum and great synergy that has helped us get to the point that we are at today.
Dave Peloquin has been a mainstay here at Notre Dame and has continued in his role of managing our roster, and it's so important as we continue to move forward, Dave has created and forged great relationships with everybody in the recruiting area, those that work in that medium, as well as those that are on campus that provide us with the sources of information necessary for us to be strategic in our recruiting, who we're recruiting, where we're recruiting, what positions we're recruiting, and Dave managing that 85-man roster has helped us incredibly, but in his role he's been invaluable in putting together a great plan in '16 and moving forward.
I think when we talk about some of the highlights from last year, we look back and start with the Irish Invasion. We did an inventory of the Irish Invasion that we had, and the number of scholarship players that came out of that is staggering. Those that were offered, those that were committed to us, those that got scholarship offers that we're still recruiting, those kinds of events don't just happen by chance. They take a lot of preparation, organization, and those that I have mentioned were instrumental in organizing and putting that together.
Our recruiting office will continue to grow, move forward. We'll have some more exciting announcements as we continue to find the best and the brightest. We're stealing talent wherever we find it. We just stole some more talent on campus we can't announce here yet, but you're going to be quite familiar with her. You see her on campus quite a bit. But she'll be joining our office here pretty soon once we get the signatures on her high-paid contract, we'll announce her, as well.
But we're excited about the future, and we're moving forward relative to our recruiting office.
A number of thank yous. Certainly to the assistant coaches for their work. As you know, this is a national brand that requires our coaches to go coast to coast. Probably a bigger thank you to their wives for picking up a large part of the slack, if you will, while they're on the road quite a bit of the time going from coast to coast recruiting young men to come to Notre Dame.
But a great job by our coaches. Geographically within their areas, and then obviously what we do a very, very good job of is supplementing those geographical recruiting areas with the assistant coaches going in there, supplementing with the position coach being there, the coordinators being there, cutting across all over the country. You don't just stay in a particular area. You've got to be able to go coast to coast, as well.
Our assistant coaches did a terrific job and their families, they sacrificed a lot, and want to thank them.
When they come to campus, there's so many people that are involved from our admissions and Bob Mundy and Don Bishop who meet with our kids. I mean, it is important that when we bring somebody on campus that they must do a great job in those interviews with Bob Mundy and Don Bishop. It is an important component to being able to be admitted here at Notre Dame, and they know our players. They know who they are, and I want to thank our admissions office.
And then those two individuals in particular for the work that they do.
But our athletic director is involved in that, and that's kind of unusual I would tell you, that an athletic director makes himself available, and I want to thank Jack in particular for his work in this recruiting process and being available, just making himself available with the kind of schedule that he has to meet individually with our recruits and their families, says so much about the commitment from top down.
When you get a chance to talk to a parent that's met with the athletic director, they know that all things are working together and that they can feel comfortable that they know that there is a continuity and that there is a clear message that is across the board that their sons are going to hear every single day. Everybody is in lockstep, and when you have your athletic director supporting that, that is a big plus in the recruiting process for us.
Adam Sargent, who in our academic support team does such a great job, but Adam in particular spends countless days here, but on the weekends, as well, gives up his time from being with his family to be here, and talk about how important it is to be organized and to be focused and what to expect relative to when you come to Notre Dame, the resources that you'll have to take advantage, and you have to put your pride aside and ask for help and ask for assistance in coming to Notre Dame, and Adam and his staff do an incredible job.
You've got to be able to promote that, and Dan Skendzel and his staff, through Fighting Irish Media and Digital Media, do a great job of giving them that picture, and it's so vivid when we get a chance to put that in action, and using that medium really tells a great story, and Dan and his staff are part of what's happened today here, taking it to that next level, and I can't thank Dan enough and his staff.
Eric King and the facilities staff. We've got to keep this place clean, and it's not easy with 105 football players hanging around here all the time, and Eric does that plus provides us with the facilities, is juggling it all the time. We are chock full of teams in here. It's very busy. And he's scheduling and making this facility available for us to recruit in, and I don't know how he does it with all the teams. We're bursting with teams in here. We need at least two more facilities like this. Is everybody hearing that? You can write that down. But we need more facilities, and Eric does a great job of balancing all those things and gets us the time that we need in here.
You know, last but not least, all of our student ambassadors, our student workers, they do such a great job on a day-to-day basis to provide us with the resources and the management of this day. Our student workers, if we didn't have them -- I'll tell you what; the brainpower that we have up there in our recruiting office is amazing. Just by tapping into our Notre Dame students, just in the recruiting end of things. We have really a think tank up there, and we actively engage our student workers and our recruiting office to come up with ideas. They are so savvy, so smart, we steal such great ideas on a day-to-day basis from our students as it relates to what we're doing on a day-to-day basis in the recruiting end of things, and they're great at giving us feedback, they help us in the recruiting, and they're integral to what we do on a day-to-day basis.
I think, again, from my standpoint, there's so many people that I can thank, but it starts with the restructuring, starts with, again, having a vision for where we want to take our recruiting efforts. Last year Mike Elston has done a great job, and with that team that we've put together, we're not going to look back. It's only going to get better. With that, we'll open it up to questions.
The whole class is injury-free. No injuries that we know of.
Q. The restructuring of your recruiting staff, not only the recruiting coordinator but the sports staff upstairs, at what point in the cycle did you feel like that was back up to speed because certainly when you're watching relationships walk out the door and go to other staffs, how long did that take before you felt comfortable about where things were going?
BRIAN KELLY: I would use the Irish Invasion and those that were at that event and the kind of talent that was recruited to that event, and then the organization of that day. It was pretty evident for me that we had it going. Once we got back from our May recruiting cycle that we had a pretty good energy in that office and that it was solidified in my mind after the Irish Invasion and the creativity that we were kind of building on at that point that we were moving in a very good direction.
Q. The organizational aspect that Mike Elston has brought to that department, what changes for the positive do you think that's really brought to that operation?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think in the recruiting end of things, it's the combination of attention to detail, not being afraid to hear the word "no", and keep plowing through nos early on in this recruiting process. There's no area that we're not afraid to get into and afraid to take a shot at in this recruiting process, making sure that we're highlighting who we are and our distinctions, and using all platforms to reach the student-athletes that we're talking about recruiting, and all platforms from Instagram to Twitter, all platforms not just mailings, and I think that that has really been the impetus in terms of us moving quicker and getting into areas that maybe we were slower in touching in the recruiting process.
Q. What was the genesis of the semi truck? Where did that seed first get planted for you?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, you know, as we get into the last few days of recruiting, it really becomes babysitting. We were of the opinion that we were tired of babysitting, and just putting a guy in a geographical area just to sit there, what are you going to talk about? It's like, you want to send the family home. Christmas is over. You're tired of talking about the same stories, right? Send the relatives home.
It's the same thing. The last few days of recruiting, I don't know what to talk about anymore. And so we said, well, maybe we can create a buzz by talking about a truck that has a tradition on it, and so we followed the rules, we drove it there and parked it in front, and it seemed to be a better story than anything else that we could create at that time.
Q. So who came up with that idea?
BRIAN KELLY: That was Mike Elston. Yep, Mike has got the creative end of things, and then he runs that through -- the first thing we do is we call on Jen Vining-Smith, and we run it through compliance, and we get an okay through compliance, and then he'll run it by me and feel what my temperature is on it, and then we'll go with it.
Q. You touched on the Irish Invasion and Mike Elston mentioned earlier that the date for that is already locked in, that it's organized better than it has been in the past. Where do you see Irish Invasion going from here and how can you continue to evolve that?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think what we're trying to do obviously is, for example, we had a number of those players in Irish Invasion in '17 come out of that event and be guys that were on early. We want to use that Irish Invasion as something that's a step towards a year to two years out, and so we think that that is the future stars for Notre Dame, if you will. It's not the immediate stars that are coming on campus, but I think Irish Invasion is look what's going to be coming in the future, as well. So it's your futures game. It's your futures that are coming on campus at that time, as well.
So it really is seen in some instances as maybe you're making a decision on a couple of kids for '16, but it's really about the future of what your recruiting efforts should be looking at moving forward.
Q. Those types of summer camps are something that other programs have done over the years, the big-time events. Was that something you targeted early when you got here, that you wanted to try to develop something like that here at Notre Dame?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think it was really finding what was most important in the recruiting process to get that chain moving in favor of that, yes. And what we now know definitively is that we have to get you on campus in the summer months, to move favorably towards that decision to come to Notre Dame.
So that camp is very, very important, to get you on this campus. You really can't truly get to that yes in our opinion if you're reading about Notre Dame on the internet. You've got to get on this campus.
So I think what we learned in our first couple of years is that you can go out and recruit in May and you can talk about Notre Dame and you can talk about how this is what you're going to get at Notre Dame. You've got to get them on campus, and we use that Irish invasion as a great opportunity to get them on campus.
Q. I wanted to ask about quarterback recruiting. It's so much different it seems like than any other position. How has it changed and evolved to where you guys are now offering kids, which you obviously can't talk about, way into maybe the '18 or '19 class now?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think it's like anything else. Look, if your son aced his PSATs, he's going to get some mail from Harvard and Stanford, right, when he's a ninth grader, and he should, right? It's the same thing. If you are an incredible ninth grader or tenth grader and you are somebody that is elite, and there are just a few of them, they need to hear from you. That doesn't mean it's across the board, but that's just where that position, the quarterback position, is so central to the success of football teams that I think you're going to see that kind of recruitment at that position moving forward. They've got to be elite, but I think that you're going to continue to see that kind of recruitment at that position.
Q. And what's the evaluation process for you as the head coach when it comes to younger guys at that position in particular?
BRIAN KELLY: Not as interested in the camp stuff as I am what he's doing in games, how he performs late in games, does he move his football team late in games, can he rally the troops. Look, how he even performs when his team is down. I'm more interested in game mechanics, dynamics. You should be able to complete every pass if you don't have a pass rush, although it's nice to see what arm strength and those things are. They'd be a big, big criteria on playing the game itself.
Q. This was Todd's first real recruiting cycle as a coach. You guys go out and sign seven DBs. What do you think he found that worked and didn't working recruiting for the first time?
BRIAN KELLY: I think Todd found there's a big difference between being in the NFL and certainly being in college. It's a learning process. I think Todd has obviously learned a lot in his first year, but I think he also leaned heavily on those that were experienced. I think that we used all of our coaches geographically and by position to assist all the coaches in all of the recruiting efforts. Autry Denson was instrumental, Coach VanGorder was instrumental, Mike Elston. We all, I think, helped each other in this first year, especially with Todd really being first year in college full-time and really getting out on the road.
He has such a story to tell. He's so dynamic as a personality. He can articulate Notre Dame very well. But it was his first time out on the road, so we wanted to make sure that we provided him with coaches that had been down there before, if you will, and that's kind of how we went about it.
Q. Just kind of feeding off of that, the staff transfer last year and then how quickly things got streamlined, is that something that you're able to do when you're five, six years into a program as opposed to maybe one or two years into it?
BRIAN KELLY: It definitely helps when you know exactly what you're looking for, and I think you're probably scrambling a little bit more in your first couple of years because you're still kind of figuring out what's your profile, how are we going to go about doing this. So we had a clear mandate as to how we recruit here, so that was easier to articulate, and then it's a matter of putting the right pieces and the right people on the staff.
Q. I know you didn't do the Showtime series for the recruiting payoff, but what sort of tangible payoffs now that this class is signed did you get from going into kids' homes who said, hey, I saw the series, or their parents saw it?
BRIAN KELLY: I just think the way a student-athlete lives his life here at Notre Dame, you know, the day-to-day. We didn't do it to try to change those that don't like Notre Dame or are not fans of Notre Dame. We wanted them to respect who we are and what our student-athletes do on a day-to-day basis.
So I think more than anything else, I think it gave them insight as to what their day is like and who they are, and I think if anything, we were able to gain a lot of respect from those that saw what the student-athletes do on a day-to-day basis.
Q. This was the first time in your seven-year recruiting cycle you did not have a decommit, so to speak, from somebody, and usually you've had like sometimes a minimum of three and even more. Mike Elston kind of credited it to having more of a well-rounded team effort. How do you balance having so many coaches involved in the recruiting with also not overwhelming them so much?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think that there's a number of things going on here. I think first and foremost, all coaches, the entire staff having a consistent message, and that message being one of who we are and what we're about and never swaying from that. So for example, if you have three different coaches that go to recruit you and you get three different messages, there's some uncertainty as to what I'm getting myself into. But if all three coaches come in and you hear the same thing, you know what you're getting.
That lessens the wavering of a student-athlete. So I think first and foremost, we had a unified staff, a clear message. Mike did a great job of taking my message and reinforcing it every single day. There was a consistency in terms of what the message was. That's number one.
I think number two is that we vetted out better than we ever have because we were further out on our recruits in terms of time. We had more time with them to make sure that they were kids that would fit here at Notre Dame. I think those two things stood out for me that we didn't have the kind of back and forth.
Q. Much was made about your six-year extension deal. Did you feel that was necessary, also, on the recruiting trail? Have you found yourself many times on the trail being asked, well, we hear all the time you're going to the NFL or this or that?
BRIAN KELLY: You get it once in a while. It wasn't pervasive. It wasn't something that we felt like we had to recruit around because those -- quite frankly those come up virtually to all coaches that are having some success. It wasn't big, but certainly any time that you can make that announcement that there's continuity within your program for six more years, it certainly serves you well in the recruiting process. But I don't believe at any time it became a hindrance and it became something that, oh, we've got to announce this to hold on to five or six kids in our class. It was certainly timely, there's no question about it, it helps, but we didn't think we needed to make an announcement because we had a great amount of uncertainty about me being here at Notre Dame.
Q. It was mentioned that you had no decommitments, but you did pick up seven commitments from people who had already committed to other schools. How do you get a read or a gauge as to when someone would be available?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think -- look, when we talk about Notre Dame, it either hits their brain or it doesn't. When we talk about what our distinctions are and we talk about living on campus and we talk about you don't live in a football dorm and we talk about the spirituality of our campus, if he starts twiddling his fingers and looking the other way, we're moving on. But if it resonates, we know. So when we tell our story and it's our story about who we are truly, it's pretty easy to know who that resonates with, and if it resonates with them and the family and they understand it, we're all in. We're going to recruit you. If it doesn't, we're moving on to the next guy.
Q. Given what you've been able to sign in these last two cycles, as you look into the 2017 group, where is your point of emphasis?
BRIAN KELLY: We'll get some offensive linemen, probably our biggest need is to go back onto the offensive line. We'll go back there. And then I think we've put ourselves now in a position of balance, and then we'll have to look at balancing all position groups. But O-line, we're going to have to fill that back up a little bit more and then look at all position groups.
One of the things you have to do now is you've got to look at and anticipate any juniors that may leave. I think that's the reality today in the recruiting process, not just seniors, juniors and seniors. So we'll evaluate that, and then it just becomes making sure that you're balanced at all position groups.
Q. What do you think is the biggest need this class fills for you?
BRIAN KELLY: Certainly the safety corner, third corner position on our defense. You know, the potential of some third-down specialists, the potential for guys to rush the passer, certainly the nickel position, and safety. I think those in particular.
You know, we may have some help at some skill positions on offense, maybe some -- maybe a two-deep guy on the offensive line possibly, but I would say primarily your eyes would move immediately towards the back end of the defense and maybe situationally there could be a third-down player in there to help us on defense.
Q. Kind of following on that, I know you're not in the habit of giving away positions, it has to be earned, but looking at the list, who do you see as a player most likely to have an impact next year or a couple of players?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, again, I think you always begin to look at those guys that don't have to bench 375 pounds right away, you know, and physically those guys that are tough mentally and physically and have a short memory, you know, the corners certainly can come in and compete, and we've got a number of guys that have a skill level at those positions or we wouldn't have recruited them. So all those corners. And I think the safeties are all capable of coming in and competing for playing time.
You know, if I was saying where do you think it'll happen from, I would naturally look towards that group right away, but you've got some big linemen, too, some extraordinarily gifted players at the linebacker position. I wouldn't rule them out, but just by the pure number of having seven in the back end of the defense, it's probably a good shot that somebody is coming out of that group.
Q. Early in the process it seemed like Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott became priorities for your staff and you made a push for them. What was it about them that you saw that made them such priorities for your staff?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, Jalen Elliott competed like no player that I have seen since I've been coaching in a camp setting, and that's over 25 years. His competitive spirit was unmatched. It was unparalleled in terms of I can't remember a guy -- maybe there was one guy that competed on the offensive line for me at Cincinnati in a camp that was similar, but this kid competed at every position at such a level that he was a can't-miss guy for us in the recruiting process.
Same thing with Devin Studstill. His skill level was of corner-like ability but had the size of the safety, and so our guys went right to them early on, and that was a focal point because we got a chance to see them up close and personal and saw their characteristics, their traits, the way they competed, the way they interacted. They didn't say a word, they just went and competed.
Q. You've talked a lot -- well, we've asked you a few questions about pass rush in these rooms. Do you feel like the two kids you got, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem can take a step towards finding that four-man answer?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, if we're talking strictly four-man, you're going to look towards those guys. I think there's some other potentials for that, as well, in this class. It's going to take a little bit of time. But we're pretty excited about the potential for some guys in this class that can answer some four-man pass rush needs that we do have.
I think we all know that pass rushers are really about the product of what you're doing defensively in so many other different areas, whether it's a corner blitz or a safety or a linebacker, but if you're talking strictly four-down, those would be guys that we would want to develop there, sure.
Q. Second year in a row you signed a deep, talented group of receivers there. They're going to enter the team with a little bit different situation. There's no Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. Are these the kind of guys that you see coming in and being able to push the guys ahead of them and give yourself some depth and some guys can come in and have an impact right away?
BRIAN KELLY: I think that the wide receiver has always been -- as we continue to accelerate the position each and every year is one where you should come in with the mindset that I'm going to be the starter. We've already seen it. Will Fuller played two years here, really, if you want to break it down. He had a cameo his first year here, and then really played two years.
So why wait around? If you're really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you're here for four years and you stay, but you've got to be ready to compete.
So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately, so that's the mindset.
Q. Jonathan Jones obviously doesn't fit the measurables that a lot of people tend to look for, but he was a guy that multiple coaches went after. What was it you saw in him as far as he can fit into what you do defensively?
BRIAN KELLY: Just great instincts. You know, physically maybe his lack of height scared some people away, but just great instincts as a linebacker, great leadership quality, physically strong, fit, athletic, and has a great awareness in the pass game, as well. For us, just looked like the consummate linebacker, had all that innate ability and football recognition that you don't have to teach.
Q. Coach, what's it like going through a signing day where there's relatively no drama?
BRIAN KELLY: It's awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career. There's no drama because I think we did a great job of knowing and really getting to know our guys, who we were signing, why they were coming to Notre Dame, and really asking the questions. You know, is this the right place for you. We don't want you to commit unless you're totally invested, and we say this to them. If you want to keep taking visits, go take visits, then you're not committed to Notre Dame. Then keep taking visits. If you're committed, shut down the recruiting process, and then if you're ready to commit, make a commitment, instead of saying, keep going, take other visits.
So I think that's important in this process. You know, we have this word commitment, but I don't know that we hit it hard enough, so we hit it pretty hard with those kids, and I think it's served us well on days like today.
Q. And was McKinley, I guess, the closest thing to drama because 11:30 everything was going perfectly and his papers just weren't in yet?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, we went with technology -- I don't know if you know this, we went with Coud Assign this year, so we didn't have any faxes. So everything was done on a smartphone, and his smartphone wasn't smart today, so he had some -- we had some technical problems. But we're proud to announce that we did not use the fax machine today, so we've entered the 21st century here at Notre Dame.
We had a little technical issue, but we weren't afraid or concerned.
Q. And offensive line, obviously two of your top three recruits are on that. Can you just speak to how important that is to kind of reload in that area?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, you've got P Money. Everybody knows P Money, right? If you don't know P Money, then you guys -- come on, really? Get a Twitter account.
So P Money obviously a big, physical, inside guy, Parker Boudreaux, and has that physical presence inside like a -- I'm not comparing him, but he's a Quinton Nelson in terms of size and physicality, and then two edge guys with Liam and Tommy on the outside. Those two kids are as good as you're going to find in the country, and couldn't be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Cincinnati Elder from the state of Ohio.
Q. And to get Okwara and Jones, having two guys with brothers in the system, how much does that help I guess having that legacy?
BRIAN KELLY: I think it's great. We recruited them the right way. We didn't recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful. But obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting. It can help you if they don't have a good experience, but they had a great experience, and then those kids really fit and can stand on their own two feet.
Q. And finally for me, it seemed like you enjoyed your experience being in this room alone to make the announcements of the players for the watch ND videos. I'm just wondering if you have a future as an NFL commissioner preparing for a draft day.
BRIAN KELLY: I enjoying being in a room by myself, yes.
Q. You referenced the Irish Invasion earlier. With the recruiting calendar getting moved so far up, kids making decisions so much earlier, beyond the Irish Invasion, are you restructuring the way you do unofficial visits? Are you restructuring junior days and so forth to reflect that change?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, what is it, January 23rd, junior day, earliest that we've ever had. I think celebrating junior day is getting kids on campus earlier in January. I think it's part of that, as well. I think you're right, the calendar has moved up, so you've got to adjust to that accordingly. So we're balancing '16s and '17s. But as you get more kids committed and guys that you know you feel really good about, you still have to recruit them, then you can start to move into those junior days a lot sooner, and this is the first year we felt really good that we've moved this thing up to the point where we can bring those '17s on campus in January, and that's going to serve us well and we continue to move forward.
Q. Daelin Hayes to me is kind of a fascinating guy, that he didn't play a lot of high school football but has such high potential and yet could play a lot of different positions. Why did you settle on him as a defensive end? What do you think his ceiling looks like?
BRIAN KELLY: We're really excited about him. He's a bright, articulate kid. He knows what he wants. The thing I like about Daelin more than anything else is if you give him something that is really definitive and tangible, he's going to go after it. And it's an approach that I love about a kid at that age, and he'll work towards that.
Whatever it's been, you know, I want to be a mid-year enrollee, I want to go to Notre Dame. Once he had settled on that, there was nothing that was going to get in the way of it, and that's why we're going to really enjoy coaching him and his experience.
We just feel like with the shoulder surgery, he hasn't really been able to weight train. He's already a pretty big kid. He's only going to get bigger. We just think that he has such a range of positions that he can play. We're just going to kind of let it naturally happen, and where there's an area that he can help us, I think we all know that getting after the quarterback would be a great start for him.
Q. I know Al Lesser badgered you a lot about your defense during the season --
BRIAN KELLY: I didn't read any of it.
Q. I wondered what kind of questions recruits had about your defense and how you sold the future of your defense to them.
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I didn't have to sell it. I've got a great defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, great experience, former Broyles Award winner, is the outstanding assistant coach in the country. Look, we made a pretty substantial change in defensive philosophy from a 3-4 two-gapping defense that played cover two, to a 4-3 attacking defense that played cover one. That's a huge change, and it requires a bit of a transition.
As we were transitioning, we were winning some football games along the way. We're not where we want to be defensively and we're not going to apologize for the fact that we had injuries. We had injuries. But we're going to play great defense under Brian VanGorder and the staff that we've put together.
It was an opportunity to play at Notre Dame under a coach that has had great success coaching football at the college level and the NFL level and an opportunity, a great opportunity, as evidenced by the seven defensive backs that we were able to encourage to come to Notre Dame.
Q. I know that with kids that are looking at Notre Dame, academics is at the top or near the top of their list, but the NFL dream is part of why they want to come to Notre Dame, too. I'm wondering, does the early entries into the NFL Draft, does that give you a balance at all with that? Does that help you sell the player development type piece, especially with a guy like Will Fuller that wasn't a five star coming out of high school?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, our player development is well-chronicled. Our NFL people know that they're going to be well developed here. So that word is out there and we're getting credit for it in the circles that if you want to listen in that room and hear that, you'll hear it. So I don't know that we go around, and we don't pound our chests about that, but I think it's pretty evident if you want to get into that conversation, if, for example, one school wants to say Notre Dame can't do that or doesn't do it, we can have a really, really good conversation about how we have done that. We'd prefer not to. We think we've got other things that are higher on the list, but when we do get to that, and we do, further down the line, we will highlight the guys that have developed and succeeded in the NFL and developed in this program in particular over the last six years.
Q. You guys went up into Canada, get Chase Claypool. What was it like going up there to get him, and do you think the fact that he was from Canada obscured his talents?
BRIAN KELLY: He's averaging 49.2 points per game in basketball, so Mike Bray couldn't get him. So I went and got him for Mike, so he's really a basketball player. He doesn't play football. But Mike has promised me to get a football player.
He's a heck of a -- have you watched his basketball highlights? They're pretty good. He's an extraordinary kid. Mike Denbrock and I have a contact in Canada that we've used ever since I've been back at Grand Valley and Central Michigan. I had some great success at Central recruiting some kids from Canada, and this same contact got in touch with us about Chase, and said, look, I've got a kid -- I go, I'm not going to Canada. I've got enough states here that we can find a player, and then when we got a chance to see him play, we were just drawn to his pure physical ability, and then we loved him in person. We just loved his want-to, his -- just, I guess, he's a blank slate. He's so raw that we're going to be able to create a player that can play so many different positions for us. So we're really excited about him, and it was beautiful country up there, as well.
Q. Coaches dancing has become a fad in recruiting --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, my son said if I do the Dab, he will never forgive me.
Q. So you're not working any dance moves for the future?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, when we win a National Championship I'll do something that is so creative that no one has ever done before, so you'll have to wait for that one. But no Dabbing.
Q. Playing off that, has recruiting become more crazy, or are we just finding out about some of these stories? Guys climbing trees and sending a truck and things like that, it just seems like people need to make a/now to get these kids' attention?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I guess Twitter-sphere has something to do with that, what's going to jump out at you, that changes what's being talked about. But we're not going to do anything hokey or crazy. I think you still have to recruit kids and be upfront about who you are, and it's still about work and developing relationships. You're not going to get a kid because you sent the truck down there. We did that to break up the monotony of the recruiting at the end of the cycle.
So it's still about relationships. It's still about hard work. It's still about doing the things necessary to get the right kids, but there's just a little bit more transparency in it. That's about it.
Q. How would you like to characterize this group three or four years from now? It doesn't seem like a flashy group, but you never know how they're going to turn out.
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you've ever recruited. I'm hoping for that again. I think we all know that there are some players in here that could help immediately, some that we'll develop, and some that are in here for specific needs. I think it touches upon everything that you would need in your program six years into it. It's not an immediate fix, it's not just for the future. I think it covers all the areas that you would expect it to cover, and that's why it doesn't kind of have that flashiness.
But I will say this: It's a close group of guys. They know each other. They've stayed in contact with each other. And the great thing about that is that that will be a strong pull in the locker room. This will be a close group that will stick together and that will fight through adversity, which you're always going to have in a team sport.
Q. Just one question off recruiting, but it's been a little bit since the bowl game. Just an update on Jaylon Smith?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we had a conversation with him earlier in the week. He's really excited about his progress. He's making great progress. He feels like he's a couple of weeks ahead of it from where they were expecting him to be. He expects to be at the combine not testing but to be open for interviews and to do interviews, so real positive news on the Jaylon Smith front.
Q. When did you first start to notice social media had a real effect on recruiting and your job, as well?
BRIAN KELLY: On my job? From when I first stepped on this campus?
Q. Yeah, but I mean, just in your career as a coach, when did you first notice social media had that effect?
BRIAN KELLY: I'd say a couple years ago where it started to really heighten to the point where you really had to pay attention to what kids were doing on social media. A couple years ago kids were putting themselves in a tough position on social media. They weren't aware that what they were saying was actually being monitored. Kids have cleaned up what they say. They've blocked those that can follow them. They're so much more save year, if you will, and they're using it more as a promotional piece than something that could cast them in a negative light, if you will.
It's a couple years. Twitter has changed dramatically, the recruiting end of things, but I think it's been a couple years now, and following it is important.
Q. What were some of the focuses in this last recruiting cycle that your staff had specifically with social media and how to take advantage of it?
BRIAN KELLY: Getting our messages out, not through just mass mailings but through using social media as a conduit for that, whether it be Vine or any kind of video, streaming video, that we could use, any kind of DMing obviously is important to us as a form of communication, as we can't obviously use texting in the football end of things. We're unlike basketball.
So those forms are very important to football.
Q. And then lastly, how is national signing day as an event changed since you first got onto the scene as a coach?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah. I think when I was doing it, we were always doing what the cumulative GPA of the group was. We always wanted to make sure we told everybody how good our GPA was, and then I figured that it really didn't matter, it's just how many games you won. I think it's changed a lot. It's about the quality of kid. It's not the GPA, it's the kind of kid, how he represents your university, and that's much more important than what the GPA rounds out to be. It's what kind of kid you've got representing your university.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports