Tony Alford made one last recruiting pitch for Notre Dame on Saturday morning.
After accepting a promotion at Ohio State to join Urban Meyer as assistant head coach and running backs coach for the defending national champions, Alford met with a handful of Irish players, including Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Everett Golson. He called Dexter Williams, who signed with Notre Dame three days earlier.
“I was trying not to be emotional, but I was bawling talking to Everett,” Alford said. “I told him that I should apologize for crying, but it matters. I care. I’ve watched these kids grow up. This has been an emotional day.”
By noon, Alford had more than 200 unread text messages. He’d talked with former players Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones and Robby Toma. He’d begun to clean out his office. Tomorrow he departs for Columbus, where he’ll be introduced on the Buckeyes staff next week, joining former Notre Dame assistants Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton.
But for Alford, who was born in Akron and played for Meyer at Colorado State, the departure wouldn’t come without another message delivered to his former players about Notre Dame.
“When you recruit these players you’re telling them it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision, but what you’re really talking about is the concept in life that you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow,” Alford said. “This is a leap of faith, one I feel I need to make for my professional development.
“You don’t do something just because you’re comfortable in one place or because you’re scared to take a leap. That’s what I tell players when they leave Florida for Notre Dame. It’s new. It’s a challenge. It’s the unknown. This place can change you life. I know. It changed mine.”
Alford has designs to grow into an eventual head coach and said he believes he needed to leave Notre Dame to help push him toward that end. He said during the interview process with Colorado State late last year – Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo got the job – that school officials told him he didn’t have enough titles on his resume.
While he’s not sure what “assistant head coach” will entail in Columbus – Warinner is the Buckeyes new offensive coordinator – Alford believes working for Meyer can help grow his resume with an eye on what comes after Ohio State.
“This isn’t a move for today, this is a move where I’ve tried to calculate five years out,” Alford said. “There’s forward thinking here, where it could potentially propel me to.”
Alford said the move was not money driven and rejected claims Notre Dame does not pay market value for assistant coaches.
“I will never complain about what Notre Dame has or has not given me,” Alford said. “That’s never become an issue. I can’t speak for other guys. I can only speak for me and what it’s done for me.”
Alford said first contact with Ohio State came Thursday night but did not come directly from Meyer. The Buckeyes lost running backs coach Stan Drayton to the NFL on National Signing Day. Alford contacted Brian Kelly shortly after the Buckeyes approach. He settled on the decision Saturday morning.
“This isn’t an indictment on Notre Dame, Jack Swarbrick, Father John (Jenkins), Brian Kelly, nothing,” Alford said. “It’s something I feel I needed to do for professional growth. And I’m not saying Notre Dame was not helping me with that.
“One guy that I have a ridiculous amount of respect for is Jack Swarbrick. It’s off the charts what I think of him and. I value him and I felt like he valued me. Brian too. Hopefully that will continue.”
At Ohio State Alford will coach several players that he recruited, including starting tailback Ezekiel Elliott and incoming freshman Mike Weber. As for Notre Dame, the Irish are now in the market for a new running backs coach, with Autry Denson a potential candidate to join the staff. The Irish return Bryant and Folston this spring, with Williams and Josh Adams set to enroll this summer.
“I told Dexter this morning that this place can change your life if you put both feet into it,” Alford said. “I’ve been here six years and I think I’m a loyal soldier. I’ll give everything I have to where I am, whomever I’m working for.
“I always said this in recruiting these kids that this isn’t about me, it’s about you. This place is in good hands. I know it is.”