Frank Commentary

Earlier this week we looked at needs for Notre Dame recruiting for the 2009 recruiting class. Today we're going to look at problems the Irish will have to overcome to land a great recruiting class in 2009.

On Feb. 8, 2008 Charlie Weis held a press conference to discuss a lot of team issues, but one issue regarding recruiting for 2009 really stuck in my mind.

"One big thing happened at the AFCA convention this year, and this is significant," Weis said. "They passed a rule effective immediately that head coaches cannot be on the road recruiting in the spring. They passed that at the convention. Head coaches cannot be on the road recruiting in the spring."

In reality they should call this the "Charlie Weis rule." Why? Because nobody was worried about this until Weis started doing it. In my best recollection, I had never witnessed a head coach spend the entire month of May out on the road recruiting. A few might've gone out for a few days to make a positive impression on some key targets, but I'd never seen a head coach spend the entire month on the road—Weis' effort had a very positive impact, and it got a lot of other head coaches out on the road….grumbling along the way.

Weis had to do it. Notre Dame's reputation among a number of high schools wasn't the best from previous regimes. Nobody knew who Charlie Weis was, and the Irish had to sell a new image, not only to key prospects, but to big-time high school football programs. The high school coach can be almost as important as the prospect himself, as we've witnessed more than once.

So we'll call it the "Charlie Weis rule," or we can call it the "some head coaches are lazy rule." Regardless of what we call it, this ruling hurts Notre Dame.

I'm not suggesting Weis is some master salesman, but effort counts for a lot, and Weis isn't afraid to work hard. The state of Indiana isn't loaded with talent. In fact, there aren't more than 2-3 kids that Notre Dame recruits in any given year, and not many years do they actually sign anyone from their home state.

This year is no different. The Irish haven't offered anyone from Indiana, and I'm not sure they will at this point although there are three very good prospects in the state.

What Weis did do though was get ND in the mix with a number of key targets early when traveling. I don't care where you are, having the head football coach of Notre Dame in your high school to see you makes a statement. Just as it would if the head coach from USC, Florida State, Ohio State and the many other great programs would. But the difference is Weis was doing it while others were not.

While this isn't a death-blow to Notre Dame, the other rule, the ban on texting, combined with this new rule, will really put the Irish in a bad position. It is my belief that Notre Dame out-worked a great many other coaching staffs last year, and that's why they landed the class they did. That's the only logical explanation considering the Irish finished 3-9 and still landed the No. 2 class in the country.

But these rules won't allow Notre Dame out-work anyone….at least not in a significant way. It's sad that the Notre Dame staff gets punished for working hard.

The NCAA was formed to create a level playing field for all colleges. Texting, allowing Weis to go out on the road helps level that playing field as the Irish don't benefit from proximity like many other schools. But instead the NCAA decides to take that away from teams like Notre Dame. And it's not just Notre Dame. Teams like Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and the like will all suffer from these rulings due to the lack of great football talent in their states.

The Irish got in early with a number of key targets in the 2008 class with hard work and a lot of texting. Texting allowed Notre Dame to develop strong relationships quickly with these prospects early, allowing the Irish to hold off the charge from many other traditional local powers. And, allowing them to combat any negative recruiting that may have happened along the way. Texting is instant communication, and it much more effective and personal than the impersonal "love letters" coming from people these prospects don't really know.

It gives an unfair advantage to those that benefit from proximity. USC, which is a fine program, currently sits with 10 commitments in 2009…..all from the state of California—most from within 100 miles of the Trojan campus. How many have already been on USC's campus? My guess is the vast majority. A great job by the USC coaches for getting them on campus, but the Irish had very little chance at most due to these new rules.

The proximity problem has been a dilemma for Notre Dame since football began--but the NCAA lessened that problem when the Irish staff was allowed to text and send their head coach out on the road—as were many other schools with the proximity problem. They at least had a fighting chance…..that chance lessens because of the ban. I understand the reasoning behind the ban, but I do believe you can limit texting without it being intrusive. If you can limit phone calls, you can limit texts. You simply log the texts just as they log the phone calls. It's not difficult to control and not something they don't already do with phone calls.

So why did they take it away? My guess is certain coaching staffs enjoy the proximity they hold over others and see it as an advantage. Others also don't want to work as hard. So ND, and other programs like them, taking advantage of these rules and out-working the competition to level the playing field are now punished for their hard work.

Last year at this time the Irish did have some key targets locally they could lock up early. Players like Braxston Cave, John Goodman, Darius Fleming, Sean Cwynar and Kyle Rudolph are all players in close proximity to Notre Dame who committed early and got Notre Dame's recruiting machine rolling early. Once the machine gets rolling, others notice and jump aboard, as USC is currently enjoying.

This season the Irish have just one player, Chris Watt, that they've even offered locally. They have offered a few others in Ohio and Michigan, but all are committed to other programs currently.

So the Irish will have a difficult time communicating with those they have targeted, while others have them in their same town, or at least their own state. Also, there doesn't appear to be many kids they're interested in locally, so that also hurts their chances to get their recruiting season kick-started like last year.

The texting rule will be the biggest hurdle for Notre Dame to overcome. Notre Dame's best recruiters were using texting to their advantage last season. Weis, Corwin Brown, Rob Ianello and the rest were lighting up these cell phones and it made a huge difference in how they were perceived early. The quickly formed strong personal relationships with key players, and you just can't do that easily via "snail mail" or e-mail.

Now, the Irish will have to send an e-mail and hope the player reads it (many won't, just like the letters after awhile) and hope the prospect will pick up the phone and call them so they can develop that relationship. It's much easier to call someone when you know them, as many of these teams with proximity are now enjoying.

The Irish can do two things. They can complain about it, which will do no good, or they can try to overcome it. It's not going to be easy to overcome, as I think you'll see as the next few months unravel, but it can be done…..with even more hard work. Thankfully for Irish fans, this staff isn't afraid of hard work.


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