Matt Cashore /

A Dozen More with Irish Illustrated

The second in our three-part staff Q&A series delves into the Irish coaching staff.

1. Brian Kelly’s best coaching hire since he was hired at Notre Dame has been:

-- Prister: Mike Sanford is the biggest catch among hot candidates. Harry Hiestand’s level of consistency is impressive. Keith Gilmore, because long-term, he should be a difference-maker along the defensive line.
-- Sampson: Harry Hiestand
-- O’Malley: Harry Hiestand
-- Hickey: Harry Hiestand
-- Hare: Hiestand’s hiring was a home run in the development of offensive linemen and in recruiting.
-- Freeman: You know I’m going with Jeff Quinn…
-- Brown: Mike Sanford

2. Conversely, the hire that most negatively impacted the program was:

-- Prister: Brian VanGorder. The proverbial square peg in the round hole. He has nothing in common with the players/school he represents.
-- Sampson: Charley Molnar
-- O’Malley: Charley Molnar, and BK knew better…
-- Hickey: Brian VanGorder
-- Hare: Bob Diaco
-- Freeman: Brian VanGorder
-- Brown: Brian VanGorder

3. The next head coach (for any program) on the current staff is:

-- Prister: Mike Sanford, there really isn’t another legitimate candidate, is there?
-- Sampson: Mike Sanford
-- O’Malley: Mike Sanford, and let’s hope against hope it occurs around 2019 in South Bend.
-- Hickey: Mike Sanford
-- Hare: Mike Sanford
-- Freeman: Mike Sanford
-- Brown: Mike Sanford

4. The assistant that generally doesn’t get enough credit for his work is:

-- Prister: Mike Denbrock. The most user-friendly coach on the staff. Whatever needs to be done, he does it.
-- Sampson: Mike Denbrock
-- O’Malley: Denbrock has beenover time, but Autry Denson last season, and it’ll show again this season in the form of Dexter Williams
-- Hickey: Chad Klunder
-- Hare: Autry Denson: Notre Dame was in a tough position with Taurean Folston’s injury and Greg Bryant’s suspension. C.J. Prosise emerged as an elite running back and Josh Adams provided quality depth.
-- Freeman: Mike Denbrock
-- Brown: Mike Denbrock

5. I’m confident that Kelly & Co. will “win” the coaching matchup vs. this quality foe in 2016:

-- Prister: Stanford. Cardinal make third road trip in four weeks on the heels of four straight Pac 12 opponents, including USC, UCLA and Washington.
-- Sampson: USC
-- O’Malley: Texas
-- Hickey: USC
-- Hare: Michigan State
-- Freeman: Texas
-- Brown: Texas

6. I’m concerned that Kelly & Co. won’t win their coaching matchup vs. this quality foe in 2016:

-- Prister: Michigan State. Irish have had success against Dantonio, but it feels more like good fortune than out-coaching/out-playing.
-- Sampson: MSU
-- O’Malley: Virginia Tech on Senior Day
-- Hickey: Stanford
-- Hare: Stanford
-- Freeman: Virginia Tech
-- Brown: Michigan State

7. The biggest lingering challenge for Notre Dame in 2016 will be A.) Constructing and executing a playoff caliber red zone offense OR, B.) Keeping opponents out of the end zone after long marches.

-- Prister: B. Minus playmaking ability from ’15 defense, don’t see it happening…unless Shaun Crawford makes all the plays.
-- Sampson: B
-- O’Malley: B. A leopard can’t change its spots…
-- Hickey: B
-- Hare: B. Jaylon Smith’s absence won’t be easily overcome.
-- Freeman: A. This offense will need to put up points and manage the clock to keep the liability of a defense off the field.
-- Brown: B…So Much B.

8. Brian Kelly’s most impressive singular game (coaching performance) at Notre Dame was:

-- Prister: at Oklahoma 2012. Not the greatest of Sooner teams, but an impressive accomplishment at a difficult venue.
-- Sampson: at Oklahoma 2012
-- O’Malley: LSU. Notre Dame was a broken team, mentally and physically, and Kelly’s usage of both quarterbacks was inspired. Which reminds me…
-- Hickey: LSU 2014
-- Hare: LSU 2014
-- Freeman: Has yet to come and that would be to win it all
-- Brown: Probably 2012 at Oklahoma. But honestly, I'd put the 2015 loss at Clemson right up there. Young QB, hostile environment, brutal weather and they still almost pulled it off. 

9. From what I've seen at Notre Dame, I think Kelly needs to improve in this area as a coach if the Irish are to make the playoffs (in any season):

-- Prister: Starting quickly in big games. Coming up with solutions in both red zones. Making the tough decisions on coaching staff.
-- Sampson: In-game management, i.e. two-point conversions, running out the clock, situational stuff.
-- O’Malley: Avoiding slow starts in big games and, in the off-season, the occasional timely firing would have been beneficial
-- Hickey: Firing coaches that need to be fired
-- Hare: Keeping his players healthy
-- Freeman: Math skills, in learning when to go for 2
-- Brown: Getting the most out of his offense in the red zone. 

10. In January 2017, Kelly will hire (BLANK) to join his staff:

-- Prister: A former Notre Dame player to be named later.
-- Sampson: Tommy Rees
-- O’Malley: A QB coach because some program will offer Sanford everything but its kitchen sink to take over the head job
-- Hickey: Todd Orlando
-- Hare: Jake Brown
-- Freeman: Another analyst, perhaps to oversee the training table staff?
-- Brown: Tommy Rees! Just kidding…maybe

11. True or False: Kelly & Co. will, over the next two recruiting cycles and in congress with the incoming 2016 haul, build a defensive talent base commensurate with the offensive side of the ball.

-- Prister: False
-- Sampson: False
-- O’Malley: False
-- Hickey: False
-- Hare: True
-- Freeman: True
-- Brown: Ehh…False

12. After six seasons at the helm in South Bend, I think Brian Kelly's greatest strength as a coach is:

-- Prister: The entire set-up of his organization. It’s a smooth-running operation. 
-- Sampson: CEO. And he’s great in that department, exactly what Notre Dame needs.
-- O’Malley: Overall program construction and maintenance; leadership of the student-athletes.
-- Hickey: Respect of the locker room
-- Hare: Balancing the stresses of recruiting, coaching and acting as the ambassador for the program.
-- Freeman: Program development; building a culture
-- Brown: Being a CEO while still developing players and winning. Notre Dame is a really difficult job. He manages it as well as anyone could. 

Next in the series: A dozen questions regarding the Irish schedule.

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