Notre Dame Football: Jack Swarbrick

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Joe Schmidt is a former walk-on who worked his way to a scholarship before earning Notre Dame's starting middle linebacker role. He is a coach's dream who never makes one game or snap out to be bigger than it really is.

Yet when Schmidt entered the media room after Notre Dame's 31-0 win over Michigan, the optimist in him was outdone by the sheer absurdity of the goodbye his young and unproven defense had just delivered the Wolverines.

"You want to believe that this is something you can accomplish every time you go on the field," Schmidt said. "And there's still a lot of things we could've done better today, but …"

He paused for three seconds and collected himself with a deep breath.

"Shoot. This is a great feeling right now."

As finales go, this was more Sopranos than Breaking Bad, a much-hyped shootout that turned into a dramatic letdown. Notre Dame didn't just send Michigan back to Ann Arbor with a 1-1 record and a bad taste in its mouth from being on the losing end of these programs' final meeting. No, the Irish flat-out demoralized the Wolverines. They bullied their hapless offensive line, shredded their patchwork secondary and delivered one indignity after another following a week that did nothing but suggest the visitors would be the ones who would enter with chips on their shoulders.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Cody Riggs and Joe Schmidt
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsCody Riggs, right, and Joe Schmidt celebrate one of Notre Dame's three interceptions against Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.
Michigan had played 365 straight games in which they scored points before Saturday. These Irish met them in a dark alley here in Week 2, and they rendered them rudderless.

"I just got the stat from [SID Michael] Bertsch: 1984 was the last time these guys were shut out?" Schmidt said as he double-checked with reporters. "I think that kind of speaks for itself on how great this feels right now for me and for this defense and for this team."

Michigan left here last time feeling disrespected, with athletic director David Brandon on the receiving end of a cancellation letter from counterpart Jack Swarbrick. The Wolverines had said what Notre Dame did to them was a slap in the face. To add insult to injury, the Irish announced Thursday they would play a future series against Michigan's arch-rival, Ohio State.

What Notre Dame did to Michigan before a sellout crowd under the lights was far more humiliating.

The Wolverines seemingly dared Everett Golson to beat them with his arm. He looked every bit as lethal as he did last week against Conference USA member Rice and completed 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns.

Michigan's quarterback, Devin Gardner, received help from no one but Devin Funchess, which led coach Brady Hoke to defend why he stuck with his signal caller after Gardner threw three interceptions and lost a third-quarter fumble on a reckless spin move Schmidt saw coming from a mile away.

"Sometimes it just opens up, and as a defensive player, that's the stuff you lay awake at night dreaming of," Schmidt said. "Quarterback's back, ball's right there, you know you can force the fumble."

Gardner's predecessor, Denard Robinson, had tossed four picks and lost one fumble in a 2012 loss to Notre Dame. That was against the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, the catalyst behind an Irish team that went all the way to the BCS title game.

This year's defense started eight new faces from a year ago in its second game under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who himself turned into an overnight internet celebrity for a raucous late-game celebration.

"I would say it really just ceases all the doubts about, We're young, 'Can we execute?'" Jaylon Smith (10 tackles) said.

VanGorder can be forgiven for his excitement, but the best was yet to come.

Whereas Hoke had quipped last year that Notre Dame was chickening-out of this rivalry — a brushfire Michigan threw gasoline on by playing the "Chicken Dance" after its win over Notre Dame in 2013 — Notre Dame fans took matters into their own hands in the closing minutes and started a stadium-wide rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."

And that wasn't even the final indignity.

On what looked like it would be the final play of the game, Gardner was picked off one last time by Elijah Shumate, who returned it 61 yards for a touchdown. Michigan personnel had already made their way to the locker room, having escaped the hysteria engulfing Notre Dame Stadium — except the officials ruled Max Redfield had roughed the passer on the return, the touchdown didn't count and the game couldn't end on a defensive penalty. This made for an awkward delay, as the playing grounds cleared and a chunk of the Wolverines' roster made the long walk back through the tunnel and onto the FieldTurf before going right back up after the Irish showed mercy and took a knee.

"We temper it by knowing that we got a long season ahead of us, and it counts as one, it doesn't count as two," said coach Brian Kelly, who tried so hard all week to not give in to the hype. "If it counted as two, we would probably be a little bit happier, but it counts as one.

"But there's no question -- I would be lying if I told you that it doesn't feel great to shut out Michigan 31-0."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Divorce is always messy, especially when the opposing attorneys are two of the biggest fan bases in all of college football.

[+] EnlargeMichigan, Notre Dame
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesA rocky relationship may finally come to an end when Notre Dame and Michigan meet Saturday.
Notre Dame broke up with Michigan. Heck, the Fighting Irish had been flat-out flirting with other prospects beforehand, arranging to see the ACC five times a year from 2014 to 2025. The Wolverines are the scorned ex-spouse, refusing to see the Irish for the foreseeable future while letting it be known at every turn that "they" started it, not "us." The Wolverines accused the Irish of chickening-out, and in case that had gotten lost on anyone, they made darn sure to serve a reminder by playing the visitors out of the Big House last year to the tune of the "Chicken Dance."

The Irish? Why, the Golden Domers are way too cool for Michigan anyway. It's the Wolverines who are distraught, remember? "We" dumped "them." "They" need "us" more, because Michigan doesn't have another big game (or two) to circle on its calendar every year. Nope. And in case you weren't already convinced just how little Notre Dame concerns itself with Michigan, Irish fans are shelling out only $349 per person to get into the building Saturday. You know, just to prove that they don't care.

Michigan and Notre Dame will have gotten together only 42 times after this weekend. But the fact this relationship has been put on hiatus so often speaks to the complicated feelings between the two sides. Breaking up is hard to do.

Want mixed messages? Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick may have delivered the divorce papers to Michigan AD David Brandon before the 2012 game, but the Wolverines had given off the vibe that this was an open relationship. Less than three weeks before delivering the edict, the Irish had set up future dates with the ACC and were feeling a little claustrophobic. There was a three-year out clause in the Michigan agreement that simply made this affair the easiest for Swarbrick to get out of. Four months beforehand, Brandon himself had been non-committal about anything long-term. And there was already a fork in the road awaiting both parties in 2018 and 2019.

Brandon said he was blindsided in 2012. Swarbrick told the AP this week that he had let Brandon know in a phone call beforehand. In case that wasn't clear, Notre Dame announced Thursday -- two days before its last meeting with Michigan -- that it has a pair of dates with Ohio State.

We've heard you've been talking about us, Michigan. Now excuse us while we make arrangements to see the homecoming queen down the road ...

"For a team to opt out of that contract, and to opt out of playing another team that is a great rival and is one of those great games, it's almost like a slap in the face," Michigan defensive end Frank Clark told reporters.

Countered Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson: "I don't think I get into all of the hype of the game and things like that. But at the same time, you have to take care of business and you have to prepare."

This latest wave of accusations from each side of the family simply follows what's in their bloodlines.

Michigan may have taught Notre Dame how to play football ... but then the Wolverines blocked the Irish from Big Ten entry.

Michigan may have canceled the 1910 game a year after its first defeat in the series ... but Notre Dame had been using ineligible players.

On and on it goes, from the Fielding Yost-Knute Rockne feud that kept the union on ice for a 32-year stretch, to the tit-for-tat on the all-time winning percentage record -- a battle that, fittingly, is at stake Saturday.

"Who knows when is going to be the last game?" Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. "We just know we aren't going to play them in the near future."

Irish coach Brian Kelly is also looking ahead.

"We understand the great tradition and the rivalry of the Michigan game, and if it could have worked, it would have worked," Kelly said. "But it does open up some pretty exciting games in the future."

It was hardly a picture-perfect marriage, but it was far more than a fling. Here's to one more fond memory Saturday night.

Irish morning links

August, 19, 2014
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While coach Brian Kelly was leading Notre Dame to the national title game in 2012, former Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis was collecting more money from the school than Kelly.

Notre Dame paid Weis $2,054,744 for the reporting period of July 2012 through June 2013, according to the university's federal tax return, which was provided to ESPN.com on Wednesday. The sum paid to Weis to not coach the Irish -- already at a total of $12,802,635 because he has now received three straight payments of $2,054,744 from Notre Dame, following an initial payment of $6,638,403 after his firing -- could end up exceeding $18 million by next winter. Notre Dame is scheduled for "additional annual payments" through December 2015, so three more payments of what Weis received in the previous three years means his buyout money from the school would total $18,966,867.

Weis was fired by Notre Dame following the 2009 season after five years as coach, and he is now entering his third season as the coach at Kansas.

Kelly received $1,457,284 from Notre Dame during the 2012 reporting period, though that number likely does not match his total earnings. The school notes that "the current head football coach is permitted to receive compensation from external sources with prior written approval from the University." Income from a source such as a shoe company would not have to be reported on the tax forms.

Kelly's base pay was $698,140, and he received "bonus and incentive compensation" of $607,200. Benefits and other compensation lifted the total to the $1,457,284 figure.

Kelly's boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, earned $1,143,052 from the school, according to the tax forms. Kelly's top assistant the past four seasons, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, earned $672,824. Diaco left in December to become the head coach at UConn.

Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey earned a total of $1,526,488. He made $806,488 in salary, bonuses, "other reportable compensation," retirement, and deferred money and non-tax benefits, in addition to $720,000 from Play by Play sports, which is now known as Notre Dame Sports Properties.

Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw earned a total of $1,331,339. She made $1,058,839 from the school and $272,500 from Play By Play sports.
This September's 42nd Notre Dame-Michigan matchup is likely the last between the schools for the foreseeable future. That doesn't, however, mean that the appearances of Big Ten teams on the Irish's schedule are coming to an end.

Michigan State and Purdue have been stalwarts on Notre Dame's slate -- more than Michigan. And athletic directors from both schools are happy to see their respective rivalries with the Irish continue, even if they're on an abbreviated basis.

Among imminent matchups, Notre Dame will "host" the Boilermakers Sept. 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for its annual off-site Shamrock Series game. The Irish have a home-and-home scheduled with the Spartans for 2016 (at ND) and 2017 (at MSU).

"[Notre Dame athletic director] Jack [Swarbrick] and I are in constant communication, and it's not adversarial whatsoever. But it's a situation where, both with us going to nine [conference] games and with them having to move into the ACC scheduling model, it's created some significant challenges for both of us," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told ESPN.com. "And right now we're kind of in a position of, we know the next two, we know we have two more in the future and we're just kind of taking it one step at a time. We've been in constant communication."

The future, Hollis told local reporters last week, includes an agreement to play a home-and-home in 2026 and 2027, as well as a neutral site game, possibly in Chicago, in 2023.

Notre Dame and Purdue, meanwhile, have five more scheduled games -- Sept. 19, 2020 at Purdue; Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame; Sept. 14, 2024 at Purdue; Sept. 13, 2025 at Notre Dame; and in 2026 on a date and in a neutral site that has yet to be determined.

"I think the relationship between the schools is -- you're not going to take it to San Juan," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com. "But we have alums all over the country, too. Strong populations in Texas, in California, in Florida. The likely sites are Chicago and Indianapolis."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week that most of his scheduling conversations with Swarbrick start with Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC team. But Wolverines athletic director David Brandon told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg in an email that there had been no discussions with the Irish.

The mood might have soured between the two schools -- Sept. 7 at Notre Dame will be their last matchup following the Irish's 2012 exercising of a three-year opt-out clause in the series -- but that has not been the case between the Irish and the rest of the Big Ten.

"Jack and I have known each other for a long, long time," Burke said. "He had a hard deal because when the Big East went the way it went, he had to find a home for lots of sports. What he had to do then was to negotiate, he had to use some of the football inventory to do that, and that's what created the issue. There's no issues with wanting to play Purdue or Michigan State. The Michigan thing there's a little bit of a tiff, I guess. But I don't think so.

"Our history goes back a long time. So what we tried to do was to make sure that there was at least a path forward. In other words, don't just announce Lucas Oil and it stops, but try to show people that we're going to play more than just once every 10 years. That's the best we could do now. Who knows what the landscape will be down the road? My hope is that someday, I hope we don't look back and say we lost something that started in 1946, because there are Purdue and Notre Dame folks who have been going to those games for years and tailgated. And you've had some great athletic contests with some great family relationships. And as we break some of this stuff apart and get bigger leagues, do you lose some of those relationships, and 10 or 15 years from now, does that hurt you?"

With Purdue having played Notre Dame 85 times, and with Michigan State having played the Irish 77 times, both schools are hoping that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

"There's going to be fewer games with Notre Dame because of the national landscape, and that's one of the unfortunate parts of conference expansion, is those nonconference games take secondary step," Hollis said. "But it's important to Michigan State that we continue to play on a national stage, so we'll have Notre Dame as much as we can have Notre Dame. They want as many games, we want as many games, it just all has to fit."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The news of Notre Dame Stadium replacing its playing surface was met in the locker room with nearly unanimous approval. The players, of course, are the ones who are affected most by such a decision. Take KeiVarae Russell, a cornerback who must rely on the ground beneath him as much as anyone else on the field.

"We played USC last year -- that field was terrible. Oh-my-God," the outspoken junior cracked. "I'm excited."

Added quarterback Everett Golson, who was sacked at least once in Saturday's spring game because he lost his footing: "It's nice. It's nice. Because I came from FieldTurf, even in high school. So it's going to be a joy, man."

But the decision was hardly that simple, given the history and tradition that follows the Irish football program at nearly every turn. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick, a 1976 graduate of the school, knew this better than most, which is why he spent much of the last two months explaining to others in leadership positions at the school why he decided that the move from natural grass to FieldTurf was the best way to go for the future.

Swarbrick arrived at the decision in late February. He said that the underwhelming surface that the Blue-Gold game was played on reflected the best condition maintenance could possibly get the field in for game time. Notre Dame replaced its surface four times last year, he said -- after commencement, in July and twice in the season.

"It's probably more a personal preference than sort of an athletic department preference," Swarbrick said of natural grass. "I like it. I'm an alum here. It's part of the dynamic of the place, and so I was inclined to say, Can we do it? And some of the other iconic stadiums have held onto it: Green Bay, the Rose Bowl. And so both of those things played a role. But we just couldn't get ourselves there."

Swarbrick said there have yet to be discussions about any possible logos or marks on the field, but that he would not anticipate any major changes. The FieldTurf's color, for the curious eccentrics out there, will be green.

The news, along with the winter announcement of the Campus Crossroads Project to expand the stadium's use, could result in more non-football events, with Swarbrick specifically mentioning a hockey game.

"Everybody is in agreement; if we can get the best surface there and grass, we'd love to have that," coach Brian Kelly said after the spring game. "We just haven't been able to get to that. This is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven't been able to get to that. This is the best option available to us, and I'm happy that Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, our administration, has acted and we are going to have that playing field in place for the fall so we don't have to have those concerns going into 2014."

Irish lunch links

January, 24, 2014
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.

Irish lunch links

January, 22, 2014
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Happy Birthday to Little Brother No. 1!

Irish lunch links

December, 23, 2013
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Bears-Packers for the division? That's not exciting or anything.
Two night games could be coming to Notre Dame Stadium in a single year. Labor Day and Thursday night games will not be coming to South Bend, Ind., though the Irish could find themselves playing such games on the road against their ACC brethren. And a series with an SEC school might even be on the horizon in the not-so-distant future.

Speaking of future, Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame will be playing on either a new grass field or a new synthetic field by the beginning of next season. The end of next season would also be the best-case scenario for the start of construction on a stadium renovation plan that the school has openly discussed studying. Such a project would take two more seasons to then complete, the athletic director said.

"Thrilled with how it's progressing," Swarbrick said. "You don't get a lot of opportunities to do something like this at a university where you have a project that touches almost every element of it. So you've got the academic units who will be in the building, very engaged, the academy -- who is playing a big role --student affairs, rec sports, digital media, athletics, the administration. All of these functions will be incorporated in these buildings as currently conceived. This has been really fun and exhilarating for everybody involved.

"The progress has been great. Getting to a real level of detail. That's where we need to be as we head into the winter trustee meeting, where we'll do another review of it. There's no set deadline for it, but we hope we come out of that with the ability to move forward in a substantive way. So it's full speed away."

As for who will be outfitting the Irish, Swarbrick confirmed with ESPN.com in a text message what he had told The Observer on Friday, writing: "Going through a full review that has included discussions with the three major players. Despite reports to the contrary, no decision had been made and likely won't be made until after the first of the year. Have been very happy with adidas, but it is just good business to use the expiration of a contract to review all options."

With that, we bring you what we believe are the five most intriguing games unveiled as part of Friday's announcement. (And bravo to Aaron Horvath and his design team for its thorough job detailing the logistics of this schedule.)

5. Oct. 3, 2015 at Clemson
Have you seen the Tigers' intro? Their atmosphere? The program has left little doubt about why it received a pair of trips from ESPN's "College GameDay" this year, and as far as new visits go, a trip to Death Valley is easily the most intriguing among the ACC campus venues that Notre Dame will be visiting during the next three years.

4. Oct. 18, 2014 at Florida State
The rematch of the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl that we've all been waiting for! More importantly, this is the Irish defense's chance to face the defending Heisman Trophy winner. And face what could possibly be the defending national champions. It is also, remarkably, Notre Dame's first true road game of the 2014 campaign — and it comes in Game No. 7. (The Irish do travel to East Rutherford, N.J., on Sept. 27 for an off-site road game against Syracuse.)

3. Nov. 21, 2015 vs. Boston College (at Fenway Park)
I said that Death Valley was the most intriguing ACC campus venue Notre Dame will visit in the next three years — emphasis on the word "campus." A Boston trip is nothing new for Notre Dame, and for many subway alumni throughout the New England area, the sight of their beloved Irish is nothing new, either. But this one, at the home of the Red Sox, will surely be different. And the late-fall, prime-time kickoff that accompanies this edition of the Shamrock Series will only add to the atmosphere. Good luck finding, or affording, a ticket in a place that seats less than 40,000. (Boston College also announced in its release Friday that the Irish will visit Alumni Stadium in 2017.)

2. Sept. 6, 2014 vs. Michigan
This one obviously was on the schedule for some time, so nothing really changes with Friday's unveiling, other than that it will now be a night game. Still, think of all the hype there was leading into this year's game, which was the teams' last meeting in the Big House. Now think of the fact that this is the final meeting for the foreseeable future, regardless of venue. This one will be huge, and the intensity will only grow after the Michigan Stadium speakers blared the chicken-dance song after the Wolverines' win last year.

1. Sept. 5, 2015 vs. Texas
Everything is bigger with Texas. These moneymakers will finally clash at Notre Dame Stadium, and it will be to open the season, no less. Can't think of a much better way to ring in the new football year. Who knows who will be roaming the Longhorns' sideline at that time, either. This one also was on the schedule for some time, but it won't make the matchup any less exciting.

Irish lunch links

December, 20, 2013
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Have a great weekend, gang.
Before their in-state rivalry takes a break, Purdue and Notre Dame will square off in Indiana's biggest city.

The schools made it official on Thursday, announcing that their Sept. 13, 2014, game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It's part of Notre Dame's annual Shamrock Series. The Irish will be the home team, and kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

It's the first time since 1984 that the Purdue-Notre Dame game has been played off campus, as the teams met that year in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.

After next year's game, Purdue and Notre Dame won't meet until the 2020 season at Purdue. The teams will play in 2021 (at Notre Dame), 2024 (at Purdue), 2025 (at Notre Dame) and 2026 (neutral site). Athletic directors Morgan Burke (Purdue) and Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame) are exploring dates beyond 2026.

Purdue and Notre Dame have met every year since 1946.

"Jack and I tried everything we could to keep the series going without interruption," Burke said in a prepared statement. "But between the Big Ten going to a nine-game schedule and Notre Dame’s affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference, it just didn't work out. The series is important to both schools, and we are pleased that we are able to extend it through 2026."

Burke really wanted to keep Notre Dame on Purdue's schedule every year, as the Irish bring tremendous exposure for the Boilers. But it just wasn't realistic with Notre Dame's ACC move.

The good news is Purdue can explore other scheduling opportunities such as Virginia Tech and Missouri.

The team announced Wednesday that it will play a home-and-home against Virginia Tech, hosting the Hokies in 2015 and visiting Blacksburg, Va., in 2023. The teams have never met.

Purdue also is in the process of finalizing a home-and-home against Missouri. The Boilers will visit Missouri on Sept. 16, 2017, and host the Tigers on Sept. 15, 2018. The teams last met in 1980, and Purdue holds a 6-2 edge in the all-time series.

Purdue also has moved a home game against Eastern Kentucky from 2017 to 2016, and its 2016 home game against Cincinnati has been moved back a week to Sept. 10.

The Boilers' non-league schedules for 2014, 2015 and 2016 are now complete.
Here is Part 2 of our conversation with Brian Kelly.

Fifth-year guys. I know Lo (Wood) and Alex (Welch) reportedly are not coming back. What can you share about those conversations you've had with them or any other players? Is there anyone else you know about at this time?

[+] EnlargeChris Watt
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNotre Dame guard Chris Watt injured his knee vs. Stanford.
Brian Kelly: Well, here's what we do. Those guys that have accelerated their academics to get their degree by the end of this year with a year remaining, I meet with all of them and I lay out the fact that they have roles on this team. Each one of them has a role. And they either accept that role or, because they have put themselves in a position where they have their degree, they've essentially increased their options. Some don't have options, right? Some of those guys don't have the degrees, so they have very little option, in terms of, they can only accept their role within the program. Some of these guys have more options. Some of the guys that I think have talked to the media have more options, they can choose to look at other programs. Each one of these guys I meet with, we go over the role that they have in the program, they either accept that role or they choose to, if they can, look at other options. And the two that you mentioned have obviously looked at other options.

Will those guys remain and practice through the bowl game, or are they kind of out of there the minute they graduate?

BK: I haven't gotten a chance to really talk to them about that yet. We're going to sit down here once I get my schedule set and we begin practice this weekend, I'll have a meeting with all those guys that have asked. The only guy I've talked to is Lo Wood about asking for a release.

Moving forward, Chris Watt, I know he took a pretty nasty hit the other night. What can you share about him?

BK: MCL. He's got a first-degree MCL, so that's, to most people, pretty significant. To Chris Watt, that's a papercut. So he's a pretty tough kid. If he can play, he's going to try to play. The only thing that makes it a little bit more difficult is he's got a torn PCL in the same knee. So he's lost a lot of his stability in that knee. We're going to see how it responds here over the next five-to-seven days. But first-degree MCL.

That's a sprain, I'd imagine?

BK: Yeah that would be a sprain. I'm sorry. That would be a moderate sprain of the MCL.

You've got a while now before you play at home again. How important will it be to resolve whatever issues there are with the playing surface? I know it seems every year like, 'Field Turf could come! Field Turf could come!' What will those conversations be like, if they haven't already taken place?

BK: It is paramount to our home-field situation, relative to playing and continued success. And I think I've put Jack (Swarbrick) out on the spot on this and he's addressed it. He's had a series of meetings and I'm very confident that we're going to have the field situation resolved in a very short period of time.

Speaking of next year, it's rare at least publicly to not have a schedule announced at this point. I'm sure you know a lot more behind the scenes than we do, but when do you expect maybe a public announcement, and how much more involved are you in conversations like this going from your fourth to fifth year now?

BK: Yeah, I'm involved in the schedule. But as you know, the ACC schedule bites a lot of that up and then there's still some long-term commitments going back to Knute Rockne that tie our hands. So when you're locked into some contracts -- Navy for one, Stanford, USC, Purdue. Now you're talking about six ACC games, and then another three or four. It doesn't give me much wiggle room. So as much as I'd like to say that I'm at the forefront of shaping a schedule, there's not a lot of wiggle room in these schedules right now. We're trying to do our best to balance it out, and I think 2014, you're going to see four ACC teams, and then in '15 I think we're going to get to six.

I'm sorry -- six ACC teams you said?

BK: Yeah, we're contracted obviously by the ACC but because of our Arizona State contract, Arizona State has to stay on the schedule, so we're not going to be able to play all of the ACC games next year. So we'll have to add another one in '15.

I'd imagine the conference has been fairly flexible with you guys in working these things out over the last couple of months?

BK: Yeah they have been, in terms of moving from an early game to a late game. And again, from our standpoint, we're still easing into this over the next year in trying to make all of these contracts the were pre-existing work.

Going off that, talking from an administrative standpoint, again, four, going on five years now on the job, what do you find yourself still learning about? How much more proactive have you been in some of these other conversations as it relates to the state of the program? How has each year — whether it's this one, last one, whatever — kind of contributed to that?

BK: I think the biggest piece here is academics and degrees, and we want to make it so we don't have this race to get a degree. We need kids to be pacing themselves to get a degree so we've got a much more mature team. We need a more mature football team. We need guys here for four and five years, and that's something that we have to look at in terms of how many hours our guys are taking and really do a very good job of pacing ourselves in terms of our academic preparedness here. We're moving a little bit to a point where we've got all these guys getting their degrees in three-and-a-half years, and that's great, but we also need a more mature football team. So getting my hands around that balance, academically and athletically, is the next stage of developing consistency in a much more -- we need a more veteran, much more mature football team moving forward.

8-4 is not where you guys want to be. You beat Michigan State, though. You beat Arizona State. You beat USC. What do you take from this season? I know it seems like a lot of the goals, at least from the outside, looked off the table the minute Everett went down. How would you just kind of encapsulate the 12 games you guys played this fall?

BK: We're a couple plays, couple players -- the foundation is solid. We've got enough in place. We need certainly better play at a few positions, but feel really good about the overall strength of the program where you can win games like we've won this year. But certainly consistency at some key positions and continuing to build the depth within the program. But feel good about the overall program. Need to get some key positions to play at a higher level.
Brian Kelly AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillDecember is a busy time of year for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Notre Dame's 27-20 loss Saturday night at Stanford completed Brian Kelly's fourth regular season with the Irish, who went 8-4. Now comes the busy time, as he is dealing with recruiting, staff turnover, potential NFL departures on his roster and, most importantly for the immediate future, figuring out where and when the Irish's bowl game will be. (Sorry, Subway alums in New York.)

On Tuesday, Kelly was promoting his involvement Tuesday with the VIZIO BCS National Championship Fan Throwdown contest, and he chatted with ESPN.com. Here is part 1 of that conversation.

(Of note: This interview took place before reports surfaced that Notre Dame lost its offensive coordinator, Chuck Martin, to Miami of Ohio, where he will become the RedHawks' next head coach.)

It's recruiting season, and some of the, relatively speaking, downtime you guys have now between the end of the regular season and the bowl …

BK: Downtime. Yeah, right. It's the busiest time. (Laughs)

Relatively speaking, as I said, what is the timeline now for some of the guys who have NFL decisions to make? What are the processes like with you and Stephon (Tuitt) and Louis (Nix) and whoever else may be thinking about it?

BK: We submit the paperwork to the NFL for their pre-draft status. I like to have that information. Then we put together all their academic work relative to what they may need, what they've taken, all that to make sure that we know exactly where they are academically in terms of pursuing their degree and finishing up their work. And then the third piece is we get a lot of information from third-party contacts that I have, relative to what they may look like next year if they come back. I did that with Manti (Te'o), I did that with Tyler (Eifert), I did that with Michael Floyd and really recruit them back to Notre Dame based upon all the information that we put together. Sometimes it's better that they move on to the NFL. Sometimes it's a better situation for them to stay and have another year here. So we'll put all that together. That's what we're doing. We're compiling that information right now, and we'll meet with them sometime next week.

From your philosophy, do you have a rule of thumb where you say, "Hey, you look like you're going to be a first-round pick. It's probably best if you go." Or is it kind of a more open-minded, two-way street with you?,

BK: No, Manti was really close to being a first-round pick with his pre-draft rating as a junior. He was rated between a first and a third; he wasn't a guaranteed first. Michael was between a one and a three as well. There's no sure things in the first round. Unless you're like Jadeveon Clowney or somebody that you know is going to be a top-five pick, I think we re-recruit you, unless you've already got your degree in hand and we know that with a great certainty you're going to be a No. 1 pick. We try to put the information in front of you that allows you to get your degree and increase your opportunity to help Notre Dame and help yourself for the future.

Between Manti, Michael and a couple of other guys, you've had a lot of success in re-recruiting some of these guys. What's that speak to what you've built in the program here in these four years?

BK: First of all, it's the degree at Notre Dame -- that's huge. Each one is different. Zack Martin was between a second- and a fifth-round draft pick. He could've gone, but he wanted to play with his brother. So I think each one of them has different circumstances, but they enjoy being in the program. So what we've built is an atmosphere and an environment that the guys enjoy being here every day and that speaks to the morale and that speaks to the direction of the program. But there are so many other things here as well in terms of the degree, in terms of being able to come back and know that they're on a great platform at Notre Dame, that if they play well and the team wins it enhances their chance of moving up as well.

[+] EnlargeGolson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondIt's unlikely that Everett Golson would participate in bowl practices for Notre Dame.
Switching gears a little bit, what do you know or what can you say about the status of Everett Golson right now?

BK: I've been assured that based upon all of the information that has been provided that he's going to be re-admitted on Dec. 13, and that information has been provided to admissions and it's just a matter of them sending out the admittance letter and then him being back on campus sometime around the 15th of December.

You've talked about possibly integrating him into bowl practices. What would be the process with that? What would you hope to get out of him in that limited time?

BK: Now that I'm looking at the schedule and the kind of bowls that we're looking at right now, if he comes back on, let's say the 16th, we're not going to practice again because we're leaving probably on the 20th, 21st, somewhere in there. I really don't even think he'll have a chance to practice, now that we're looking at bowl games that are going to be happening before the 29th of December. It's unlikely, given the timetable, that he would even practice.

Can he travel with you guys to the game?

BK: He cannot, no. He cannot travel to a competition site.

Speaking of bowls, what are you thinking of in terms of options here? I know you've said this will be a reward for the seniors; they seem pretty opposed to cold weather. Would that rule out New York? How open-minded is this process right now?

BK: I don't think it's open-minded. I think we've narrowed it down considerably. I'd say there's probably three bowls that we're looking at. But I think we're really down to a narrow focus on the bowl game situations. And again, I think just to give you a bit of an idea, we tie into ACC bowls next year, and so we'll be part of that rotation beginning next year. So we'd like to examine bowls that are not tied into the ACC for one last go-around, and so our focus is on not being tied into some of those ACC games right now. And we'll see how that plays out.
Notre Dame will have a lot less thinking to do at this time next year, record permitting. The Irish's ACC partnership will give them access to the league's bowl lineup in years the Irish don't reach an access bowl.

For now, though, Notre Dame is not going BCS-bowling in the final year of the BCS. And where it lands remains up in the air.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicQB Tommy Rees and coach Brian Kelly are philosophical about Notre Dame's bowl possibilities.
Brian Kelly said after his team's 27-20 loss Saturday at Stanford that he did not think the way the Irish finished their 8-4 campaign will alter their postseason destination.

"I think Jack (Swarbrick) would know better than I," Kelly said. "But there's going to be some opportunities for us that we'll just have to sit and evaluate and find out. There's a lot of schools that obviously still have an opportunity to take some of those spots that are there. We're in a unique situation this year. We're appreciative of any bowl that would take a good, hard look at us."

The Dec. 28 New Era Pinstripe Bowl had an opening after the Big 12 failed to have a team qualify for the Bronx-based game, and it figured to be a natural destination for a school with a large fanbase in the greater New York area. But Kelly had said he would leave this decision in the hands of a senior class that helped usher in a new era of Notre Dame football, and from the reaction of his players, winter at Yankee Stadium is not the most appeasing option.

"I mean, we want to go and win our last one, " left tackle Zack Martin said. "We got one more game together. This team has worked too hard to not go out and play the right way our last game. We'll go where they send us. But we like to go where it's sunny out."

Martin added that he and his teammates do not want to play in the snow. The most attractive available sites under such criteria would appear to be the Dec. 26 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl or the Jan. 1 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

"We'll see what it comes to," quarterback Tommy Rees said. "For us, it's about playing our last game, finding a way. Wherever we are, we're going to be ready to play."

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