Surveying Brian Kelly's priorities
Stanford's Jim Harbaugh shakes Notre Dame's Brian Kelly following the game at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, September 25, 2010. (Tribune Photo/MARCUS MARTER)
But as Brian Kelly transitions into his second season as the Notre Dame football coach, it almost constitutes paradise — or about as good as it can get in the first week in January.
He is spending a good part of the week criss-crossing the country, trying to add some oomph to his second recruiting class at ND and the first he has cultivated from start to finish.
Three members of that recruiting class will enroll early, beginning classes for spring semester on Jan. 18. Defensive end Brad Carrico, kicker Kyle Brindza and quarterback Everett Golson become early enrollees Nos. 17, 18 and 19 at ND since the school altered its admissions policy in 2006.
If Brooklyn, N.Y., defensive end prospect Ishaq Williams selects the Irish over Penn State and Syracuse on Saturday, he'll join the early arrivals.
Closing strong on the class of 2011 tops Kelly's post-Sun Bowl to-do list, but it far from completes it.
Here's a peek at what might be hovering at the top of the coach's mental rolodex of priorities.
1. Write Jim Harbaugh a thank-you note.
The Stanford head coach has ruined the lives of lazy sports talk radio hosts and callers alike that have been insisting for years that the biggest, and perhaps only, reason Notre Dame has gone 22 years with barely a mention in the national title conversation is because of its tight academic fit.
Harbaugh has built a template that says otherwise, and it's one that Kelly can adapt to his own vision of the future at ND.
Harbaugh showed that player development, Kelly's mantra, can be more than just a T-shirt slogan. And Stanford wasn't too slow or too soft for anyone. One skittish half of football is all that separated the Cardinal (12-1) from a date with Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.
It should be pointed out it took patience on the part of the Cardinal fan base and administration. Harbaugh was a sub-.500 coach at Stanford (17-20) heading into this season, but was always showing progress through the growing pains.
Kelly, theoretically, can accelerate the process, because ND's recruiting net is wider than Stanford's and perhaps stickier as well.
In a cyber-driven world, where perception can trump reality, Stanford's run quiets a lot of white noise, not only in the skeptical quarters of the Irish following but with impressionable recruits. It doesn't mean Kelly necessarily will produce a similar sequel at ND, but it certainly shows he can.
2. Get an ‘A' in math.
Air-brushing Kyle Rudolph into the NFL Draft picture clears up one scholarship, and clarity on Michael Floyd's future — which should come sometime next week — will define another.
And yes, two scholarships make a significant difference in both the size of the still-being-assembled 2011 recruiting class and how many fifth-year candidates are invited back.
ND's class sits at 19 and could swell to 23 or so if Kelly gets close to everything on his wish list and cuts loose all the Plan B options between now and the Feb. 2 national signing day.
The number of players eligible to return to the Irish next season stands at 68. That includes 10 fifth-year candidates (including walk-on David Ruffer being converted to scholarship) and one sixth-year petitioner, center Dan Wenger.