Destination: LaBar

Irish head coach Brian Kelly discusses breaking trends and tendencies (by choice) and breaking tradition (out of necessity), this spring.

A meeting of Notre Dame's offensive minds in 2015 will include the following:

The head coach, one renowned for his offensive acumen and play-calling prowess.

His returning, trusted offensive coordinator-turned associate head coach -- officially tasked with "overseeing" the offense.

And a new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, one unfamiliar to either of the above -- which is exactly the way the head man wanted it.

Too many cooks in one broth? Not necessarily.

Asked if the chief or one of his trusted aides would serve as the offense's play-caller next fall, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered the following:

"I think that's something we're still kind of working through at this point. I don't think we've made a definitive decision," he said. "We're still in the process of really working through the offense, making any improvements to it. That's not really on the priority list."

It's a decision Kelly noted won't likely be made this spring, not with a major quarterback competition, unavoidable tweaks to the offense (or perhaps a major change) as a result, and two handfuls of skill position weapons from which to assemble a reasonable pecking order.

"I think more than anything else the structure of putting the offense together with (former offensive coordinator turned assistant head coach) Mike Denbrock and (new offensive coordinator) Mike Sanford, it's the trust in them to run this offense and get it running to the level that it needs to be run.

"Ultimately my trust is in them to run the offense at the level that I believe it can be run. I have no problem not being involved in it.

"The ultimate goal here is we're all involved in it at this point…I just want to be part of the solution. I don't have to be the play-caller. I don't have to be the quarterback coach. I've hired people to do all those jobs.

"If it means at the end of the day I don't have to be involved in that, but that puts us in a better position, I'm 100% okay with that."

In the three seasons Kelly served as the chief player-caller (2010-11 and 2014, to the best of our knowledge), Notre Dame's offense ranked No's. 61, 34, and 32 nationally in total yardage while placing 49th, 88th, and 80th, respectively in red zone scoring percentage. In the two seasons he did not (Chuck Martin, 2012-13), the Irish finished No. 54 and No. 67 overall with red zone percentages at No. 70 and No. 77.


The hiring of four coaches was necessary because three of Kelly's staff members from 2014 departed while another, Bob Elliott, moved to an advisory role. In addition to the defection of quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur after one season, long-time aids Kerry Cooks (Oklahoma) and Tony Alford (Ohio State), moved onto perceived greener pastures.

None of the trio of departed found a "leadership position," the term often used by Kelly to explain when he advocates an assistant moving elsewhere from his staff.

"Well, we didn't lose them because of any reasons that have to do with finances or not providing them with the opportunities necessary for them to be successful," Kelly said. "People leave for reasons. You'd have to ask them for that. All I know is that it has provided me and Notre Dame with the kind of staff that I couldn't be more pleased with.

Alford's move to Ohio State wasn't officially lateral, not with the inclusion of "Assistant Head Coach" now on his resume, and a move to the reigning national champions to work with one of the two most successful football coaches of the modern era is anything but. His profile has immediately increased, and assuming the winning continues in Columbus, so too will his future opportunities -- but Alford indeed left Notre Dame to continue to be a running backs coach elsewhere.

Cooks' move from defensive backs coach at Notre Dame to the same position at Oklahoma wasn't only lateral, it was inevitable. Cooks was technically demoted from co-defensive coordinator (2012-13) to secondary coach when Kelly hired Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator last fall.

Unless that demotion was rectified one season later, and clearly it was not, a move by Cooks to another college football power program should not have come as as surprise, though the timing of it (post-Signing Day) was unfortunate for both incoming pledges and his former head coach.

"It's opened up a door for us that we could have never opened unless those things happened. Call it what you want, but it allowed us to bring in two all-time greats (Autry Denson and Todd Lyght) from Notre Dame, then kind of a domino effect that really put together an incredible staff, one that I'm so excited about."


An tangential issue impacted by the late-winter staff modifications in South Bend is the placement of spring practice. Initially set to begin this week, changes among the assistant ranks forced a push back to mid-March, with the Irish likely beginning Wednesday, March 18.

"If you said that I could put together the staff that I've been able to put together under these circumstances, and you would have to push back spring ball a little bit, you'd have to put a little bit more on the other (holdover) coaches in recruiting to put this staff together, I'd have said I would take it any day," Kelly offered.

Though the outset of spring practice changed, it's conclusion will not, with "Spring Practice No. 15" set for April 18.

But for fans of the annual Blue Gold Game, 2015 represents a major departure.

"We're going to be right here at LaBar (Practice Complex)," said Kelly, the change necessitated by early construction on the Campus Crossroads Project that has made the area around the House that Rockne Built inoperable at present. "We're in the process of bidding temporary seating now. We will be playing the spring game. It will be at LaBar. We don't know whether we'll have a partner for that relative to NBC. That's still being negotiated."

Kelly added that the tentative plan is to accommodate "2,500 to 3,000" people.

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