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December 18, 2019

Brian Polian

South Bend, Indiana

BRIAN POLIAN: Just to piggyback some of the thoughts shared by Coach Kelly. We want to thank some folks as it relates to all the help that we get in recruiting. First and foremost, the relationships that we have on campus. We would not be able to function as a recruiting department if it weren't for these relationships; admissions, administratively, the athletic administration, frankly, our faculty and their willingness to meet with prospects. We can talk about how elite the education is here, but it's hard to do that justice unless our prospects aren't able to spend time with faculty on campus. And those folks willingly give of their time to spend time with our kids, which is unbelievable and we're eternally grateful for it. Our recruiting staff did an excellent job. Dave Pelquin and Aaryn Kearney, Jazz, Riley, everybody really has done an awesome job and I think the way that we manage the unofficial and official visits on this campus are incredible and it's really a team effort. We never say thank you to our ambassadors. We have students from Notre Dame, St. Mary's, Holy Cross, that volunteer to be a part of this program and they make, in some cases they're making the first impression on campus, and they do an excellent job.

I also want to recognize, I don't know if you guys were able to see today, the creative team at FIM and what they did today with the parents volunteering to call in and kind of do the voice-overs. In a world where we're trying to be creative and a little bit different, I think we did that today without looking silly. The folks over at FIM that came up with that idea and executed it was really excellent. Our staff really grinded hard on this class. I think we're 15 or 16 different states, a foreign country, from -- we joke all the time. We'll go from Hawaii to New Jersey to find the right people. Well, this year we did go from Hawaii to New Jersey to find the right people. And I think too we have to acknowledge the families of the coaches. We walk away from our wives and children, we're on the road, not only with the football season, but out in recruiting. And we owe them a debt of gratitude for allowing us to do what we do to put this class together.

So today's a culmination, it's a celebration, it's exciting. I know I don't sound excited, but we're going from the Stanford game to two weeks on the road to now bowl prep. So but we're excited about this class. Coach Kelly was unbelievable. I think before anybody asks, the transition on the coaching staff, obviously, that was a difficult decision for him. And when that decision was made Coach Kelly did an unbelievable job of getting out and addressing it with the prospects. I think our staff in general did an unbelievable job of rallying up. But, again, no one person is greater than the university, and in all these cases, like Coach said, the power of this brand over rides any single relationship. The power of this place. And that's what we found. There was not a lot of agita. There was a couple of very honest conversations, and then we moved forward, and we're excited to welcome all these guys into the class.

From a football point of view, I think for me personally, a great reminder of the power of length was Kyle Hamilton this year. If you can get a really good athlete who has got length that's better than just a really good athlete that doesn't. They're able -- Foskey, the same way. McGlinchey before that. Just how powerful length is and especially at the skill positions. And I think there was a concerted effort this year to, if we have two equal grades on a guy, let's go with the guy that's got a little bit more length. I know there was some consternation earlier in the year about the defensive back board and defensive back situation. I would tell you from our football staff's perspective we feel, we feel more comfortable with this group than probably any group we have recruited in the last couple years because we know the most about this group. Terry Joseph, Coach Lyght, Clark Lea, myself in the spring recruiting, we flew all over the country. We watched these young men workout at track, in spring football. In whatever it was that they were doing that we were allowed to evaluate, we watched these guys. We have verified times on every one of them, whether it be a track time, a 40 time at a camp, we know more about this group than we probably do in the last, any group the last couple of years. So we're excited about this group and feel very positively about it.

And then it's, just to reiterate what Coach said, ocean to ocean and finding fit. And as we talk about fit and I'm reminded of this, this year has been, I can only speak for myself, this season has been the most fun I've ever had coaching a football team. And the reason is, we have got great kids in this program. Obviously, there are two games we would have liked to have gone different, but when you get guys that fit your culture, it's so much fun to be around. And I think that feeling, that vibe, our prospects felt that. Our recruits felt how much our team enjoys being around one another. So that is just a reminder how valuable fit is. Because when you get guys that pick your place for the right reasons and want to be here and want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, it creates a really cool culture within the building. And hopefully we're building on that. We believe that we are. So with that I'll open it to any questions anybody's got.

Q. That verifiable speed, how has that quest to get it changed over the years? What's your all-time horror story of not having it verified?
BRIAN POLIAN: I mean, God bless the high school coaches. We love them and they're always trying to help their kids. But I mean, if -- I always point this out, my experience with my dad in the NFL. If you look at how many guys go to the combine and can actually run in the low 4.4's, there's not very many of them. But when we talk to high school coaches, there's millions across the country. So the one thing that -- you know, I think Bill Rees, Clark Lea, Mike Elston, I think we started to have some serious conversations about how important track is, and also the education of the difference between a good 100 time. What if a guy only runs a 200 meter? What if he's a distance guy? How do we translate a split in a 4 by 1 to a verified speed? We literally did some research on that in the winter into the spring in terms of, is he really fast, what does a really good 110 high hurdle, how does that equate to football speed. You know it when you see it on film, but -- and the discipline to walk away if we did not have a verified speed. Or to be transparent and say to a young man, and a coach, we love your film, we love your makeup, your grades are great, but until we have a verified time, we can't pull the trigger. And that would motivate some kids to go out to a camp and post a 40. Or in some cases run a 40 and have a coach film it and send us the tape. I mean, so we had to get outside the box a little bit in terms of, we can't just take anybody's word for it anymore. We got to find ways to verify the speed.

Q. And then the other thing would be: To avoid de-commits in this era and what the environment that's out there and everybody always constantly checking behind, checking behind, how proud are you of that part of it? And how much, is there any agita that goes with that?
BRIAN POLIAN: No, there was not. By the way, my Italian wife would be very proud of my use of the word agita today. No, there wasn't. But I think that goes to fit too. Like, when guys are picking Notre Dame for the right reasons, there's less of that. I honestly think, too, the recruiting calendar is part of that, too. When you would sit there in January and into February with nothing to do but have coaches come through and, it takes a lot of discipline for kids to not take those calls. And then as guys were committing and spots were moving on boards, all of a sudden another school would come in and, you know, I think some of the Wild, Wild West of recruiting has slowed down here a little bit. But, ultimately, it becomes about fit and picking Notre Dame for the right reasons. Coach mentioned earlier, one thing that we have been very intentional about here in the last couple of years is the first time a prospect arrives on our campus, we're going to be very clear about who we are, what we stand for, what the demands are going to be here. Those distinctions, we're talking about them immediately. So that way if a prospect decides to move forward with us, they know exactly who we are. Less surprises. And I think that's equated to less surprises down the road.

Q. Brian Kelly brought up the fact that a lot of these guys were really good two ways. When you are recruiting them, do you emphasize or and maybe it's kid-to-kid, the thought that they might play the other position than you originally thought? Do you discuss that with them, or is that just something that comes up once they're here and that's kind of understood?
BRIAN POLIAN: I think it's a case-by-case basis. I think some guys who are dual-position guys you say, hey, what do you like better? And they're, like, Coach, I don't care, just whatever will get me on the field faster. Then you can have those type of discussions. Other guys, Coach, I see myself as this. So we're going to recruit them that way. It's funny, Coach really keeps me balanced when it comes to this stuff, because I have a very analytical mind, and we have a scholarship model that we believe is responsible, and we're trying to adhere to that as best we can. And I think Coach Kelly, every once in a while, will help rein me back in and say, hey, let's just get as many good football players as we can get. They will find their way into a position group one way or the other. There are some years that you have the flexibility to just recruit a bunch of good athletes and let it fall. This was a year where, honestly, we had to address the defensive back group. We had to. And so we went into the class with, in that position, a very specific number that we had to hit and a very specific set of traits that we were looking for. So it kind of, it plays off each other as class to class, year to year.

Q. What made Jordan Botelho worth going out to Hawaii and making those trips and recruiting him? And what maybe was the challenges of identifying, for him to identify you guys as a fit and projecting a guy that's a line backer into a defensive end?
BRIAN POLIAN: Well, the film would tell you the projection to defensive end is not as dramatic as we think it is. When you watch the tape, he's rushing in a two-point stance and he's very heavy handed, like, when he strikes you, he's punching you. He is a really unique combination of a high intensity, violent football player. And again, this is still a collision sport that we play. He's a violent football player. And yet he's got a really good transcript from a high quality high school, Catholic high school at St. Louis. I think one of the unique things about Jordan was with Myron, with Marris, to a certain degree with Alohi there was, hey, ohana. This is, we have got Hawaiians here. I think Jordan's very proud of where he comes from, but he's also very proud of his Korean heritage. He's very proud of his Portuguese heritage. It's not just, Jordan's not just another football player from Hawaii. Hey, they have a Hawaii pipeline going, he's just the next one in the group. He's not. I learned very quickly, he kind of would giggle about it and laugh, but we weren't necessarily connecting on that. We connected on Notre Dame. We connected on the similarities between our culture and the St. Louis culture at his high school. He loves Coach Lea. He loves Coach Elston. There was an immediate connection there. In some cases, I'm just the guy that, you know, drives everybody around in Hawaii because I know where I'm going. And I was Jordan's entree to Coach Lea and to Coach Elston and the point of contact. But I think he's a pretty unique individual and he's, it's been an education for me. He's a lot of fun to be around, and his family.

But there are stories like that throughout our recruiting. I connected with the Mayer family. Why would I be engaged with a guy from Northern Kentucky who plays on the offensive side of the ball? Terry Joseph, you know, connects, you know, he was the connection to Pryor. I mean, our staff, I think, has done such a really good job of connecting all over the board, offense, defense, all the geographies. It's really about where does the relationship click. And that comes from our head coach who has given us the directive that recruiting's going to be collaborative. We're not going to have rockstar recruiters. It's going to be done by the staff. And it's really neat, then, to see the relationships develop across the board.

Q. I believe last year you said that when it comes to academic fit you look at more than just GPA, that the player has to have a desire to push themself in the classroom. How do you go about evaluating that besides just looking at a transcript or the number of AP classes they take?
BRIAN POLIAN: We have some serious conversations. I mean, I think the biggest thing here is the ability to communicate. There are guys here that succeed because they can have a conversation and communicate with a professor. So if a guy will come here and may have good grades, but we got to work really hard for them to get them to communicate with us, there's a hunch that, hey, that guy might have a hard time. I think Dave Peloquin, specifically, on our staff working in conjunction with our admissions office, I think they do a really good job of where might there be a concern, let's address it now, let's have some honest conversations. And I would tell you eight and a half to nine times out of ten we get the answer we're looking for. Sometimes you don't, but that's the nature of being at a high level place. But you got to ask real questions. You got to engage in conversations. I think that we have done that.

Q. How much influence do maybe the players that are already on the team, how much do you speak to them maybe when it comes to how a player might fit in culturally?
BRIAN POLIAN: Oh, that's invaluable feedback and that comes from our head coach. If there's ever a doubt in our mind about whether a guy fits, we will immediately go to the host. And Coach Kelly will do that. And he'll ask, do you want this guy on your team? And that has worked in both directions. That has been times when we felt like a guy might fit and our players came back and said, hey, when he's out in a social setting, it does not fit our mission here. It does not fit our culture. And we listen to that. And there have been times that we have thought, well, I don't know. And guys that we trust on our football team have come back and said, he's one of us, don't worry about it, he's going to be fine, he will fit in just fine here.

So that feedback is a critical part of our evaluation. And I mentioned the ambassadors earlier. Our ambassadors will give us feedback in terms of when they're with a prospect and the family, say, for a home game and spend a great deal of time with them, more than we will, for an unofficial or official visit on a home game and come back and say, hey, I don't know. There's some things that they were talking about that don't necessarily jive. It's not the decider, but it's a big piece of information as we're trying to put the puzzle together. No doubt.

Q. What's the challenge when you know you have fewer scholarships available than, maybe, the average class of going about addressing that? And is there just less flexibility with you know have you to have guys at a specific position and you have to drill down that early on?
BRIAN POLIAN: Yeah, it's, you may have to slow down a little bit at a given position because can we get best guy in the country, or are we looking to take the yes that is willing to come as quickly as possible, given the fact that, for lack of a better term, we have a salary cap. And this was a year that we could not afford to take 25 guys. So, and then trying to get Coach Kelly and myself trying to see the big picture and get our guys on either side of the ball, hey, this is the number that you're working with. You can't veer off from this.

And then there's a little bit of we got to be judicious in the sense that looking at our roster -- this is the one thing I don't like about the new calendar, is that we're signing a class before underclassmen have to officially declare. Or before the semester ends for that point. So trying to figure out, is there going to be movement on our roster. Now, we're a little bit of an outlier. We don't have 12 guys in the portal, like we have seen in the last month at some other places. So trying to judge what will the movement be on our roster and how does that affect our numbers and what we can do. And that's a world that I'm not comfortable with because I don't like the chat boards talking about, well, we're at this, somebody's got to go. I think sometimes that conversation is a little irresponsible, because there are people reading that that are wondering, is my son the one that's going to go? Well, we think long and hard about this and we have plans and we know what we're doing. So I think in those cases it's like one of those deals where it's like I wish people would just trust us, that we probably know a little bit more about our roster than the guy who is posting on the chat site.

Q. When you're recruiting in areas that maybe you guys aren't traditionally recruiting in, guys from Mississippi and Nebraska, aren't necessarily areas that have consistent guys coming to Notre Dame, how do you go about that? Do you look around in the room, does anyone have ties to this area?
BRIAN POLIAN: Yeah, that's the first place it starts is do we know people in the area. But again, we're never going to limit ourselves in terms of where we'll go to find a guy that will fit. And to pull Offord and Watts and guys -- Colorado has, I can't remember Colorado being a big feeder area for us, but again it speaks to when we find the -- if they're wired the right way, if they want what our university can present to them and we believe that we can compete for a National Championship with them as a player, then it should not matter where they come from. It just takes a little extra leg work at the beginning to find out about the schools, to find out about the communities and see if we can connect the dots, but in most cases we can.

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