The departure/arrival of assistant coaches from Notre Dame’s football staff is a fluid situation, usually on a yearly basis, and many times more than one.
Success and/or failure on the field – based upon the last three decades, beginning with Lou Holtz’s first staff in 1986 – shows no consistent pattern between success/failure and the number of coaching changes.
Only five times during that span have the Irish avoided an assistant-coaching change from one year to the next year, and Notre Dame’s average record during those four seasons has been eight victories and four defeats, which is on-par with the three-decade average.
Holtz’s staffs – compared to those Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly – had the most turnover, averaging about 2.6 changes per season after the initial turnover from the Gerry Faust regime.
Excluding their first seasons, when assistant-coaching turnover is the greatest, Davie averaged 2.0 changes in four years, Willingham 0.5 in two years, Weis 1.5 in four years, and Kelly less than two (nine changes in five seasons), including just five in the first four years.
Of course, the greatest turnover comes during transition seasons from one head coach to another. When Holtz arrived, he made eight changes, keeping only Mike Stock from Gerry Faust’s final staff.
When Willingham arrived, defensive coach Greg Mattison was the only carryover from Davie’s staff. When Weis arrived, all nine coaches were new. When Kelly arrived, only Tony Alford carried over from the Weis staff.
While a quality assistant coaching staff obviously can make a difference in a program, there is no clear-cut statistical evidence that shows over the last three decades that a new batch of coaches has helped or hindered a team one way or another.
When Willingham made no changes on his staff between his first and second seasons, the Irish went from 10-3 to 5-7. When Kelly made three changes between his second and third seasons, the Irish went from 8-5 to 12-1 and played for the national title. A year later, with no changes from the staff that played for all the marbles, the Irish went 9-4.
There were 16 changes on Holtz’s staff from 1988-93 – a six-season span during which time Notre Dame was 64-9-1.
The one Notre Dame head coach that showed a statistical correlation between holding steady and making changes was Davie. His two best seasons with the Irish came in 1998 and 2000 – both 9-3 campaigns – when one and zero changes were made. When the turnover was the greatest – four in 1999 and three in 2001 – Notre Dame finished 5-7 and 5-6 respectively.
But who the head coach is and what kind of talent a team has returning/departing have the greatest impact on the outcome of the season.
Assistant coaches come and go on a regular basis – there have been 87 assistant coaching changes in the last 30 years, an average of 2.9 per season – but the talent level fluctuates on a more uneven basis.
The loss of seven NFL draft choices, including quarterback Brady Quinn, defensive end Victor Abiamiri and offensive tackle Ryan Harris in the first three rounds, as well as defensive tackle Derek Landri and cornerback Mike Richardson in the later rounds, likely had much more to do with the fall from 10-3 in 2006 to 3-9 in 2007 than the two coaching changes in the staff.
Likewise, Willingham’s fall from 10-3 in 2002 to 5-7 in 2003 had everything to do with the loss of seven draft picks (four of which were offensive linemen) and the leadership at the top, and little-to-nothing to do with the assistant coaching staff returning intact.
The four expected changes on the Notre Dame staff from 2014 to 2015 ties for the second largest turnover in coaching personnel in the last three decades, other than when there was a change of head coaches.
From 1991 to 1992, Holtz’s staff had additions – offensive coaches Tom Clements and Earle Mosley, and defensive coaches Rick Minter, Mike Trgovac and Joe Wessel – and the Irish went 10-1-1 after a 10-3 season. The following year, Keith Armstrong replaced Ron Cooper on defense, and the Irish made a run at the national title with an 11-1 record.
The key during Notre Dame’s extended period of success in the late-‘80s, early-‘90s was the coaching brilliance of Holtz and the talent brought in by recruiting coordinator Vinny Cerrato.
So what impact will the shift in coaches have on the 2015 season? In the last 15 seasons in which there has been three or more changes in the assistant coaching staff, the Irish are 118-52-2 (.691). In the last 15 seasons in which there have been two or less changes in the assistant coaching staff, Notre Dame is 113-60 (.653).
If anything, perhaps the more change the better if it motivates the players to work harder to impress their new coaches. But at the end of the day, it comes down to a) the head coach, b) the talent, c) the player attrition, and d) the strength of schedule.
Assistant Coaching Changes @ ND — Last 30 years
|Weis||2009||3||6-6||7-6||- 1.5 g.|
|Weis||2008||1||7-6||3-9||+ 3.5 g.|