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Football

Adams: Recruiting implications of Chip Long’s departure

| Friday, April 3, 2020

The Lord — and the departure of Chip Long from Notre Dame — both giveth and taketh away. And much like the man upstairs, Long apparently worked in mysterious ways. He was a man of mystery. Actually, on second thought, he wasn’t.

Long was abrasive. Brian Kelly said so himself — in less polite terms — in an interview with The Athletic when Long was first hired as offensive coordinator in 2017 after holding the same position at Memphis. That disposition was both a benefit and hindrance to the Irish coaching staff and players.

So, while it’s been several months since Long’s departure — and given recent developments in Notre Dame recruiting — now is as good a time as any to really look at what the Irish gained and lost with Long’s departure.

Observer File Photo

Former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees looks to pass. Rees was promoted to offensive coordinator, replacing Chip Long, in January after serving exclusively as quarterbacks coach for three seasons.

 

What was gained

It’s weird to think that you can gain something by losing, but Long’s departure was addition by subtraction in certain aspects.

Word around the program was that, following the 45-14 debacle of a loss the Irish suffered at Michigan last season, newly minted offensive coordinator Tommy Rees took on a much more active role in the offense, well before he became interim offensive coordinator for the Camping World Bowl in December and before he officially gained the OC title in January. From there, the offense took off.

Granted, five games after Michigan against the likes of Virginia Tech, Navy, Duke, Boston College and Stanford did not make for the greatest of offensive tests, but it certainly wasn’t a step back.

In three seasons with the Irish, while at least “officially” offensive coordinator, Long saw the Irish offense average 34.2 points per game. However, in the six games Notre Dame lost during his tenure, they averaged only 13.5 points per game. Those losses were: 20-19 vs. Georgia, 41-8 at Miami, 38-20 at Stanford, 30-3 vs. Clemson, 23-17 at Georgia and 45-14 at Michigan.

That amounts to an offense that was spectacular against average teams and one that left a lot to be desired against the creme de la creme of Notre Dame’s opponents. Ian Book seemed to have a much better connection with his receivers post-Michigan, and he finally exploited Chase Claypool for what he was worth as a matchup nightmare. However, in Long’s defense, he had two very unconventional offenses in his first and his final seasons with Notre Dame, one that was predicated almost exclusively on the run in 2017 and the pass in 2019.

Tommy Rees has yet to prove himself against the toughest teams on Notre Dame’s schedule, but at least the Irish haven’t regressed in terms of playcalling. Although, there is another rather important area where there may be cause for concern of regression…

 

What was lost

Chip Long rubbed some guys the wrong way, but he was also a dogged recruiting coordinator for the Irish. However he managed to flip the switch with high school kids and convince them to play for him and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff, he did it well.

Notre Dame’s outstanding 2020 offensive recruiting haul — which includes five-star wide receiver Jordan Johnson, four-star running back Chris Tyree and four-star tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman — is thanks in most part to Long’s efforts. Their 2021 recruiting class seemed to be carrying that same sort of momentum with a bevy of four-stars, including quarterback Tyler Buchner, tight end Cane Berrong, offensive lineman Blake Fisher and wide receivers Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie. Unfortunately, that last name is no longer set to wear the blue and gold for Notre Dame.

Colzie de-committed from the Irish on Mar. 20 and told Rivals recruiting analyst Chad Simmons he would be “hitting that reset button” and reopen his recruitment once the COVID-19 outbreak passed. The sixth-ranked player in the state of Georgia and 11th-ranked receiver nationally per Rivals.com, Colzie would have been a major recruiting snag had Notre Dame managed to lock him down.

There’s still a chance he could recommit to Notre Dame, but if he’s exploring other options, that hints that he wasn’t satisfied with the recruiting job of the current Irish staff. That staff should have known that one of the best players in the state of Georgia, a recruiting hotbed, was going to keep being courted by schools like UGA. These are the kinds of players that, once you get them, you can’t let them go.

Say what you will about Chip Long, but I have to think that had he remained recruiting coordinator, even with the limitations of recruiting during the COVID-19 outbreak, he would have stayed in better contact with Colzie and not let him slip through Notre Dame’s fingers so easily.

 

Now, the Irish did manage to get a commitment from four-star defensive end David Abiara, but that’s the defense. The Irish defense has been solid for years — all things considered — although an improvement in cornerback recruiting would be ideal. It’s on the offensive side of the ball where they need some big hauls to match up with the big boys in recruiting, namely Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson.

The 2021 recruiting class is an important one for Notre Dame. It will show whether or not they can continue their momentum through coaching changes or if 2020 will appear to be a fluke. Chip Long’s departure has pros and cons, and it is yet to be seen which will outweigh the other. However, given the circumstances that have left us with no way to evaluate player development and put a larger lens on recruiting, the post-Long era isn’t off to a great start.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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