Notre Dame has ripped another coach off the Cincinnati Bearcat coaching tree, and it’s another outstanding hire. According to Pete Thamel, Notre Dame and Brian Mason have agreed to terms to be the next Special Teams Coordinator at Notre Dame. Irish Illustrated was first to report a deal was imminent earlier this week.
Mason replaces the only assistant coach from Notre Dame who willingly followed Brian Kelly to LSU in December, Brian Polian. Polian left Notre Dame last month to begin working with Kelly in Baton Rouge, leaving the special teams coordinator position open for the Irish during bowl prep. Polian’s tenure at Notre Dame was very up and down with some big-time recruiting wins but inconsistent performances from the special teams units he was tasked with running.
Mason comes to Notre Dame with a reputation for putting together elite special teams units and recruiting at a high level. His first position with Cincinnati was that of Director of Recruiting in 2017 before transitioning to the Special Teams Coordinator position in 2018. Since then, the Bearcats have fielded some of the best special teams units in the country. In 2021, Cincinnati blocked a ridiculous six kicks – three punts and three field goal attempts. That tied for the most in the country.
Marcus Freeman and Brian Mason previously coached together at three different stops in their career – Kent State, Purdue, and Cincinnati. Like Freeman, Mason is also 35 years old and now joins him for a fourth time at Notre Dame.
Mason will have his work cut out for him in 2022. Notre Dame has to replace both their starting placekicker, Jonathan Doerer, and starting punter, Jay Bramblett, this coming season, in addition to revitalizing a punt return unit that has been essentially non-existent for most of the Brian Kelly era. Notre Dame isn’t coming off its best special teams performance in the Fiesta Bowl either, with Doerer missing a critical 41-yard field that proved costly and Bramblett averaging just over 36 yards a punt while coming up short on almost every attempt in the second half and giving an Oklahoma State offense that was humming good field position routinely.
How Mason attacks the punt return unit will be interesting to watch. Notre Dame used Kyren Williams as a returner in 2021, but almost all of Williams’s good returns resulted from his freakish ability, not anything schematic. If anything, Williams’ lack of experience returning punts hurt this Irish at the beginning of the season with several poor decisions regarding fielding punts or letting them go.
When Marcus Freeman was introduced as the head coach at Notre Dame, he said everyone on his staff would need to be a relentless recruiter. Mason’s experience as a Director of Recruiting for a season at Cincy checks that box for him. While Polian struggled to develop the special teams units at Notre Dame, one area he excelled in was recruiting. Polian specifically carved out a niche as a dynamite recruiter in the state of Hawaii, helping Notre Dame land the likes of Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Marist Liufau, and Kahanu Kia in his second stint with the Irish.
With Mason on board, three positions are left to fill – OL, LB/DC, WR – but the open OL position has long been linked to former OL coach Harry Hiestand whose return to Notre Dame seems like a formality at the moment.