It’s been a while since Brian Kelly talked practice plans with Jeff Quinn.
But there the two long-time allies were Wednesday morning inside the Loftus Center, Notre Dame’s head coach talking shop with the man he wanted to be his first offensive coordinator here. Instead, Quinn took the head coaching job at Buffalo, where he was fired after four-plus seasons and a 20-36 record.
Now Kelly and Quinn – with more than two decades coaching experience together – are on the same staff again. Quinn has been hired into a newly created offensive analyst position, following a trend in college football as off-the-field coaches swell staffs.
“Just more brain power in the room is what we’re looking for and a lot of experience,” Kelly said. “Will have a myriad of things he’s responsible for, different projects on the offensive side of the ball. Jeff is obviously somebody I have a great deal of respect for and we’ve worked together for over 25 years.”
Kelly also announced former intern Pryce Tracy will be the program’s special teams analyst. Kelly plans to hire an analyst for defense but said that search is ongoing.
Quinn and Tracy join former defensive assistant Bob Elliott, in renovated off-the-field roles. Elliott, who underwent a kidney transplant his first year in South Bend, is now Notre Dame’s Special Assistant to the Head Coach.
While the impact of these hires won’t fully be known until fall, Kelly sees early utility.
Elliott has been dispatched to research defensive substitution patterns against hurry-up offenses, an area where Notre Dame labored last season. Against warp speed North Carolina, the Irish allowed 516 yards and surrendered five offensive touchdowns.
Notre Dame gave up 41.6 points per game in its final seven regular season games.
“I think we’ve learned quite a bit from it, how to communicate our defensive structure, some of the things that we’ve researched,” Kelly said. “We’ve changed terminology and communication regardless of who’s on the field to be prepared for those situations.”
Kelly admitted there are times when Notre Dame simply can’t sub. Accepting that has been part of the reeducation process too.
“It’s very similar to hockey, you’re not going to make line changes if the puck’s in your end,” Kelly said. “You gotta be very, very careful in terms of when those line changes happen, when you go over the boards.”
The staff reshape got Kelly’s attention on opening day as Mike Sanford (offensive coordinator), Todd Lyght (defensive backs), Autry Denson (running backs) and Keith Gilmore (defensive line) took the field for the first time as Irish assistants. Kelly watched them all, but Sanford’s handling of the quarterbacks caught the head coach’s eye.
While his title is offensive coordinator, Sanford has been tasked as much with upgrading Notre Dame’s quarterback habits as crafting any game plan.
“I want to see a consistency in attention to detail more than anything else,” Kelly said. “There’s no misunderstanding of what’s being taught, how it’s being taught and what’s expected. There’s no, ‘Well, I thought’ or ‘Can I do it this way?’ It’s, ‘This is how we want it done, this is what we except.’
“I was impressed with how the quarterbacks handled it and looked today on the first day.”