Scouting Defensive Coordinators (Summary)

Decided to sum up the previous UHND posts on my scouting of college defensive coordinators and NFL defensive assistants and post the results here. I’m convinced that we’re going to make changes in the Irish defensive coaching staff this coming offseason but I’m sure if they’ll be a complete makeover (three to four new assistants including a new defensive coordinator) or just a fine tuning (adding a “co-defensive coordinator” or a new position coach).

The following list involves either current college defensive assistants who have some kind of connection to Notre Dame (former player or coach, or graduate), Charlie Weis (through South Carolina, the New York Giants, the New England Patriots, or the New York Jets), or another current or previous Notre Dame coach; or, the coach is a defensive position coach in the NFL with extensive college defensive coordinator experience. For some reason I believe that such credentials will be what Weis is looking for if he decides to make a change:

1. Duane Akina (Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs coach, Texas Longhorns): coached offense and defense with Rob Ianello at Arizona

2. Chris Ball (secondary coach, Alabama Crimson Tide): defensive backs and special teams coach under Gerry Faust at Akron

3. Greg Blache (defensive line coach, Washington Redskins): Notre Dame graduate; Notre Dame assistant coach/defensive line (1973-1975; 1981-1983)

4. Kevin Coyle (secondary coach, Cincinnati Bengals): college defensive coordinator, 1986-2000 (Holy Cross, Syracuse, Maryland, Fresno State)

5. Joe Cullen (defensive line, Detroit Lions): college defensive coordinator, 1997-98, 2000, 2002-04 (Richmond, Indiana)

6. Kirk Doll (linebackers coach, Denver Broncos): Notre Dame linebackers coach (1994-2001)

7. Mark Duffner (linebackers coach, Jacksonville Jaguars): college defensive coordinator, 1977-85 (Cincinnati, Holy Cross)

8. Ken Flajole (linebackers coach, Carolina Panthers): college defensive coordinator, 1980-85, 1994, 1996-97 (Montana, Richmond, Nevada)

9. David Gibbs (defensive backs, Kansas City Chiefs): college defensive coordinator, 1997-2000, 2005 (Minnesota, Auburn)

10. Jay Hayes (defensive line coach, Cincinnati Bengals): Notre Dame defensive line coach (1989), outside linebackers coach (1990-91)

11. Tom Hayes (defensive backs coach, New Orleans Saints): college defensive coordinator, 1979, 1982-88, 1991-94, 2001, 2005 (Cal-State Fullerton, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kansas, Stanford)

12. Chuck Heater (Recruiting Coordinator/Cornerbacks, Florida Gators): Notre Dame Secondary Coach from 1988-1990

13. Jim Herrmann (linebackers coach, New York Jets): college defensive coordinator, 1997-2005 (Michigan)

14. Pepper Johnson (defensive line coach, New England Patriots): New York Giants linebacker (1985-1992), New York Jets linebacker (1998-1999), New England Patriots assistant coach (2001-present)

15. Denny Marcin (defensive line coach, New York Jets): college defensive coordinator, 1974-87, 1992-96 (Miami of Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois)

16. Don Martindale (linebackers coach, Oakland Raiders): college defensive coordinator, 1987, 1999, 2003 (Defiance, Western Illinois, Western Kentucky)
– Notre Dame defensive assistant (1994-95)
– Rick Minter’s DE/LB coach at Cincinnati (1996-98)

17. Greg Mattison (Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line, Florida Gators): Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach (1997-2004)

18. Joe Palermo (Defensive Line coach, Miami Hurricanes): Notre Dame Defensive Line Coach, 1988-89, defensive line coach under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin

19. Fred Pagac (linebackers coach, Minnesota Vikings): college defensive coordinator, 1996-1999 (Ohio State)

20. Willy Robinson (secondary coach, St. Louis Rams): college defensive coordinator, 1988-93, 1999 (Fresno State, Oregon State)

21. Schottenheimer, Kurt (secondary coach, Green Bay Packers): Notre Dame outside linebackers coach (1986)

22. Randy Shannon (Defensive Coordinator, Miami Hurricanes): linebackers coach, Miami Dolphins, alongside then Dolphins DB coach Bill Lewis

23. Phil Snow (linebackers coach, Detroit Lions): college defensive coordinator, 1980-81, 1983-86, 1995-2004 (Laney College, Boise State, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington)

24. Richard Solomon (defensive backs, Arizona Cardinals): college defensive coordinator, 1973, 1980-86 (Dubuque, Illinois); New York Giants assistant coach (1987-1991)

25. Charlie Strong (Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers, Florida Gators): Notre Dame Defensive Line Coach (1995-1998)

26. Mel Tucker (defensive backs coach, Cleveland Browns): college co-defensive coordinator, 2001-04 (Ohio State)

27. Bob Trott (defensive assistant, Cleveland Browns): college defensive coordinator, 1989-90, 1996-2004 (Arkansas, Clemson, Duke, Baylor, Louisiana-Monroe); New England Patriots assistant coach (1993-1995)

28. Washburn, Jim (defensive line coach, Tennessee Titans): South Carolina assistant coach (1983-1988)

29. Keith Willis (defensive line coach, Boston College Eagles): defensive line coach under Rick Minter at Cincinnati

There are also many other assistants/position coaches who might be interested and available to make the jump to Notre Dame, from college programs that have fielded top defenses for at least two of the past three seasons (Alabama, Auburn, Boston College, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Miami, Missouri, N.C. State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Southern Cal, Texas, Virginia Tech & Wisconsin) but I’ll leave them out for now.

Charlie could promote a current college or NFL position coach to be the (co-)defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Or, bring a current college position coach into a bigger program (and probably more money) to coach the same position for the Irish. I’m not sure exactly what changes need to be made, but looking over the recruiting rankings for our starting front seven and their backups, I feel like we’re going to see some new faces coaching the defensive line and linebackers next year at the very least. These guys are just too good on paper to not be a Top 25 ranked defense:

DE Chris Frome: #10 DE (Rivals/****); #45 DE (Scout/***)
DT Derek Landri: #2 DT (Scout/*****); #3 OL (Rivals/****)
DT Trevor Laws: #12 DT (Scout/****); #16 DT (Rivals/****)
DE Victor Abiamiri: #3 DE (Rivals/*****); #9 DE (Scout/****)

LB Mitchell Thomas: #25 LB (Rivals/***); #34 LB (Scout/***)
LB Maurice Crum: #17 LB (Rivals/***); #59 LB (Scout/***)
LB Travis Thomas: #16 RB (Scout/****); #31 RB (Rivals/***)

Experienced (non-freshman) reserves (front seven):

LB Anthony Vernaglia: #5 ATH (Rivals/****); #18 LB (Scout/****)
DT Travis Leitko: #10 DE (Rivals/****); #12 DE (Scout/****)
LB Scott Smith: #17 LB (Rivals/***); #80 LB (Scout/***)
LB Joe Brockington: #22 LB (Rivals/***); #38 LB (Scout/***)
LB Kevin Washington: #37 LB (Rivals/***); #52 S (Scout/***)
DE Dwight Stevenson: #38 LB (Rivals/***); #59 DE (Scout/***)
DT Derrell Hand: #39 DT (Rivals/***); #49 DT (Scout/***)
DT Patrick Kuntz: #49 DT (Rivals/***); #63 DT (Scout/***)
LB Nick Borseti: #58 LB (Rivals/***); #97 LB (Scout/**)
LB Steven Quinn: NR LB (Scout/***); NR LB (Rivals/**)
DE Justin Brown: NR DE( Scout/**); NR DE (Rivals/**)

There is no doubt in my mind that with the right coaching staff, a defense this talented (however thin on the depth chart) would be making the same type of tremendous strides that Weis made with the offense from 2004 to 2005.  But I think about this stuff way too much.

Defense Wins Championships

Go Irish Go

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  1. The players that Minter has to work with are not that good. They would be ideal if ND played in the Big East. Going against Michigan and Ohio State these players are just not going to get it done. Look at the recruiting classes that these Universities have had on the O-line, Dline and Linebacker. They are not starting any 3 star players. All 4 star and above. ND has 2 Very Good defensive players in Abiamiri and Zibby. Other than that it is a collection of average players. That just will not cut it agains the top teams. The O-line has the same problem. It will take a few years to get the talent to the level it needs to be. Looking at last years class and the class to date this year Weiss is well on his way.

  2. Some timeframe corrections and additional information of interest about Coach Greg Blache of the Washington Redkins. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in secondary education, both from Notre Dame. Blache started his collegiate career as a defensive back for Notre Dame, but a leg injury ended his playing career prematurely.

    He began his coaching career as a defensive assistant at his alma mater Notre Dame in 1968. Following his graduation in 1971, he stayed on as a graduate assistant and then as an assistant coach for the Fighting Irish for four more seasons (1972-75). I believe ’73 was a National Championship season for them.

    He moved on to join Tulane’s staff in 1976, where he coached the offensive line (1976-77), outside linebackers (1978-79) and defensive backs (1980). He then returned to Notre Dame to coach the running backs (1981), defensive line and outside linebackers (1982-83). After spending 1984-85 as defensive coordinator of the USFL’s Jacksonville Bulls, he returned to the college ranks at Southern University (1986) and Kansas (1987).

    He served as defensive line coach with the Green Bay Packers for six years (1988-93), and with the Indianapolis Colts for five seasons (1994-98). He then joined the Chicago Bears in 1999 as Defensive Coordinator, where he was responsible for shifting Brian Urlacher from OLB to MLB.

    In 2001, Blache molded the Bears defense into one of the top units in the league, producing the top-ranked scoring defense by allowing only 203 points in 16 games (12.7 points per game). His run defense finished second in the NFL and first in the NFC, allowing just 82.1 yards per game, while allowing only three rushes of 20 yards or more all seasons and only six rushing touchdowns. That year the Bears went 13-3.

    In 2002, Blache dealt with numerous injuries, leading to 11 different starting line-ups over the course of 16 games. While juggling personnel, the Bears defense continued with their attacking, aggressive style that set records during the 2001 season. They forced 64 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and reached a league plateau by forcing at least one turnover in 33 consecutive games, the second longest active streak in the NFL at the time.

    In 2003, Blache’s Chicago defense finished the season fifth in the NFC in total defense, and 14th in the NFL, the team’s highest league overall-ranking since the 1998 season. During his tenure, Blache’s defenses forced 138 turnovers, including 37 in 2001, the most by a Bears defense since 1990, and accounted for 13 touchdowns (two in 1999, four in 2000, five in 2001, one in 2002, and one in 2003).

    He’s now the Def-Coord/D-Line coach of the Washington Redskins.

  3. I can’t see Weis axing Minter. Maybe adding a co-coordinator but I won’t truly evaluate both sides of the ball until Weis makes the transition from Davie/Willingham players to his own guys. It’s easy to blame the coach, but we fans need to realize that this defense is just not a good unit. Some of the worst offenses in the nation can score at will vs. these guys & it’s not due to schemes.

    Why else would the coaches be inserting true freshmen to play so early? Abiamiri is the only NFL prospect among the front 7 & he gets double teamed practically every play, so a casual fan would assume he was an overrated prospect coming out of high school. Landri & Laws have seemed to regress vs. last year.

    The linebacker corps is atrocious. They make the front 4 look bad b/c they’re not big/physical enough to clean up the plays that the front 4 hand them. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wonder if the staff considered bulking Zibby & Ndukwe up a bit and moving them to linebacker. Experienced safeties w/ their talent shouldn’t be falling for gadget plays and play action but they continue to bite on the run & get burned deep. Great run stoppers & hitters, but questionable ball hawkers. I can’t help but compare Zibby to Brian Urlacher (whom I believe was a safety in college?).

    I know Mel Kiper, Jr. projected Zibby as getting drafted in the 1st or 2nd round, but I sincerely hope he considers applying for his 5th yr. Ironically, the only players returning from last year’s defense to show marked improvement have been the much-maligned corners, Richardson & Wooden. Of course, they probably had a lot more room for improvement.

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