Get to Know New Notre Dame LB Coach Max Bullough

Earlier this month, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman announced the promotion of Max Bullough to linebackers coach after Bullough worked last season in a graduate assistant capacity. The elevation of Bullough lessens the workload of veteran coach Al Golden, who had been serving in both that role and as the Irish defensive coordinator.

A Spartan Connection

Bullough comes from a legendary football family that developed strong roots at Michigan State. His grandfather, Hank, played there in the 1950s and sandwiched stints as an assistant coach at the school between a long career as an NFL assistant. His father, Shane, also played for the Spartans in the 1990s.

Max Bullough followed in those footsteps and spent four years at Michigan State from 2010 to 2013. After not being selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, he signed with the Houston Texans and spent three seasons with the team. After sitting out the 2017 campaign, he briefly returned with the Cleveland Browns in 2018 before being released.

During his tenure with the Texans, Bullough received high praise from the team’s then-defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. The future coach of the Tennessee Titans indicated that Bullough was one of the smartest players that he’d ever worked with, which made him a natural for his next act.

Entering the Coaching Ranks

The conclusion to Bullough’s playing career began his move up the coaching ladder, beginning with one season on the University of Cincinnati staff as a graduate assistant. That one-year stint brought him into contact with Marcus Freeman, who was serving as the Bearcats’ defensive coordinator.

From there, Bullough spent the next three seasons as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama. During those campaigns, the Crimson Tide compiled an outstanding record of 37-4, including a national title in 2020 in which Alabama knocked off the Irish in the Rose Bowl semifinal clash.

During those three seasons, the most prominent Crimson Tide player that Bullough worked with was linebacker Will Anderson, Jr., who garnered All-America accolades in both 2021 and 2022. Anderson ended up also winning a slew of other major awards, including the Lombardi Trophy, which is given to college football’s top lineman. That effort led to his selection as the third overall pick by the Texans last year.

Joining the Fighting Irish Staff

In February 2023, Bullough was hired as an Irish graduate assistant by Freeman to replace the departed James Laurinatis. That decision allowed Bullough the opportunity to reconnect with the school where his maternal grandfather, Jim Morse, played with the Irish from 1954 to 1956 before broadcasting their games a decade later.

Working with Golden, Bullough tutored veteran Notre Dame linebackers such as J.D. Bertrand, Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser as well as several developing talents. Kiser will be back in 2024 and should be an important part of Bullough’s first season as a full-time assistant.

Bullough’s Approach

A strong emphasis of Bullough’s coaching philosophy is based on constant communication with his players. His reputation as a smart player is now focused on instilling in the Irish linebacking corps the confidence to make the right call. That effort is largely fueled by making sure a player can explain why a particular decision was made.

Having been a player at the major college and NFL levels helps establish a level of credibility among the players. The fact that the returnees are already familiar with his coaching style should help expedite any transition period that will get underway during the team’s spring practice sessions.

A Look Ahead

Bullough’s promotion came in the aftermath of the team’s safeties coach, Chris O’Leary, leaving to join Jim Harbugh’s staff with the Los Angeles Chargers. The decision to elevate his role is different from other key offseason coaching changes on the Irish staff that included the high-profile hiring of a new offensive coordinator in Mike Denbrock.

Taking over the reins as Notre Dame’s linebackers coach at age 32, Bullough is still young enough to potentially broaden his coaching responsibilities in the years ahead. Golden went from being a linebackers coach to becoming a defensive coordinator and eventually had head coaching runs with the Temple Owls and Miami Hurricanes. Whether Bullough follows that same trajectory remains to be seen.

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