Why Brian Kelly's Irish "I's" Won't Mean "Incomplete" for Notre Dame Recruiting

Bryan KellySenior Analyst IJanuary 7, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - DECEMBER 11: Brian Kelly attends a press conference where he was named new football head coach at Notre Dame University on December 11, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana.  Kelly most recently led the University of Cincinnati to two consecutive Bowl Championship Series appearances including a perfect 12-0 record this past season. (Photo by Frank Polich/Getty Images)
Frank Polich/Getty Images

The legacy of Charlie Weis, from tip to tail, is of incompleteness.

His teams were never balanced, he never got the most out of the talent he accrued, and he was fired just as his attack looked like it was beginning to take effect.

Grab the poor finish in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, tie it to 2009's 6-6 record with the Irish's most statistically accomplished passer at the helm and its greatest player in two decades on the outside, wrap it all up in the promise of a decided schematic advantage, and you have the Weis Era in toto.

Abstaining entirely from a bowl was perhaps the most fitting way to wrap up his unsatisfying administration.

The legacies Brian Kelly has left behind at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati could be described as incomplete, but for a vastly different reason.

Kelly left those programs at the peak of his powers, taking GVSU to back-to-back Division II national titles in 2002 and 2003, resurrecting the Chippewas from MAC bottom-dweller to conference champion, and leading Cincinnati to an undefeated record and a second consecutive BCS berth before departing to South Bend.

Kelly is a college coach running a college system, so the Notre Dame fanbase can take heart: His position is terminal. He'll either retire or be run out, depending on how he fares.

How he's already fared is now of concern. The Notre Dame faithful are encouraged that Kelly has been able to hold serve with Weis' accomplished (but, as usual, incomplete) recruiting class.

The surprise dead-period commitment of four-star DT Louis Nix assuaged the departure of four-star DE Chris Martin to Cal. In his first days on the job, Kelly got on the horn with four-star QB (and sleeper steal ) Andrew Hendrix and had next great QB Dayne Crist smiling from ear to ear after another phone call.

Kelly's Irish are locking horns with Ohio State for four-star OT Matt James and have resumed communications with all-universe OT Seantrel Henderson. Kelly tweeted from a road trip to Long Beach, CA, presumably on his way to meet Irish target Anthony Barr , who lives in nearby Torrance. Four-star S Dietrich Riley also lives nearby, and I'm sure Kelly will drop in and pay him a visit.

Still, one aspect of Kelly's recruiting efforts has Irish fans murmuring in dissent: He hasn't assembled any all-star recruiting coaches.

With the exception of Irish running backs coach Tony Alford, Kelly's staff is composed of former colleagues from Cincinnati or, in the case of new defensive backs coach Chuck Martin , Grand Valley State.

Some fans were hoping Kelly would knock it out of the park with a stud defensive coordinator hire, but that job will likely fall to Bob Diaco, who served in the same capacity at Cincy for Kelly's final season.

For a fanbase used to boasting top-shelf recruiting classes even in the midst of losing seasons, this development is alarming. After all, recruiting is essential to the long-term health of a good team.

But you can't recruit players just by having already recruited good players. You recruit good players by winning.

These days, players that haven't been indoctrinated into the Irish mystique already (and with ND's ongoing struggles, those numbers are surely at or near a record low) need to be shown the program is heading in the right direction. They have to believe they will be coached to the full potential of their talents.

In this capacity, Kelly fields no misunderstandings. He took the Bearcats to the doorstep of the national championship with sub-three-star talent at almost every position.

All-American WR Mardy Gilyard was a two-star running back in the class of '06 . All-conference receiver Armon Binns barely came in for an assessment out of high school; he'll battle Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin for best WR in the Big East next year

Only QB Tony Pike could really be considered a sought-after recruit.

This didn't just occur under Kelly's time at Cincinnati. Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour—you know, the guy who holds the record for most touchdowns ever in the FBS? —was battling for a roster spot on the Chippewas before Kelly discovered him.

In that light, Kelly's top 20 recruiting class at Notre Dame will be an embarrassment of riches. Incoming players like Hendrix and WR Tai-ler Jones, plus soon-to-be breakout sensations like Theo Riddick and Shaq Evans, can all rest assured Kelly will get the most or more out of their abilities by putting them in a system with proven success at the college level .

The significant caveat here is on defense. At least as far as the 2009 example, the Notre Dame defense was, to put it mildly, a liability. Allowing 38 and 34 points to true freshman quarterbacks only begins the eulogy on the Jon Tenuta/Corwin Brown co-defensive coordinator experiment, which went about as well as Chernobyl.

On this, I can only say that hiring a national title winner at the D-II level as your defensive backs coach is a step in the right direction. So are Nix's commitment, Manti Te'o's decision to return instead of going on his mission, and the maturation of Weis' outstanding 2007 class , which looks absolutely gaudy when compared to Cincinnati's of the same year.

Kelly's staff has done more with much, much less. If going back to fundamentals is an offensive cliché to you, you better cancel your subscription to the South Bend Tribune, because that's what this defensive staff will preach. But rest assured they mean it; once Kelly's esteemed colleagues get a hold of those players, reaching their potential will become more than a cliché.

Still, holding onto the recruits ND has now, particularly on defense, isn't enough, for the fanbase or for the team. Scoring some combination of Riley, DE Ego Ferguson, OLB Christian Jones, and a few less-touted prospects for depth will be essential for the short- and long-term health of a truly beleaguered unit.

But I have confidence Kelly will learn from the failures of his predecessor in fielding a complete team, if he even had the capability of making those mistakes in the first place.

The talent is there at Notre Dame, and now, the coaching is, too. As soon as the Irish start winning again, the name, the brand, the up-and-coming coach, and the system will be in place.

And the process of forgetting the entire Charlie Weis era will be, well, complete.