Less than 18 hours after head coach Brian Kelly offered his final faux vote of confidence for Brian VanGorder, Notre Dame fired the defensive coordinator four games into his third season at the helm.
Kelly had repeatedly rebuffed media questions suggesting that VanGorder’s defense was at the root of the team’s recent failures including a current string of five straight defeats vs. Power Five Conference Foes.
“Well, I mean, when you guys ask me those questions, certainly that's not the time or the place to get into debates about your coaching staff,” said Kelly of his continuous post-game and in-week support for VanGorder. “I make those decisions. Clearly when I have the opportunity to evaluate it and had time last night to evaluate our current situation, and you know, made what I felt to be the best decision for the program.”
Notre Dame won 19 of 30 games in which VanGorder coordinated its defense. In 19 of those 30 games, Irish foes scored at least 24 points. Among the 11 losses were nine in which Notre Dame produced at least 27 points in defeat.
“I will tell you this: Brian is as fine a defensive coach as there is out there,” said Kelly. “He knows the game. He loves Notre Dame. He wanted to succeed as much as anybody here, but it wasn't working.
“Making the change in my estimation was the best way to get everybody back to the point where we can look forward to putting this defense back in a position to succeed, and like I said, it's really not the time nor the place to get into all of the specifics.”
Kelly added that he did not consider making such a change following the 2015 season, one in which the Irish defense surrendered 38 and 41 points, respectively in the final two contests.
"There was no consideration. We won ten games and we were close to being in the playoffs,” he said. “We were a play away, maybe two plays away from being in the playoffs last year. There was no thought of this occurring. This was not part of where I thought we'd be. So I'm reacting to a place where I did not expect us to be."
Former Purdue defensive coordinator and ex-Florida State assistant head coach/ linebackers coach Greg Hudson will coordinate Notre Dame’s defense on an interim basis. Hudson is a 1990 Notre Dame graduate and former Irish player under Lou Holtz. He worked as a graduate assistant for Holtz during Notre Dame’s 11-1 season of 1993.
Hudson was brought in this summer as an off-field analyst for the Irish defense.
“I've always felt like any time that you can bring on experienced coaches to your staff, I'm going to look to do that,” said Kelly. “Obviously Greg was available to work here in that capacity, and we jumped at it. Loves Notre Dame, knows Notre Dame. He's got great spirit on the defensive side of the ball and bringing him here, we're looking for some more experience and brain power and we got that.
“And now as the defensive coordinator, he'll assume the responsibilities of the coordinator to get some energy into the group, some passion, and get that unit playing the kind of football that I know they are capable of.”
Asked why Hudson was inked ahead of current defensive coaches, Kelly added, “I thought Greg was the perfect fit to bring that energy level up to where I want to see it. Guys played hard but we lacked the energy, enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you have to have when you’re playing on defense.”
Kelly added that he told Hudson the job is interim and that the entire staff will coach the remainder of 2016 on a “very public interview.”
"I’m under review as well," Kelly said.
Kelly offered that he spoke to VanGorder’s son, Montgomery, a scholarship player for the Irish as a backup quarterback since the outset of 2014 and the team’s starting holder for field goals and extra points this fall.
“We deal with it professionally,” he said of the new dynamic that exists between coach and player. “We deal with it like any family would. I talked to Montgomery and we did that right away. Again, anytime there are difficult times, you deal with them man-to-man, and you do it up front within the family and you move on.”