Mack Brown Laying The Blueprint For Recruiting Success, Notre Dame Needs To Follow


The 2021 class has slipped for Notre Dame. Just a few months prior, the Fighting Irish had the second-ranked class and plenty of momentum going forward. Since the loss of a big recruiting weekend and the country being shut down, things have changed quite a bit and Notre Dame's recruiting class has tumbled down to 17th in the country at 247 Sports. 

While plenty of potential still lingers around this class, things need to turn around before signing day. Luckily, North Carolina head coach, Mack Brown has laid out the blueprint.

The Mack Brown Effect

North Carolina hired Brown in November of 2018. This was his second time coaching the Tar Heels. He also returned from a five-year hiatus after stepping down at Texas and moving into a TV role at ESPN.

The five years off seemed to help rejuvenate Brown, and he spent half a decade watching tape and interviewing coaches. All of the work he was putting in has translated into success at UNC.

I honestly thought this was going to flop when Brown was hired. He was in his late 60's and it felt like North Carolina was trying to kick the tires on a coach that had success there in the 1990s. However, Brown proved he had the ability to adapt.

North Carolina currently has the third-ranked recruiting class in 2021. While a strong coaching staff with stud recruiters plays a major part, Brown is also doing something Brian Kelly has lacked. Brown spoke with Bill Bender of Sporting News as to how he has found so much success in a May Zoom call:

"The players obviously have been home more. Their parents have been home more. It's been easier to get a hold of them for one thing. They can call you and text you. I'm probably having more conversations with parents and recruits than I was when they were coming to campus."

It isn't a secret that Kelly doesn't hit the recruiting trail like Urban Meyer. It is also apparent he doesn't attack recruiting like the 69-year-old Brown. However, Brown isn't doing it all himself. The staff has also played a major part in the turnaround in Chapel Hill.

Coaches That Can Recruit

North Carolina just landed the number one corner in the country, and a Top 10 overall player, Tony Grimes. The biggest reason was having former NFL star, Dre Bly, on staff and recruiting Grimes. Bly is a legend and from the same area as Grimes, and he was an All-American for Brown at North Carolina, which helped UNC land him over the likes of Georgia and Ohio State.

Meyer has made comments recently that coaches on his staff need to be able to recruit at a high level. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a staff built on recruiters and both Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Ed Orgeron at LSU are as good on the recruiting trail as they are with the X's and O's.

Furthermore, my recent article on the blue-chip ratio shows you need to pull a Top 15 class to even stand a chance at winning a title. Development is important, but landing the elite players still stands at the top. Kelly needs to put the work in. However, that won't magically turn Notre Dame into a top three class overnight.

More emphasis needs to be placed on recruiting ability when a coaching hire is made. Lance Taylor is proving he can recruit at a high level, at least with the 2020 class. Former offensive coordinator Chip Long was another that played a hand in bringing in high-end talent. However, a personal decision was made that could keep Notre Dame stuck in a recruiting rut.

Rumors popped up that former Penn State offensive coordinator and Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead was interested in the Notre Dame job. The once highly sought after coach ended up going to Oregon after Kelly chose to hire his 27-year old quarterbacks coach. Before Moorhead was hired, Penn State averaged the 34th ranked recruiting class from 2012-2014. Then, the Nittany Lions averaged the 16th ranked class from 2015-2017, the years Moorhead was there. Not even looking at his ability to run an offense, he is a solid recruiter as well.

Since Moorhead was hired, Oregon has landed seven four-star players on offense, and all came during the dead period that was brought on by COVID-19. Notre Dame has landed just one offensive player since October of 2019, and that is three-star offensive lineman Pat Coogan.

This isn't mentioned to bring up what could have been or rail on Rees. I believe Rees can be a good recruiter as well. But this is simply to point out, Notre Dame can land a top-five class, it isn't impossible.

The Notre Dame Difference

Pro-Kelly fans will point to the fact that Notre Dame can't land anybody they want because of academics. While that is a hindrance, it doesn't mean they can't pull elite prospects.

Stanford has had multiple five-star players commit in the last 10 years. The 2017 Stanford class had three guys rated as a five-star. Notre Dame has never had more than two in one class in the Kelly era.

When looking at the big picture of recruiting and how to fix it at Notre Dame, a Top 5 class isn't an unreachable goal. Brian Kelly needs to put more work in and put more emphasis on assistants that can recruit. Mack Brown was able to figure it out at a school that isn't known as a football power. Since 2012, North Carolina has one 10+ win season. Mack Brown is coming off a 7-6 season in 2019. North Carolina sits in a recruiting hotbed, but they don't have the name power or recent history that Notre Dame does.

There is no excuse to get out recruited at this point by Brown and the Tar Heels. Until Kelly starts working towards his comments that Notre Dame can reach a top-five class, more schools will continue to pass them by. 

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Comments (37)
No. 1-10

I feel that BK has ND right where he wants them and the ND administration is fine with that. I really feel ND upper heads are fine with just being in the conversation of being in the playoffs. The reason i say this is ND fan base suffers from bad relationship syndrome the "You know how bad it was before BK" syndrome. BK knows this and is using it to his advantage. He knows as long as he is average you know win 10-11 games a year, lose a close game to the big boys come out with a statement "Man we were so close" he will be the HC of ND.

The worst thing about it is, i feel BK blew his chance of winning a NC between the 2015-2017 seasons. That was his best opportunity and he blew it. The amount of NFL talent on those squads, come on man!!!!! He is complacent and complacency is the enemy of success. I've been a fan for 32 yrs now and i remember the great (Miami '88) and heart break (BC '93). I just feel ND as an administration and fan base (some not all) are fine with being in the conversation. !@#$% a conversation.


Great article..Kelly said it himself, Notre Dame should be able to recruit at a top 5 level, the issue is for that to happen Kelly has to make changes to both himself and his staff, things he is unwilling to do. He has to be willing to hold his staff to a standard, another thing is has been unwilling to do. It’s all lip service until he acts.

And for those that want to use Covid as an excuse... go look no further than the job Mike Mickens is doing. He’s not using excuses like needing to get kids on campus, or weather, or academics.. he’s doing work instead of participating in excuse making. You can’t tell me if Kelly had made the change to hire Joe Moorhead as OC and Phil Trautwein as oline coach we would be seeing the offensive recruiting struggle like we are. Instead we have Tommy Rees and Jeff Quinn, just not a lot for recruits to get excited about there...


this just destroys the general consensus that COVID is hurting NDs recruiting. Get the job done, I have no doubt that the staff tries hard. Pretty much every major program has coaches who try really hard but that isn't the measure of success. Landing talent is the measure of success and we are failing miserably at that right now, even after having three 10 win seasons and a CFP appearance!


Here's another way to look at the so called mega recruiters in today's D-I programs---they operate very differently from ND and cheat and recruit a lot of great players who would never get accepted and last a full year at ND.

Are they going to typically be able to out recruit ND season after season...most definitley. Is that all there is to recruiting a super talent for a Top Tier Program...most definitely not.

The current head of the NCAA for the past 13+ years is Mark Emmert---who just so happens to be the former LSU Chancellor who hired Nick Saban to LSU from his two train wreck seasons in the NFL at Miami. He introduced Nick to a whole bunch of boosters who helped Nick recruit a lot of players and get a National Championship.

Nick then moved onto to Bama and even more booster money and super recruiting via cash and cars and jobs for family members.

Just look at some of the staff members Saban has had recently--Lane Kiffen and Sarkisian from Pete Carroll's cheating staff at USC---Mike Locksley who was caught cheating at the UofI and other places.

Not hard to be a superstar coach with super talented 85 man rosters thanks to recruiting players with money etc.

Is there any huge surprise that for the past 10-12 years the SEC is by far and away the most dominant conference in the NCAA football ranks---nope-- Mr Emmert has made sure they are safe and secure in building their football empires and hauling in all of those millions of dollars from playoff games.

So if I'm understanding what you are saying---ND needs to follow suit and be just like these guys---including Dabo and Mack Brown who both follow the same recruiting tactics as the SEC.

Mack Brown always had some of the best stocked rosters while he was at Texas---but they typically underachieved and eventually he got pushed out.

Tennessee and UGA have Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt from Saban's coaching tree---and they seem to be superstar recruiters too---Oregon has Knight's Nike money floating around the sports program and they are a superstar power these days too.

ND can't and won't play those games---so they are at a disadvantage but over the 4-5 years that it takes for the recruiting classes to play out--ND's recruits and coaches are closing the gap and are getting to a point where they can beat these programs.

Condemning and complaining that ND should have hired two other outsiders who's recruiting models won't float at ND (i.'e.--you can't cheat and can only recruit academic fits) and expecting the whole program to absorb two new OL and OC coaches and changes to blocking-play calling and execution changes---is a lot to ask.

My money is Quinn and Rees with a collaborative Offensive brain trust is going to do as well or better than trying to retrofit two outsiders would have done now or down the road.

So I agree to disagree with the notions that ND needs to "be like Mack Brown et all" in recruiting (no thanks---you can keep it) and need to chase some outsiders who may not fit in well or stay long at ND in order to please the fans and somehow get to the NC Game.


“ Lance Taylor is proving he can recruit at a high level, at least with the 2020 class.“

What has he done at ND? Chip Long was Tyree’s primary recruiter. I want to see him do it without a strong OC helping him. I think the verdict is still out on Taylor. Let’s see what he does with 2021. Which he started with striking out on Shipley and not looking great with other top RB.


Slam bam, thank you man! You did it again, another top notch article about why Kelly should be jettisoned. While you didn't say this directly, the evidence you point to is more than adequate.

Hopefully his contract won't be extended. Why invest in more mediocrity?

In December, Kelly proclaimed that ND will now become an annual top 5 recruiting program. Hah! He's now at one of his lowest rankings for the month of July.

Thanks R. Palmieri and keep up the excellent work.

You're the best writer on this site and I look forward to your next perspective.

2 Replies


10 win seasons in four of the last five years is mediocrity? Seriously? "Jettison" him for that? "Mediocre" adequately sums up ND football from 1994—2011... many of those years I was almost embarrassed to root for the Irish, but still did.

Kelly rarely wins the big game? That's fair. There are many other fair criticisms. But ND was a decades broken program when he took it over, and now they are competitive. Haven't been able to say that since the early 90s - nearly THIRTY YEARS ago.


I don’t believe Kelly has been mediocre, but I don’t believe he’s made us competitive against the better teams either. Just looking at that 5 year stretch you mentioned, he hasn’t beaten a team that finished in the top 10 and is just 4-9 against teams that finished in the top 15.... to me, being competitive means you have a chance at winning, and under Kelly that just hasn’t been the case.


Am I the only one depressed after reading that article? It's a well written, well informed piece, don't get me wrong. I just don't see BK doing what needs to be done.


This is the should've kept Long argument again. If Chip was so great why didn't he get a OC gig when he left. It seems that Kelly,Rees and now Taylor are getting thrown under the bus. I'll give you Quinn needs to go, and Kelly needs to be more involved as well. This will never end as long as BK is here. Do any of you look where this pgrm was pre BK?. This isnt a finished product and Rees is just getting started yet people want Joe Moorhead?? Really. Geeze I know ND fans want the moon but are you willing to lower the academic standard to let kids in who will transfer out if they don't play right away. Sorry I don't. Sell out your soul for a NC? Then go on probation No Thanks



Excellent article. The only thing I would disagree with is when you say that plenty of potential still lingers around this class. I don't see that Notre Dame has much of a chance to land any more elite kids except for Spindler and that is far from certain. I wouldn't be surprised if the class finishes in the 15-20 range. There just aren't many good recruiters on Notre Dame's coaching staff. The best was Long and he's gone. I'm not sure about Taylor or Mickens. Even Elston is having a lousy year recruiting wise.


So what has Mack Brown done exactly that is a blueprint for Kelly? Hiring a staff that can coach and recruit at a high level is nothing new. That's not Mack Brown specific. Sorry if I'm missing something.