A week ago at this time, the Notre Dame football program was on top of the world with a 12-0 record and No. 1 ranking entering its Jan. 7 showdown with No. 2 Alabama.
Tight end Mike Heuerman is among the five early enrollees arriving this weekend at Notre Dame.
The plummet was steep after getting washed away 42-14 by the Crimson Tide — but it was the very success of just getting there that may have put it where it is today: uncertain of its direction after head coach Brian Kelly first interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles last Tuesday. Now, according to ESPN and the New York Daily News, “the Eagles and Kelly have agreed to revisit talks when he returns this weekend.”
The Eagles reportedly already have interviewed a half-dozen candidates since firing long-time coach Andy Reid on Dec. 31, including deposed former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley next on the docket. Among the coaches interviewed were two other college coaches, Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, but both opted to remain with their schools while getting a pay raise.
Unlike in the college game because of January recruiting, there is no urgency in the NFL to make a quick decision on a head coach. Philadelphia might still be in the process of new or second interviews next week.
Is Brian Kelly serious about taking the Eagles job, or is it a power play on his part for the university to acquiesce to more demands, including pay scale for himself and his assistants? The answer might be somewhere in the middle, although a second meeting with the Eagles brass would appear to pique more soap opera-like intrigue. All that is known for now is:
• Mum is the word from Notre Dame. Comments from the school at this point will not be forthcoming until concrete information is available. Entering the weekend, there had been no known reports on communication between the current players and staff members regarding Kelly’s future.
• The Walter Camp Football Foundation is holding its annual dinner this Saturday in New Haven, Conn. — with Notre Dame’s Kelly (Coach of the Year) and Manti Te’o (Player of the Year) among the honorees.
• Five early enrollees in Notre Dame’s 2013 recruiting class have confirmed they will be arriving on campus this weekend and getting settled into their respective rooms. Sunday is moving in day at the dorms, and classes for the spring semester commence on Tuesday. The quintet features Naples, Fla., tight end Mike Heuerman — who has already arrived — Dayton, Ohio quarterback Malik Zaire, Saint Paul, Minn., receiver James Onwualu, San Antonio wideout Corey Robinson, and Midland, Mich, offensive lineman Steven Elmer. Pennsylvania linebacker Alex Anzalone also had been scheduled to arrive with the group, but pulled an 11th-hour switch to Florida, similar to current Irish quarterback Gunner Kiel leaving LSU at the altar last January and opting for Notre Dame instead.
In all, 22 recruits remain verbally committed to Notre Dame, with Signing Day on Feb. 6.
Winter workouts for the football team also begin upon return to campus, and a team meeting is traditionally scheduled prior to the start of classes. One would believe that would make it mandatory for Kelly to be on campus much sooner than later.
No Notre Dame head football coach has ever departed voluntarily to take another head coaching job, although Elmer Layden (1934-40) did leave his post to become commissioner of the NFL. Joe Kuharich (1959-62) also left in March 1963 to become the supervisor of NFL officiating before taking the head-coaching job with, ironically, the Philadelphia Eagles from 1964-68 while signing an unprecedented 15-year contract. Lou Holtz (1986-96) was out of coaching for two years before taking the South Carolina job in 1999.
After back-to-back 8-5 seasons to open his Notre Dame career, Kelly earned seven National Coach of the Year awards this season with the 12-0 regular season finish. The Irish finished No. 4 nationally in the final AP poll, its highest placement since No. 2 in 1993. It was also only the second AP Top 10 finish in the last 19 seasons for the program, with No. 9 in 2005 the other under first-year head coach Charlie Weis.