Of all the new titles, promotions and additions that came from Notre Dame’s coaching staff shake-up in the past month, Tony Alford’s new role as recruiting coordinator is perhaps the least surprising.
Tony Alford takes over as Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator moving forward.
Former recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin will take over as the team’s offensive coordinator, leaving room for Alford to assume a role that if anything is overdue. Alford has been Notre Dame’s most consistent asset on the recruiting trail since he arrived at Notre Dame in 2009. He said he thrives off of the countless hours spent on the road, being the first to lay the foundation of a long relationship to come. One of the first discussions he had with head coach Brian Kelly about the new job was to make sure he wouldn’t have to cut back the time he personally spent visiting prospects.
“I like to recruit. I like to think I’m pretty proficient at it,” Alford said. “It’s not going to change my day-to-day or how I recruit and how I travel. It may put me out a little more to some degree because now I’m going to be able to go into other places as a recruiting coordinator — go into other homes of guys that I probably normally wouldn’t have.”
During the transitional winter between Charlie Weis and Kelly, Alford had a chance to go into the home of just about every guy in the recruiting class. That national experience, Kelly said, gives Alford a unique understanding of how recruiting works on a grand scale.
“I think there’s a skill set that goes along with that,” Kelly said Friday morning. “Tony’s got a very good understanding of the recruiting process nationally from coast to coast, and how to redirect our resources. His experience level with recruiting nationally I think is very important.”
Alford said he doesn’t plan on “re-inventing the wheel” when it comes to his approach to recruiting. He says Notre Dame’s massive behind-the-scenes staff has created a good system of laying out expectations for recruits, and he doesn’t plan to switch things up. Some coaches will find themselves in new zip codes (see below), but Alford has no dramatic changes in the works under his watch.
He didn’t say how much of an effect, if any, the new title had on his decision to pull back interest in a job with the Green Bay Packers after interviewing with them earlier in the week. He did say that his love for recruiting was one of the main reasons he sees himself as a better fit in the college game. Ultimately, Alford said he thinks the coordinator position is another step toward one day becoming a head coach.
“I’ll be able to get my hands in on that piece as I continue my growth and path toward hopefully being a head coach one day. This will be just another thing that will help me do that,” he said.
A Custom Fit
Alford’s contributions to the offense are also poised to get a lot bigger in the upcoming year. He’ll be pioneering a new position group for the Irish that combines the running backs and slot receivers into one interchangeable entity.
The 16-year coaching veteran played running back at Colorado State and spent the majority of his career coaching that position until shifting to the wide receivers when Kelly arrived in 2010. His experience with both spots make him a tailored fit to introduce his players to their unorthodox new position.
“I think his experience at the running back position, and having been the wide receiver coach for the past two years, gives us a unique blend of a coach who has a great understanding of the concepts we’re going to be teaching on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said.
Alford said all of his running backs will be expected to know how to read pass coverages and operate in open space when asked to do so, and receivers such as Robby Toma will also find their way into the backfield in certain situations.
Senior Theo Riddick provided a brief glance at what the position might look like against Stanford and Florida State at the end of the 2011 season. He is one of a handful of players with a blend of skills that lend themselves well to the new hybrid role. Last year’s starter, Cierre Wood, has the ability to make big plays in open space. Rising sophomore George Atkinson III was recruited to play wide receiver before moving to the backfield last August. Newcomers Amir Carlisle and KeiVarae Russell are also prototypes for the position that they will grow into over the next couple of years. Even Toma, who has spent his entire career in the slot, played running back for much of his pre-college career.
With as many as eight active running backs expected on the roster next fall, Kelly and company had to find a way to spread that talent across the field. Kelly first used the wide receiver/running back combo while coaching at Grand Valley State. The idea is simple: put individual players in position to do the things that they do best.
“If Theo doesn’t do a great job of running a bench route versus [junior wide receiver] Danny Smith running a bench route than why would I have Theo run it?” Alford said. “The thing is to figure out what guys are good at. The guys that can make plays are the guys that are going to be on the field.”
While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are some of the changes in recruiting territories for Notre Dame’s new staff.
Scott Booker – Georgia, North Florida, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., area
Bob Elliott – Throughout the Midwest and San Diego
Kerry Cooks – Texas, Lousiana, New Mexico
Harry Hiestand – Northern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia
Mike Elston- Central and Southern Ohio among other places