SOUTH BEND – The proverb is that it takes a village to raise a child, but in the case of Notre Dame’s 2017 football recruiting class, it took a village to bring the class of 21 student-athletes together.
Veteran coach Brian Kelly praised a lot of people upon announcing the signings, and included in that group was Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
“I don’t think you get here without an investment from everybody,” Kelly said. “Every weekend, Jack met with our recruits. That’s unusual. I don’t think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself available to meet with recruits.”
In this instance, it was a necessity.
The Notre Dame football program has been immersed in some degree of chaos for the better part of five-plus months. As the losses piled up, stories circulating regarding the future (or lack thereof) of Kelly with the program became more and more abundant, both of which had the potential to destroy the recruiting process.
The Notre Dame student newspaper even called for the firing of Swarbrick in early December, due in large part, to the lack of success of the football program (in their opinion) under Kelly and his leadership.
“In a lot of instances,” Kelly explained, “he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it’s going.”
Where Notre Dame football is at, is one that is coming off its worst season in nearly a decade (the Irish were 4-8 last season) and will have to break in a new quarterback in 2017.
Where Kelly is at, is a coach that has never indicated that he was planning on doing anything other than fulfilling his contract (he has five years remaining on it). But that hasn’t stopped a myriad of stories from being published to the contrary.
“There are questions when a family comes on campus,” Kelly said. “Jack reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future.”
That reference to “staff” was yet another chapter to Kelly’s difficult task of recruiting this past season: he remade his coaching staff.
Kelly spent the past two months hiring a new offensive and defensive coordinator, a new special teams coach, a new strength coach and an assortment of coaches that those leaders wanted brought into the program. All of which fueled the uncertainty on the part of recruits, but Kelly and Swarbrick told them that it was just the opposite.
“We’re certainly not going to come in here and invest in all of the coaches we’ve invested in because we think we’re in a short-term situation,” Kelly said. “We’re in a great situation here. We’re going to build on the young players that we played last year, and again, we’re going to return Notre Dame to where it should be.”
Kelly also spoke of the uniqueness of the university. Certainly the athletic aspect of signing with the Irish is important to the recruits. However, Kelly said that at the forefront of the young athlete’s decision should be his commitment to the university itself.
“We had really good (assistant) coaches that left us,” Kelly said, “but Notre Dame did not change. Notre Dame is still the number one reason why they choose to come here.”