If we were to speculate as to how the Notre Dame football coaching staff will shake out when all is said and done, here’s our best estimate as of Thursday morning, Jan. 5, assuming the April vote approves the move to 10 assistant coaches.
OC/WR: Chip Long
QB: Tommy Rees
RB: Autry Denson
TE: Jeff Quinn
OL: Harry Hiestand
DC: Mike Elko
DL: Mike Elston
LB: Clark Lea
DB: Todd Lyght
ST: Brian Polian
S&C: To be determined
There remain some moving parts within this scenario. Will Quinn coach tight ends, or will Kelly look for another candidate? Lea, who coached under Elko at Wake Forest, appears to be trending to the Irish. For further thoughts from Tim O’Malley, check out the Four Horsemen Lounge thread below:
The hiring of Chip Long as offensive coordinator signals that Brian Kelly is going all-in with his spread-offense attack. Some film study of Long’s first and only year as a coordinator at Memphis indicates a strong desire to get the football into the hands of his wideouts outside the hash marks. He could add some creativity to Kelly’s attack, which faltered in the fourth quarter in ’16.
We can argue until we’re purple in the face about a lack of physicality, the need for the quarterback to take snaps under center, and the desire to become a team that can grind out the tough yards. Totally agree, but it’s not trending that way. The pass sets up the run in Long’s offense.
So if you’re not going to emphasize running the ball with authority, then mesh Long’s philosophy with Kelly’s, throw the hell out of it, and let Brandon Wimbush use his legs as a weapon in the rushing attack. You still have Josh Adams to build upon two solid seasons at running back, and the desire to spread the field will get him his fair share of rushing yards, as will the heavily-emphasized read-option game.
Former Notre Dame quarterback and former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus’ office is within shouting distance of Brian Kelly’s. Powlus wanted to return to the field as Kelly’s quarterbacks coach after serving as Director of Player Development the last two years.
Instead, when all the official stuff is covered, it’s going to be Tommy Rees, who turns 25 this spring. He’ll be an “analyst” until the NCAA Oversight committee ratifies a 10th coach, which is expected in April, or perhaps carry a different title that allows him on the field in the spring (before the 10th assistant coach is approved).
Powlus is the more qualified (resume-wise) of the two on the college level, but was not considered a good recruiter…or even average. On the surface, Rees’ flat-line personality does not portend well on the recruiting trail. But his knowledge of the position – he was as advanced as any Notre Dame quarterback when it came to understanding how to run an offense – could/should be good for a young quarterback like Brandon Wimbush.
Could Kelly have gone with a more experienced quarterback coach? Should Kelly have gone with a more experienced quarterback coach? Most would say yes. But that more experienced quarterback coach would not have the intimate knowledge of the Notre Dame quarterback position the way Rees does.
It’s a gamble, to be sure, but one that Kelly prefers as he embarks on turning around the Irish and preserving his spot at Notre Dame.
When Autry Denson and Todd Lyght were brought onto the coaching staff following the 2014 season, it generally was heralded as a solid move to get Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher and one of the great cornerbacks of the Lou Holtz era back in the family of football with the Irish. The “drawback” was that neither had much coaching experience.
Denson’s running backs have produced in his two seasons, and under Lyght, the young secondary (particularly the cornerbacks) really evolved over the course of the 2016 season . Both are formidable recruiters. The hiring of Brian Polian to coordinate special teams is not a “Notre Dame hire” per se, although his five-year stint under Charlie Weis gives it a Notre Dame feel.
How much is too much? Rees’ age and inexperience is a sticking point for many. His work at Northwestern and the San Diego Chargers this past season has taken his knowledge up another couple rungs.
Bottom line: Hire as many Notre Dame alums as you’d like as long as they’re productive. The first two have been.
It was no surprise to hear that offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey – despite a first-round grade from the NFL – has solidified his decision to return to Notre Dame in 2017 for his fifth year.
The decision took an incredible amount of maturity on McGlinchey’s part. Long-time Chicago Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel told Irish Illustrated that it’s a weak year for offensive tackles in the draft. McGlinchey could have struck while the iron was hot and likely landed in the first round, despite some up and down moments in 2016.
But McGlinchey had two things in mind: Get Notre Dame back to where it needs to be as a two-time captain of the Irish and get better individually. Many players in his position would have jumped into the draft because of the dearth of top offensive tackle prospects. McGlinchey is mature and realistic about the improvements he needs to make in his game.
Give the young man (and his family) a ton of credit for being loyal to his alma mater, taking a reasoned approach to his game, and trying to kill two birds with one stone with a fifth year.
IN THE FILM ROOM
I’ve begun the process of once again working my way through the Irish recruits’ film as signing day approaches. With each upcoming Thursday Thoughts until signing day (Feb. 1), I’ll give a brief updated film evaluation, starting with these four:
• LB-Drew White: Undersized but a weapon as a slicing linebacker who finds well-time creases to get to the quarterback. Exceptional timing as a run blitzter. A light-on-his-feet, quick-to-the-hole, change-of-direction player with the range to cover the width of the field. Way more physical than his size would indicate. Explodes into lower body of ball carriers. Question: At his size, can he get off blocks on the next level?
• DT-Kurt Hinish: Nice forward lean in his three-point stance with quality pad level, get-off and a swim move. A point-of-attack changer by using a powerful, two-handed surge with leg drive. Gets underneath blockers. Has some range for tackle to work his way down the line to make tackles. Question: Will he have the maneuverability to get off blocks and make plays when opponents can match his strength?
• OT-Josh Lugg: A physically menacing presence on the football field. Adhesive-like run-blocking skills with a high degree of physicality every snap. Quality pad level for a player of his height. Stays balanced even when he’s driving a defender off the ball and in space as a run-blocker. Maintains power source, which means he has weight/pads underneath him. Quick recovery to pass-rush moves, re-gathering and exploding back into defender. Question: How soon will he be ready on the next level? (Answer: It looks to be soon.)
• QB-Avery Davis: Ala Everett Golson, does a great job of keeping eyes downfield when pass protection breaks down and finds receivers. High-level escapability. A dart-throwing, quick-release quarterback who has a tendency to sling it. Tremendous burst with long-striding speed in open field. Well-schooled in read-option. Question: How much will his size limit him as a pocket passer?
NOTRE DAME HOOPS
• After the tenacity, versatility, depth and confidence the Irish have shown in moving to 2-0 in ACC play – only Notre Dame and Florida State are undefeated in conference play with two teams playing three games and 13 playing two – they once again have the makings of an Elite Eight team.
• Some may call this hyperbole, but I’ve been attending Notre Dame basketball games since Austin Carr – Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer – was a sophomore with the Irish (1968). I’ve seen a ton of Irish basketball during that time and a lot of great players. But here goes: Matt Farrell is on a fast-track to becoming one of Notre Dame’s all-time great point guards.
We’ll see how he holds up physically over the course of a long, long season. But he certainly passed the test against the Louisville backcourt/pressure and the Cardinals’ overall length. He passed the test as well against Villanova with challenging upcoming matchups against Florida State, Syracuse, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke.
He’s done it at home and on the road. His confidence-level is on a plain that the normal athlete will never attain. He has the skills to achieve at an extremely high level while always – always – making the four players on the court with him better. This kid is one of a kind.
• Notre Dame’s 77 points against Louisville were the most scored this season by a Cardinal opponent. Among the more notable opponents: Wichita State, Baylor, Purdue, Kentucky, Virginia and Indiana.
• Bonzie Colson is averaging 19.5 points and 14.0 rebounds in his first two ACC games.
• Last week, Rick Pitino called Virginia his team’s “kryptonite.” So are Notre Dame and Brey, who have won six in a row over the Cardinals at Purcell Pavilion.