Notre Dame, Brian Kelly Need to Target Charlie Strong

Photo: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we know definitively that Brian Kelly will be back to coach Notre Dame in 2017, the most pressing issue facing the Notre Dame program is finding a new defensive coordinator.  If Kelly is to succeed in rebounding from this disastrous 2016 season, this hire has to be a grand slam.  For that reason, Kelly’s attention should be on luring Charlie Strong back to Notre Dame.

Charlie Strong may not be interested in being a defensive coordinator again after his failed stint as a head coach at Texas, but should he be open to the idea, Notre Dame should do everything it can to get him on board.

The Case For Pursuing Charlie Strong

Notre Dame needs a strong defensive coordinator who rebuild a unit that’s been bruised and battered ever since Bob Diaco took his perfectly parted hair to Storrs to coach the Huskies.  The Brian Vangorder experiment was a disaster of nearly epic proportions with Notre Dame failing to play competitive defense for long stretches despite a wealth of NFL talent at times.  The fact that Jaylon Smith – one of the program’s greatest linebackers of all-time – excelled in spite of the scheme instead of because it is proof alone Vangorder’s defense would never work at Notre Dame.

When Kelly made the decision to hire Vangorder he stayed in his comfort zone and brought in a coach he knew and was comfortable with.  He played it safe and the result was a disaster.  This time around Kelly needs to go outside his comfort zone.  If he goes back to the well of coaches he knows or simply elevates a current assistant – none of whom have proven to be ready for the challenge nor have had much, if any, outside interest – Notre Dame will be looking for more than a new defensive coordinator sooner rather than later.

Strong would be outside Kelly’s comfort zone though the two do know each other from squaring off against each other the last two seasons.  Strong would be an outside voice and a voice from someone who has run a program and worked with elite level college defenses before.  His coaching credentials speak for themselves.

Prior to his successful run as a head coach at Louisville, Strong served as the defensive coordinator for Lou Holtz at South Carolina from 1999-2002.  Before moving on to Florida under Ron Zook and eventually Urban Meyer.  Strong spent seven seasons at Florida winning two national titles as part of Meyer’s staff.

Outside of Strong’s resume and credentials, he just spent the last three years building connections and ties with high school coaches in talent rich Texas.  Notre Dame has struggled to recruit the Lone Star State after a brief stint of success a few years back.  Todd Lyght’s addition in early 2015 has helped some, but Strong would be able to reopen some doors in Texas for Notre Dame on the recruiting trail.

The Case Against Pursuing Charlie Strong

Let’s assume that Brian Kelly and Notre Dame want Strong and the feeling is mutual.  However successful, or unsuccessful Strong ultimately ends up being, his potential Notre Dame tenure would be brief.  If Strong flames out and is unable to rebuild the Irish defense, there’s a good chance the entire staff will be looking for jobs since Kelly has to nail this hire to rebound his own Notre Dame career.  If Strong works some of his old magic and the Irish have a resurgent defense, he will get another head coaching opportunity somewhere in fairly short order.

Strong would be a bandaid in many ways for Notre Dame.  Is that necessarily a band thing though?  Notre Dame has to start playing better defense and if Strong comes in, rebuilds the defense, and leaves after two highly successful years, it shouldn’t be difficult at all for Kelly to find a replacement.

Some will also argue that Strong lost his magic at Texas and might be burnt out and unable to step right into a new job.  And  it is a valid concern, but at the same time, perhaps a return to just coaching defense is just what the man needs to get his mojo back.

There is also the argument that Notre Dame should look to identify a young up and coming defensive mind like a Dave Aranda at LSU. A coach that is still on the rise and not yet ready for a head coaching job but still has a bright future.  A defensive version of current offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.  Does Kelly have time to make such a hire though?

Oh an  spoiler alert: there ain’t no way in hell Notre Dame can lure Aranda from LSU after the contract he got.

Would Charlie Strong Want the Job?

There’s a good chance that Charlie Strong can be a head coach next year at a FBS program if he wants to be one.  For instance, Purdue could do a hell of a lot worse than Charlie Strong as their next head coach.  That said, there aren’t a lot of great openings this year so the bigger question might be, does Strong even want to coach in 2017?

Rumors are his buyout with Texas will net him in the range of $10 million.  That’s a lot of money to make to not work next fall.  After his quick burn out in Austin, Strong might simply prefer to take a year off, relax and recharge, and come back next fall when there are some more marquee openings.

At the same time, the fire to coach burns in these guys and Strong is still a relatively young coach.

The Notre Dame defensive coordinator position could be very appealing to Charlie Strong if he is open to a coordinator gig.  Being the defensive coordinator at a program like Notre Dame is in a lot of ways a more high profile position than being the head coach at a smaller program.  Being able to refocus solely on the defensive side the ball and not have to worry about all of the outside factors that fall on the head coaches’ responsibilities could entice him as well.

One aspect of the job that would be a deterrent to an up and coming head coach could be a moot point for Strong as well.  A young coach could be scared away by the scrutiny that Brian Kelly is under following this year’s 4-8 campaign.  Many coaches may not want to jump into what very well could be a short term situation.  In Strong’s case, however, he almost certainly would be looking at any coordinator position as temporary anyway.

Strong also coached at Notre Dame for four years under both Lou Holtz and Bob Davie.   From 1995-1998, Charlie Strong coached the Notre Dame defensive line under Lou Holtz and then Bob Davie.  He saw what both a successful and unsuccessful head coach at Notre Dame looks like.  Perhaps helping rebuild the Irish defense would appeal to him.

Would Brian Kelly Ever Consider It?

The biggest question in all of this might be, would Brian Kelly even consider bringing in a coach like Charlie Strong at all since he’s outside his close circle.  Two years go Kelly went outside that circle with Mike Sanford and to a lesser degree Autry Denson and Todd Lyght.  The latter two coaches’ Notre Dame ties made those hires different than that of Sanford who Kelly had no connection to.

That said, Kelly tabbed Vangorder as his defensive coordinator last time around even though he hadn’t been coaching on the college level for a few years and didn’t appear to have much interest from other programs.  Kelly also was steadfast in his support of Vangorder even as the Irish defense continued to be a sieve week in and week out.

Kelly has said that he will look inside and outside of the program, but could his need to win now force him into going with someone like Mike Elston and only making subtle tweaks instead of wholesale changes?

Notre Dame could do far, far worse at defensive coordinator than Charlie Strong and at a bare minimum Kelly needs to make that call – if he hasn’t already.  If Strong is interested, the only remaining question should be, how much will it take to get it done.

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  1. We are not going to a bowl this year. Think about how excited you were before season. We lost 8 games, folks. With this talent and high expectation. Let that sink in!

  2. Strong is certainly an interesting idea. He has coached at big time programs and should certainly be able to handle the scrutiny at ND. The questions are would Kelly want an experienced head coach looking over his shoulder especially after the 4-8 disaster of this past season and is Strong willing to take a defensive coordinator’s job? I guess for the right money he might but I’m not sure Kelly would be overjoyed about the prospect. Of course if Strong succeeds everyone will be happy! Whatever happens ND needs a major change (s). In the end if things continue to be worse then mediocre, Kelly will not have much say in what happens. Good Luck Irish!

  3. I would be happy if he just hired a special teams coach with experience and average success.. i aint blaming whoever the hell been doing that gig..cause i can tell they dont spend any time in practice on it..shabby for 7 years at best..if that unit was good, it would be able to win some of these close games during the transition years of braking new young teams in..and maybe a tuff running game would help also..?

  4. ND needs to hire charlie Strong as a HC. Texas was not the right fit for him. He had to much working against him. At ND, he could be himself without the negative pressure, recruit top tier talent, and get ND back to national championship status…..Charlie Strong recruits the state of Florida very well! Now he has recruiting ties in TX. A college football team with FLA/TX players on your roster equals immense success!!!

    1. I’m not sure Strong would make a good HC at this point. Yes, there was a lot going on at Texas and Mack Brown had left a mess. But Strong’s record at Texas was not impressive.

      I do think he could be an excellent DC and he is a good recruiter, and he has ties to ND. So I think as a DC there is a lot of potential.

      I just doubt it will happen for all the reasons Frank pointed out, along with BK being almost a dead man walking as a HC at ND. Also there is some school that will take a chance on Strong as HC. And ND is not known for paying it’s assistant coaches all that well so he probably would make more as a HC at a mid level program.

      1. If BK goes 4-8 again he will be gone next year. The powers that be will not tolerate losing seasons. We can argue whether how much they want ND to be a football powerhouse, but losing seasons will not be tolerated.

        And Swarbick did leave BK hanging in the wind for a week before acknowledging he will be back next year. That doesn’t sound like someone that’s all in. More like we’re keeping BK another year because they don’t have much choice (maybe due to economics, also the lack of available coaches right now, or both). Another thing we could argue, but I think BK is the default choice right now until something better becomes available.

  5. I have been a lifelong ND fan going back to The days of Ara. No more. It is painfully obvious that everything ND claims to stand for is dead and gone. The only difference between them and any other football factory is success. In keeping Kelly, after all the arrests. academic suspensions, the death of Declan and Lizzy, and the cheating scandel it is obvious that everything ND CLAIMS to stand for is complete and total bullshit. To have any respect for this university is impossible any longer. They are hypocrites. I wish for them exactly what they deserve. You reap what you sow. GO NAVY.

  6. Dreaming of better days and grasping at straws without addressing the problem. These teams are consistently unprepared and lack discipline. The turmoil off the field is an embarrassment and getting worse every year.

    Heck yeah, hiring Charlie Strong is the solution…he didn’t have any of these problems in Texas.

    This is beyond ridiculous, fire Kelly already and let’s move on.

    1. Out of 119 coaches 74 make more than Kelly

      Out of the 33. 13 were fired out of the pool of 20 4 just took new jobs.

      With the dozen and a half left who’s better than Kelly..

      No one

      Learn the facts b4 complaining

      1. BK is paid more from the endorsement deals then directly from Notre Dame. I guarantee you that the list you are looking at does not reflect the actual salary of BK. Since Notre Dame is a private school, they do not have to release this information. The link below is not necessarily accurate as well.

  7. Notre Dame academics are too challenging to land Bama type athletes year in and year out. Alabama players arent predominantly there for the education. Lets just be honest. We cant reload like the OSU and Bamas do. Thats why we are really good about every 3 or 4 yrs.

    1. I get so sick of hearing we can’t recruit with the big boys. Holtz did it and it can be done again. You have to give the 5 star and high 4 star players a reason to come to Notre Dame. They are not coming to South Bend to win 8 games a year.

      1. You see the marginal athletes at ND struggling w/ the academics. What Holtz did was 25 years ago.Many of the top players (esp from the South) cannot pass the requirements and have an easier path to the NFL staying in the SEC.
        On The other side of the coin LSU,Florida and Texas have had down years.
        This is what really bothers me: 12/3/16: Temple’s defense stuffs Navy’s triple option rushing attack. Temple wins the game 34-10. ND has NOT been able to stop Navy’s triple option in years. Why ? In the words of Trump: What the hell is going on here?
        Kelly and whoever his DC will be better STUDY this game film and figure out what Temple did to stuff Navy’s rushing attack. ND has to beat Navy, Duke, NC State before they can beat any Top 20 team.

      1. You are 100% right Bruce.

        @miles uptown

        That is such a cop out. Its nothing more than a excuse. Stephon Tuitt came from the south and so did Nix. Look at all the elite talent that comes from catholic high schools every year. The #1 Catholic University in the country you would think they would have a pipeline into these high schools but they dont. When Notre Dame plays at a elite level they can recruit with anyone. Go back and look at the recruits they signed the year they went 12-1. Notre Dame simply needs to put a better product on the field. You cant have these crippling lost to Navy and Duke because it kills them in recruiting. Its a complete joke that this is still happening in year 7 of the Kelly era. By saying ND cant recruit with the elite is a BS excuse that Notre Dame fans say way to much and it needs to stop. There is plenty of talent that ND can get but they have to simply play better.

  8. “Some will also argue that Strong lost his magic at Texas and might be burnt out and unable to step right into a new job. And it is a valid concern, but at the same time, perhaps a return to just coaching defense is just what the man needs to get his mojo back.”

    Sounds like a stretch

  9. we are all entitled to our opinions, but ND’s program has not been prominent since coach holtz left in 88. they have not even sniffed a championship until bk came there. you might not like him or his actions (calling out players), but ND is a very tough place to win CHAMPIONSHIPS. BK has done a great job other than the dumpster fire that was this year and his ability to recruit student athletes has put this football program back on the map. His biggest transgression was not hiring a better defensive coordinator when Diaco left. He is a smart offensive minded football coach, and if they get someone that can shore up the defense they will be a top 5 program again. he does more with less than the other programs that continue to get multiple 5 and 4 star recruits year after year

    1. BK does more with less? Reality is the exact opposite. He just won FOUR GAMES. Sure, he doesn’t have any real 5 star players, but he has plenty of 4 stars and enough talent to beat DOOK and NAVY.

      1. Absolutely. We can argue whether they had a NC caliber team. But 4 wins is unacceptable with the talent on the team and the schedule. I actually strongly believe they had the talent to at least be playing in a NY Day 6 bowl. They grossly underachieved this year.

  10. For a year- maybe

    Could C. Strong work for BK?
    For a year- maybe
    Would C. Strong work for BK?
    Unlikely, unless . . .

    Let’s continue to play make-believe, trumps shoveling more snow

    Coach Strong is hired as DC & Asst. Head Coach,
    in place if/when BK leaves-

    For a year- maybe.

    Anyone have any better options? None that i’ve heard.

    1. You try to get the best guy available at this place in time.. Doesn’t matter if its 1 yr, 3 yrs or 5 yrs. Coaches come and go depending on various circumstances. The Kelly haters are gonna hate. But, who do you bring in ? Since Holtz left there has been a boatload of different coaches. None have satisfied the fan base. One thing i do notice….ND has lacked a game breaker…a difference maker….a Heisman hopeful for years now. A player who can turn a game around quickly. That and the inability to reload.. The top schools ALWAYS reload. ND loses 3 or 4 top players and they cannot fill that void. Is it coaching or the institution itself. Probably a little of both.

      1. Many from the Kelly era are playing in the NFL. Is it more talent needed, or better use of the talent there? Fuller, Zach Martin, Jaylon Smith, Golden Tate and others were all difference makers. Te’o is the D Captain in San Diego. Former ND TEs star on several NFL teams. Proscise plays more for Seattle at RB than he did at ND.
        How well is the talent maximized remains suspect under BK.
        But other than Tuitt at the next level with the Steelers, what’s been missing is the dominant D’s, especially along the DL, with next year’s returners none so promising.
        Back to Frank’s point:
        That’s why C. Strong might be the guy to go after- even if for a year- and the assistant head coach title is just a terrible BK start away from C. Strong being, at least, the interim head coach. (Swarbick said BK will be leading them out of the tunnel for the first game; he didn’t say anything about him being there in late November). Strong’s DC credentials are as noted and his familiarity with ND coaching there under Holtz shouldn’t need much orientation.
        Other options that at this point, at least, seem better? Buehler, Buehler, anyone?

  11. Hopefully Charlie would have the authority to come in and expel all of ND’s best players just like he did at Texas. Come to think of it, he would be a perfect fit at ND, as he delusionally believes he can have his cake and eat it too.

  12. Coach C. Strong during his tenure as HC at Louisville did exceptional work. I can’t help but contemplate how + why he struggled at UT?

  13. In theory, it’s not a bad idea. In reality, I don’t see it happening. Kelly made a great hire in Sanford and look how he restrained his role and not allow him to be fully used to his full potential. I am not convinced a top notch DC will be hired or more so, can be hired by Brian Kelly. It’s a mess. Kelly’s alleged overtures to other teams has and also most likely, have negative effects on recruiting since these “allegations ” were made public (oh by the way, thanks Brian, you Bozo), so I see this affecting assistants ( some on staff who should not be retained but most likely will) who might need to be hired and not wanting to come. South Bend is a joke, looking very unorganized as a program to potential recruits and assistants. I just wish he would leave on his own free will and accord. Unfortunately, not going to happen and continued mediocrity and sliding into obscurity will continue under his watch because this admin has no political will to do what needs to be done. Hit the cash flow and quit buying tickets and merchandise, maybe that would help but there are too many fans who will pay to support the team, no matter how poorly coached. Where are the new Parseghian’s or Holtz’s when they are desperately needed here. Notre Dame, pathetic shack of football in the great Midwest.

  14. One positive element not discussed is if BK starts the season at 0-2, Strong could become the interim head coach. Then Both ND and Strong can make a decision about 2018. Charlie has already been around ND for some years so he knows a lot of ND insider info. I don’t see why Kelly would be “uncomfortable” about Strong. Unless these 2 men have no chemistry whatsoever. Strong is the BEST man out there for the job. If he decides to sit out and take a break then the search goes on. Its painfully obvious that Kelly needs a front line DC. The defense may continue to struggle but, at least ND will have someone who has been an assistant and a Head Coach.

  15. I agree Strong would be absolutely a great DC hire for all of the reasons mentioned above..I hope it happens.

    I don’t think that Kelly’s hot seat status and the possibility of next year being his last would or should deter Strong at all. The guy has been too successful everywhere before Texas to not be a front running DC candidate at any big time program. A Kelly replacement would have to already have an amazing DC and recruiter to not want to keep Charlie Strong.

    Im my opinion, the two biggest reasons for him to turn down a ND offer is if he doesn’t believe he can improve the defense and could he make enough to interest him, depending on the terms of his Texas buy out. Is it possible the buy out clause of some contracts still provides something if the fired coach takes an assistant coaching job?

  16. As long as little Barney Rubble is coaching ND football we are doomed. Jack Swabuck$ and ND are now placing the football program in mediocrity and is now irrelevant. The rich history,sacred ground and the decades of sacrifice of all the players and fans around the world means nothing now. Nothing.

  17. This story is being floated to help Kelly save his job. But nobody want this loser anymore. Better to get a new coach and consider strong as number 2 or 3 behind him. Saban hiires ex head coaches as part of a strong team. He isnot afraid of hiring good people because they threten him. They don’t.

  18. I like Charlie Strong and I think he is a high character guy. However the TX defenses did not seem very impressive under his reign.

    Its possible he could come as he is available and familiar with ND, but my bet is he takes a year off instead of jumping right back into the fire, especially the dumpster currently burning at ND.

  19. It’s a great idea.. and possibly the one thing to save the program from disaster! But….. it’s not gonna happen.. guess we could dream. I’ve given up on ND going balls out and getting big name proven coaches.. I’m sure they will keep Hudson or get a community college coach somewhere.

  20. I too agree this is highly unlikely. It’s worth pursuing as no one knows what Strong’s plans are at this point, but I’d be surprised to see him on the sidelines at ND next year as DC.

    Another reason not pointed out above (and someone else pointed this out in an earlier article) is BK right now is on borrowed time. Will Strong want to come to a school where BK is on the hot seat? I think ND admin would need to make certain guarantees to Strong for him to consider it, and is that even likely because if BK is fired, would they insist the next HC retain Strong as DC assuming he’s successful on defense? Honestly I don’t know. Perhaps they could informally make him a HC in waiting, though that comes with a lot of issues as well, and how much of Strong’s lack of elite success at Texas because of him, and how much of it were external factors? It was a complicated situation.

  21. Why go to an ND program in turmoil? He could be out of a job again in 12 months if 2017 isn’t successful. Although that would assume that Swarbrick actually cares about the football program as something other than a vehicle for revenue.

  22. I offer my Strong support. Don’t laugh, (abortion of humor heretofore) but Charlie is exactly the status ND must pursue. Experience as Louisville #1 is very important and useful. He’d prob understand his role better than many d/c’s. He’d have better comprehension of the team-conglomerate. And this would make him a better role-coach. I remember (without knowing his prior ND-connections) watching him the past couple of hers and thinking he could work as A ND coach. (not THE ND coach) It’s refreshing to learn of this real possibility. Sign-him-on.

  23. As bad as I want to see this happen I just don’t see it. Like you mentioned above with the buyout. Ten Million is a lot of money. He could easily take a job with ESPN or Fox Sports or something. Wait a year and then see what’s open in 2018.

    With that said Notre Dame needs to do EVERYTHING in their power to convince Strong to come. Make it extremely hard to say no. Give him the title of associate head coach/dc. Give him the power to make changes to the defensive staff. Make him the highest paid DC in the country. If BVG is worth a million plus. Strong has to be worth at least 2 million. Getting Strong would completely change the dynamic on how we recruit and how we play defense. ND needs a hire that will excite the fanbase as well as potential recruits. Strong does that from day 1.

    1. The problem looks as if Kelly NEEDS to feel comfortable with the Assistants! That’s why he’s brought old cronies with him who pander to his emotional securiy.
      Kelly will not work well with new assistants. Kelly is in above his head at ND. Notre Dame is too much for Kelly.

      1. I have lost faith in Brian Kelly. There needs to be several changes on the staff. Strength and conditioning was a major issue this year. Special teams was a absolute train wreck. Kelly brings in his buddies instead of going out like other programs and getting the best possible coach.

        Bring in the best DC possible. Money shouldnt be a issue. Let him pick his own staff even if several coaches are let go. ND defense the past 3 seasons might be the worse in school history. Recruitng on the defensive side of the has taken a hit. Maybe BK is in over his head. If Kelly screws up this DC hire I think he is finished.

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