Notre Dame coaches balanced hectic month successfully

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly speaks to the media on National Signing Day last February at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of
Notre Dame football recruiting coordinator Brian Polian speaks to the media on National Signing Day last February at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of

There will be 37 bowl games played within the FBS level in college football this month and that doesn’t even include the College Football Playoff to culminate all of those. That makes for a very challenging month for college football coaching staffs at this time of year, but even more so this season, as a three-day window of signing prospective recruits was thrown into the middle of the month, as well.

For the first time, college programs could sign athletes from Wednesday through Friday of this week and Notre Dame added 21 student-athletes, all the while preparing for its upcoming Citrus Bowl game with LSU (Jan. 1, noon, ABC) in Orlando.

Veteran Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly was asked if the new signing period did indeed interfere with his team’s ability to prepare for the Tigers.

“Interfere,” Kelly pondered following the question, “well, it certainly was a challenge.”

The Fighting Irish coaches have always had to recruit during this month while more often than not preparing for a bowl game. However, with the signing day not typically until early February (a second signing period remains at that time in 2018), that later date at least allowed the coaches to focus on the now than the future.

At Notre Dame, the schedule became even more complex, as the university was in the midst of final exams, while the coaches were recruiting AND coaching the athletes in practices.

“We had to balance a lot of things,” Kelly said. “The first couple of practices, where we were in reading days and exams, we had to have skeleton staffs for our practices. So we didn’t have a full staff of coaches at a practice because we had guys on the road.”

And that included Kelly.

The Notre Dame signings didn’t conclude until 6:01 p.m. Friday when Kelly got a signed letter of intent from Oregon wide receiver Braden Lenzy, but all the while he also had to run his program and coach his team in South Bend.

It has been a crazy few weeks for the coach to say the least.

“Coach (Kelly) was incredible in terms of his willingness to get out this year,” Fighting Irish recruiting coordinator and special teams coach Brian Polian explained. “He was out a lot during the season watching guys play. The speed-up time period here (in December) made it important that he get out and (Kelly’s) willingness to be out those first three weeks (beginning Nov. 26) of contact were incredibly important as we were trying to close guys up before (Wednesday).”

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What made the month even more challenging, as if exams, recruiting and coaching weren’t enough, was the fact that Notre Dame recruits nationally.

The Fighting Irish signed six players from New Jersey and Florida and three more from California and Oregon. In all, Notre Dame signed players from 13 states.

“That is important to a school like ours,” Polian said. “There are 12 states represented in this year’s class (the Irish added Lenzy following Polian’s comments). There are 28, I believe, represented on our team. We’re not a school that 80 percent of our class can drive here for an unofficial visit, so the speed-up timing of the early signing day, combined with not being able to bring young men here officially (on visits) last spring and summer, made it a little bit difficult and unique.”

Despite the harried time, Kelly said he actually enjoyed the increased focus on recruiting this month, as opposed to spreading it out into February.

Following the bowl game and Christmas Break, his players return to campus in mid-January to begin workouts and he is often gone on recruiting trips at that time, as he normally is in the process of securing commitments. However, that will be far less of a divider of his time next month with 21 players already in the fold.

“It was better for me to focus on recruiting,” Kelly said. “We obviously had to balance our schedule back here a little bit, but I enjoyed it more so in that we were in a shorter window.”

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