Taylor, Mickens, McNulty, O’Leary All Reportedly Staying at Notre Dame on Freeman’s Staff

At this point, we should probably start talking about who ISN’T staying at Notre Dame under new head coach Marcus Freeman because in addition to Tommy Rees and Mike Elston, running backs coach Lance Taylor, tight ends coach John McNulty, safeties coach Chris O’Leary, and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens are ALL staying at Notre Dame.

Wow. Usually, when a head coach leaves a program for another program, he takes a lot of assistants with him. Lincoln Riley did earlier this week when he ditched Oklahoma for USC. But, that is not what is happening at Notre Dame after Brian Kelly pulled his Irish goodbye on Notre Dame with his former assistants.

The first domino that fell was strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis on Tuesday. Then there was the report of Marcus Freeman taking over as head coach and Tommy Rees staying on as offensive coordinator. Reports of Mike Elston being promoted to defensive coordinator followed. Add in Mickens, O’Leary, McNulty, and Taylor, and there’s only a few assistants left.

Retaining all four of these assistants was big for Notre Dame for different reasons. Lance Taylor quickly turned a Notre Dame running back room that was relatively average for years into one of the best in the country, with another elite back coming in in the class of 2022 in Jadarian Price.

Mike Mickens has done a great job of restocking the cornerback room on the recruiting trail over the last two years, and his background with Freeman made his return one of the least surprising of all the assistants who have been reported to be returning.

McNulty, like Mickens, has only been with Notre Dame for two seasons, but his work with the tight ends both on the field and on the recruiting front has been impressive. He is also one of the most low-key prolific tweeters on the entire coaching staff.

Chris O’Leary is new to the Notre Dame staff in 2021 but is considered an up-and-coming recruiter on the staff.

It is not clear which of these four assistants Brian Kelly wanted to take with him to LSU, but their return is significant for Notre Dame as it looks to stabilize a program that Kelly’s departure could have thrown into a tailspin. Everything that has transpired over the last 24 hours should solidify Notre Dame’s standing in the eyes of the CFP committee and keep the top 5 class that the Irish currently have intact.

At this point, the only Notre Dame assistant coaches that we have not heard about staying or leaving are wide receivers coach Del Alexander, offensive line coach Jeff Quinn and special teams coordinator Brian Polian. Brian Kelly said earlier on Wednesday that there were coaches at Notre Dame he would like to have join him at LSU. Apparently, there weren’t too many on the Irish staff that felt the same way.

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  1. Sometimes you just have to roll the dice and take a chance. Swarbick did that here. Time will tell if it was a wise choice. I honestly can’t say one way or the other. It’s reassuring that so many players and recruits are behind Freeman, though that can’t be the only consideration. It’s also telling that most of the staff wants to stay, probably indicating the staff sees value in working for Freeman.

    Some may question the quickness of the decision. But that may be wise as well. I think Swarbick wants everyone to know Freeman has his full support. He just didn’t settle for Freeman, he let everyone know Freeman was his guy. That shows Freeman he has Swarbick (and the university’s) support.

    I’m optimistic with this move. Though it does come with plenty of risks. In a way I thank LSU for giving us this opportunity. I long ago gave up on the hope that BK was a NC level coach. But ND never seemed inclined to move on, they seemed satisfied with ND football as it stood. And like it or not there was this widespread belief among pundits that BK was a great football coach and ND would have been foolish to fire him. Well, LSU took care of that problem for us. And it had the effect of making BK look like a villain and has actually seemed to garner just a bit of sympathy for ND among pundits for the way BK handled it.

    1. So Damina…your paid about $3.5 million a year to be NDs AD.

      You oversee an athletics budget of $150 million a year.
      A major duty of your of your job is to hire and supervise coaches……the most visible, financially important, and institutionally symbolic is the head football coach.

      “Some times you just have to roll the dice and take a chance”.
      Ummmm…..you’re fired.
      And you’ll never work anywhere ever again.
      And you’ll be a cautionary tale/running joke at every American collegiate athletics training seminar for the next decade.

  2. I’m maybe reading too much into this but I think this has all been sort of planned.

    1. AD says he has “felt” that there was a chance BK was restless and considering a move for a while.
    2. Freeman chose to come to ND over being DC at LSU.
    3. Recall the press conference where BK slipped and said Freeman would be next HC? He tried to walk it back later by saying he meant would be a HC somewhere soon.

    My theory….BK had let JS now he was leaving, probably within a couple years. They got Freeman over LSU because there was a promise Freeman would be HC after BK and that it would be “soon.” Now, i expect JS assumed BK had class and wouldn’t leave like thief in the night. And, probably assumed it would be for an NFL job. probably even thought had BK for another year. But, LSU came dangling that alligator bag of money and BK bolted early and tried to even blow up the succession plan by taking Freeman and others with him. Freeman balked and wanted to know if the promise to be HC was gonna be honored. And it was. The other assistants have no loyalty left to BK cause (A) he is an AH, (B) he didnt include plans for them in the Freeman succession plan and (C) he showed no loyalty to them when he bolted to LSU with no warning.

    All speculation and theory, but kinda feels right to me.

    1. Swarbrick said it a caveat: “in retrospect”.
      Everything becomes cryptic and evident in retrospect.

      Swarbrick was caught competely flat-footed, showed Kelly spent FAR too much time paying him respect and deference in his news conference, and raced through what he had the gall to call a “process”.

      He may have made a great hire….we’ll see. But he doesn’t give me any confidence that he put a concerted effort into this to mitigate as much of the downside risk as possible, and maximizied the odds that it is a hire with a likely good outcome.

  3. I like the choice to promote Freeman to HC, despite his lack of experience. There are times you want to clean house. Like when Weis was fired. BK only kept one major assistant from Weis’ staff, and that was a great recruiter (and I think it’s usually a good idea to maintain at least a minimal continuity for the current players, a face they are used to seeing everyday).

    But this was a time I think you wanted to maintain continuity. With the right HC, this team could go far. BK wasn’t the coach to take them over the top. I don’t know if Freeman is yet. But they are a good enough team that I didn’t want to see it all dismantled with a new coaching staff.

    And having a minority head coach won’t hurt ND either. Like it or not, a lot of college age kids look at race as a factor, and this will help ND. I’m sure it wasn’t a critical factor in his hiring, but Swarbick’s a smart guy. He knows this will help ND.

    It will also help that there doesn’t appear to be any question Freeman was the guy. There was no big coaching search, so there’s no impression that ND “settled” on Freeman after a coaching search. This was a very quick turnaround so the world knows Freeman was Swarbick’s guy, no question. That should honestly help Freeman’s confidence as a HC. He knows he was the top guy.

    But I would love it if ND got a major bowl game and managed to win it without BK. Wouldn’t that be a finger in BK’s eye. His team and his staff did something that hasn’t been done since the Holtz years really. Win a major bowl game, but after he’s gone.

    1. Given the playoff situation, recruiting considerations, and Freeman’s inexperience, retaining as many staff as possible is definitely pragmatic, prudent, and reassuring.

      I’d be surprised if ND has not paid everyone some one-time bonus money to help that happen. This year there are more cash-burdened jackals at the door than ever before, disregarding Brian Kelly.

    1. FWIW, I was working on the Alma College staff and we went down to meet with Dean Pease, MSU DC at the time. Think he’s with the Ravens now? During the meeting, Sabin sat in a corner chair and occasionally shuffled some papers. Pease was really good at explaining things. On the ride home we were like “what the he’ll was that.”

    2. Comparing money-motivated, work-averse, double-talking, ridiculously insincere sounding Brian Kelly to driven, brilliant, straight talking, inspring, and ruthless Nick Saban — is beyond stupid.

  4. The fact that NDs football staff is not following BK despite hefty salary hikes speaks volumes about Kelly as a person and his changes of success at LSU. I think he is going to have a difficult time in the SEC in both recruiting and on the field. My over/under is five years.. The heat in Baton Rouge comes sooner than the honeymoon last.

    Does anyone know what
    Kelly’s buy out at ND was?

    1. I’ve known exactly who Kelly is since Janaury 2013….and I’ve never met the man.
      That his own employees figured it out is hardly surprising.

    2. If Kelly’s buyout was sack of used footballs, LSU got that much more screwed.

      Seriouosly though, …..how would things have turned out if someone had come along after Ty’s first season, and poached him from ND with a big check….instead of goign through all the pain, acrimony, cost, and media criticism firing hm 2 years later?

      This LSU deal for Kelly is just that kind of gift.

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