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.