Requirements for Notre Dame’s Next Defensive Coordinator

Brian Kelly - Notre Dame HC
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

Brian Kelly will be forced to make the most important hire of his Notre Dame tenure in the near future as he looks to find a permanent replacement to former defensive coordinator Brian Vangorder.  Interim DC Greg Hudson will have an eight game audition to win over Kelly, but should Hudson fail to do so, the Irish will be in the market for a defensive coordinator this off-season.

Should Notre Dame be in that market, here’s a run down of the requirements Kelly and Notre Dame should use while searching for a coach who will be tasked with rebuilding a defense that is currently one of the worst in the nation statistically speaking.

The Must Haves

  • Defensive Coordinator Experience – Sounds like a given right?  What I’m referring to though is avoiding hiring an up and coming, hot shot position coach who has never been tasked with running a defense and developing weekly defensive game plans.  Notre Dame needs to knock this one out of the park and can’t take a flier on someone who has never run a defense.  This would disqualify Mike Elston, Keith Gilmore, and Todd Lyght from the current staff.
  • Big Program Experience – Point two here is not mutually exclusive of point one.  The next DC doesn’t need to have been a DC at a big program, but at least one stop working at a big time program should be a requirement.
  • NFL Assistant Need Not Apply – Notre Dame needs to stick in the college ranks for this one.  Kelly dipped into the NFL with the Vangorder hire and it backfired.  Charlie Weis pulled Corwin Brown from the NFL and that one didn’t work out either.
  • Relentless Recruiting Acumen – Not to pile onto Brian Vangorder this weekend, but Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s was as visible in Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts as BVG.  He was listed as the primary recruiter for two recruits in the last three cycles.  Notre Dame needs an energetic DC who will hit the recruiting trail with intensity and attract the elite of the elite that have evaded Notre Dame.  Notre Dame has a lot of really good talent on the defensive side of the ball but they do still lack truly elite defenders.  Notre Dame needs a defensive coordinator that recruits are drawn to and want to play for.  When was the last time a defensive recruit raved about BVG?
  • A DC Who Can Make More With Less – Notre Dame needs to find a DC who has experience of making more happen with less talent.  While Notre Dame can – and should – attract elite defensive talent with the right coach, Notre Dame is never going to recruit at the level of Alabama.  Stanford hasn’t either but that hasn’t stopped David Shaw from winning 10+ games on a yearly basis.  Notre Dame needs to identify a DC who has either had success at a school with similar recruiting/academic challenges or from a school where he has to identify some diamonds in the rough.  And no, I am not referring to a coach who will give the Irish a decided schematic advantage.


  • A 4-3 Defensive Philosophy – There might be a temptation to go back to a 3-4 like the one deployed by Bob Diaco during his successful run as Notre Dame’s defensive coordiantor, but after spending the last three recruiting cycles stocking the roster with talent for a 4-3 defense, Notre Dame has to stick with it.  Switching back would only set back the defense even more no matter they land save for maybe Bill Belichick.
  • Outside the Brian Kelly Coaching Tree – One of the most successful hires of Brian Kelly’s time at Notre Dame was the addition of Mike Sanford last year.  Kelly had no ties to Sanford but Sanford was the hot shot offensive coordinator and Kelly went out and got him.  Kelly needs to do the same on the defensive side of the ball this time around.  Kelly went with a known commodity with BVG.  This time around he needs to go outside his comfort zone.  Disclaimer: the one Brian Kelly branch that I would be totally fine with would be Chuck Martin should things continue to go south for him at Miami of Ohio.  Martin is currently 0-4 and hasn’t really set the world on fire running that program.
  • The Ying to Mike Sanford’s Yang – Speaking of Mike Sanford, Notre Dame needs to hire a young an innovative defensive coordinator if they want to play the kind of defense they need to play to make a serious run at the playoffs in the near future.  If Notre Dame hires a retread defensive coordinator this time around, the results likely will not be pretty.  The college game is ever changing and Notre Dame struggled against new age, uptempo offenses with a retread like Vangorder.  Notre Dame needs a young coach with some fresh ideas to breath some life into the Notre Dame defense.

After running through this list, Notre Dame’s current interim DC does check a lot of these boxes.  At the same time, Hudson lasted just three seasons at Purdue and his defenses got progressively worse over time.  He’ll have eight games to make his case to remove that interim tag and will have a lot more talent to work with at Notre Dame.  Hmmm, guess that wouldn’t check off the “make more with less” box.

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  1. Charlie Strong will be available soon, and he covers all the requirements quite well. Wouldn’t hurt for BK to make a courtesy call. Would be interesting to see what he would do in the recruitment area.

  2. Madison at Michigan…former Irish he knows the expectations. ..proven track record at both levels…currently an assistant so he should be open to the position

  3. Nice article, Frank. I’d say the next DC does need a proven track record of college success. Will need the ability to recruit bigger, faster and stronger players at all defensive positions. We really need someone that will coach up the players on tackling and pass defending better. We don’t need another completed scheme on defense. Keep it simple. The current, interim DC seems to be slowly making improvements in a short period of time – that is a good sign. I still don’t think Kelly “gets it” when preparing the Irish in practice. I’m a little surprised that the running game still seems to struggle at times. Although I like what I see from Dexter Williams and Josh Adams (needs to be more consistent). The O line needs to play with more attitude. Still way too many penalties. I do like that the Irish are playing more personnel. Liked #22 at Linebacker. Will be nice to see Alize Jones at TE next season. The Irish really do have some great, young talent. The coaching/preparation needs to step it up.

    The Irish just need to keep improving, because what we saw today still wont cut it against Stanford and USC.

  4. Definitely agree, stay the hell away from the NFL ranks for a DC. Karmel’s idea of Todd Orlando is intriguing alright. This will require the right hire. I would also love to see Coach Sanford be allowed to truly coordinate the offense and see Kelly oversee more over the whole team instead of overly focusing on the offense.

    Go Irishhhhhhhh

  5. In his first year as defensive coordinator at Connecticut in 2006, the Huskies led the Big East Conference in total defense (297.1 ypg), its fewest since 1979. In 2007, Connecticut won the Big East Championship behind the nation’s 10th-ranked passing efficiency defense and the 14th best scoring defense (19.0 ppg).

    During his first year at Florida International in 2011, the Panthers’ defense ranked 13th nationally in pass efficiency defense (111.98), 14th in scoring defense (19.46 ppg), tied for 15th in sacks (2.69 pg), 22nd in rushing defense (118.08 ypg) and 30th in total defense (344.69 ypg). In 2012, FIU ranked 36th nationally in rushing defense (140.83 ypg)

    In Orlando’s two seasons at Utah State, the Aggies defense ranked among the nation’s best in scoring defense (12th nationally in 2014 at 19.7 points per game, seventh nationally in 2013 at 17.1 points per game) and turnovers forced with 59 over two seasons, the nation’s eighth-best two-year total, ranking 10th nationally in 2014 with 30 turnovers.

    In Orlando’s first season at Houston, his opportunistic and attacking defense forced 12 teams below their scoring average with the two teams eclipsing their average, doing so by less than one point. The defense led the nation with 35 takeaways while ranking eighth nationally in rushing defense (108.9 yards per game) and 20th nationally in scoring defense (20.7 points per game).

    Uhhh…I’d say Todd Orlando needs to get a call. Instant and sustained success everywhere and done amazing work with less. Imagine if he had a Top 10 recruiting class like ND gets on a regular but actually DID something with it.

  6. For the love of Buddha, the opposite of yang is yin, NOT Ying.

    Ying,according to their website, is a “fiercely imaginative” classical quartet. Unfortunately this year a string quartet may be as close as we’ll get to fierce on defense.

  7. Peter Kwiatkowski, University of Washington is the best college Defensive Coordinator in college football. NFL defenses are thick with his players and he is a top recruiter. He is staying put so cross him off your list. Watch what his defense does to Stanford this weekend.

  8. Excellent analysis, Frank. Neither ND nor BK can afford to gamble on a new DC who never has been a college DC. And how difficult could it be to bring in a young DC who can further showcase his acumen under the spotlight that ND offers, even if he intends to use it as a stepping stone to his next job as a head coach? And how difficult would it be for the next DC to show meaningful improvement from the BVG years? As for me, I’m hoping Hudson works out, noting his love for and understanding of ND and prior experience at not only E.Carolina and Purdue, but also as assistant head coach at Florida State.

    That’s why BK has at least another year beyond this season, regardless of what happens vs. Syracuse or how this year ends up. And in an unasked for and off-topic prediction, if ND doesn’t win at least 9 or 10 next season, the heat will beat down our rotund beet red-faced head coach who will choose on his own to opt out regardless of how many years remain on his contract.

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