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The Maple Street Press Irish Kickoff Series: Part Four (Recruiting)

"Boy, you know I can recruit in any state in the union! What's wrong with you?"
"Boy, you know I can recruit in any state in the union! What's wrong with you?"

Pat Mitsch is back with us talking about recruiting at Notre Dame, a topic everyone is always interested in.

If you've missed any of the previous installments, click on the links below.




I'm currently working my way through the 2011 MSP Irish Kickoff and I'm loving it. If you trust that I wouldn't lie to you about its awesomeness, click here and get your Notre Dame football fix.

This will be the last post for readers to enter their names into a raffle to win a free copy of the magazine. We will announce the winner with the Miscellaneous Questions for Part Five in this series.

If you wish to win the free copy, simply leave a comment here or in any of the preceding three parts of our interview with Pat Mitsch. 

And now, to the world of recruiting....

OFD: It is generally agreed upon by our writers at One Foot Down that Brian Kelly will be an even better recruiter than Charlie Weis. Do you agree?

Mitsch: I think it's fair to say that Kelly will turn out to be a better recruiter than Charlie because (1) I expect his teams to win more games and (2) he clearly has a time-tested plan to building a recruiting class that helps him see through recruiting hype. 

However, I think Charlie should get some props as a strong one-on-one recruiter. Sure he annoyed some high school coaches with his arrogance, but Charlie knew campus as well as any ND coach and wore his love for his alma mater on his sleeve.  His success rate at getting commitments from players that made a visit to campus was pretty impressive. 

As a whole staff though, I think Kelly's staff has already proven more capable top to bottom and will continue to do so.

OFD: There has been a lot of talk lately about the Irish not taking a quarterback in the 2012 class. If true, if this a wise decision?

Mitsch: I'm a pretty strong proponent of taking one quarterback in every class. I realize you're not always going to get a superstar or even future starter every year, but I think it's just one of those positions that needs a spot in every recruiting class, especially when the coach runs a QB-centric offense like Kelly does.

Unlike most positions, QB is sort of an all-or-nothing spot. So if a guy gets beat out, a transfer is an all too common way to find more snaps. And transfers are even more common when a school like ND recruits in a boom or bust fashion where a class with no QB is followed up by a class with two or three. 

I'm hopeful ND will find a suitable QB option later in the year like they did last year with Everett Golson because while the QB depth chart is pretty deep now, history suggests some of those guys might not be around for the long haul (and that includes just moving positions, as Luke Massa has already done) 

OFD: All things considered, is the 2011 class the best (or have the potential to be) the best collection of talent to come to South Bend in almost 20 years?

Mitsch: Certainly on the defensive side of the ball I think that argument could be made. However let's not overlook a few other recent classes that came in with a load of talent on both sides of the ball (which wasn't always developed to potential) like the '08 Crist-Floyd-Rudolph-Fleming-Filer class or the '03 Quinn-Samardzija-Zibby-Abiamiri-Laws-Carlson class.

The one thing I think the 2011 class missed on was landing a great running back to round out the offensive side of the ball (although here's to hoping McDaniel has a great career)

OFD: The recruiting in the secondary was considered solid in 2011, but the current verbal commits there for 2012 are outstanding. With the talent of the front seven from 2011 combined with the talent of the secondary for 2012, when was the last time Notre Dame has been in this good of shape for the future on defense?

Mitsch: It is pretty tempting to think of a 2013 starting lineup of Lynch-Nix-Tuitt-Shembo-Williams-Calabrese-Grace-Shepard-Darby-Motta-Hardy (and that's not even including some of the talented guys on the bench). It has been awhile since ND could look forward to a defense that loaded. 

Of course, it is recruiting, so holding on to the commitments of Darby and Shepard will probably be a fight to the finish even though they are already committed (just look at last year's crazy finish). The other key to having a bright future on defense will be consistency in the defensive coaching staff, whether that means keeping the same guys, or at least hiring replacement coaches with similar ideas and schemes.  No more back and forth switching in defensive philosophies please.

OFD: Which one of the assistants does Brian Kelly not want to lose the most as a recruiter?

Mitsch: Tony Alford has been a force on the recruiting trail since the day he showed up on campus. He's the guy I'd put at the top of Kelly's "do not lose" list, especially considering all of the other top recruiters (Diaco, Martin, Elston, possibly Cooks) work the defensive side of the ball.  Keeping Alford around for a few more years would be fantastic for ND both from a coaching and recruiting perspective.

OFD: If there is one state you think the coaching staff would like to increase their reputation and ability to pull recruits out from, which would it be?

Mitsch: Good question. Kelly has assigned a few coaches to recruiting Florida so it's pretty clear he places strong emphasis on getting players out of that talent-rich state.  And California has been very good to ND the past few years, including Shepard and Greenbury this year. 

But I'd have to say Texas just because getting players to actually leave the state has been so tough with Mack Brown locking down all the top talent in the state lately.  Getting guys like McDaniel and Brown (and almost Okotcha) was a good start and I think Nicky Barrati is going to be a great player for ND.  But I think Kelly would love for ND to start pulling even more recruits from the football-crazy state of Texas.

OFD: What are the three main things the coaching staff should sell about Notre Dame while traveling the country to recruit? Where does winning fit in with that discussion?

Mitsch: Same as it ever was. Winning, tradition, and education. Winning has to be included because the cream of the crop recruits aren't usually swayed by ND's Catholic character, top graduation rate, or fantastic facilities. They want to play for a winner.Kelly has been that so far in his career and if he can show recruits he will stay that way at ND, the sky is the limit. 

The other factors I mentioned: tradition and education, have historically been the two strongest sales pitches to recruits (and their parents) when trying to differentiate ND from the local state school.  So far Kelly and his staff have been pretty good at selling all three. Some might think style of play (spread offense, 3-4 defense) might be up there, but I think it takes a back seat to winning, tradition, and education.  Recruits will settle for a scheme they aren't currently comfortable with if they know it will help them win big in college.

OFD: As of right now, the 2012 class consists of two offensive linemen, two receivers, two outside linebackers, two corners, three safeties, and one long snapper. If you could cherry pick an elite recruit for any position, which would it be?

Mitsch: I think I'd pick safety Shaq Thompson.  I realize ND already has a few safety recruits, but landing an elite safety to pair with Darby and Shepard would be fantastic.  Kelly said defensive back was the key to this class so I'm all for getting the best ones we can find.  On the other hand, passing on Dorial Green-Beckham might be a tall task as a 6'6" receiver that is the #1 recruit in the country is pretty tough to turn away. Imagine him in Kelly's spread offense. 

OFD: Name one player from the 2011 class that you think is flying under the radar and could surprise a lot of people and become a multi-year starter for Notre Dame.

Mitsch: This is a tough one. With all of the attention on the Big Three defensive recruits, there are plenty of talented guys flying under the radar (at least until practice starts in a few days).  I'll pick a player on each side of the ball if you don't mind. 

How about Matthias Farley on offense and Jalen Brown on defense. Both are three star guys and both have an excellent chance to see the field as freshmen and become multi-year starters.  Honorable mention to Ben Councell and Troy Niklas, although I think it's a bit of a stretch to say either guy has been flying under the radar to this point. Many ND fans are pretty excited about their potential.