Now that Notre Dame has it’s head coach, the real work begins. Brian Kelly will be introduced as the next head coach for Notre Dame Friday afternoon and will begin the process of putting his stamp on the Irish program in by filling out his coaching staff and closing out this year’s recruiting class. Here’s a run down of what Kelly will need to do over the next few weeks as he begins his Notre Dame career.
Get the absolute best defensive coordinator he can
With Notre Dame hiring an offensive minded coach, the single most important assistant position for Brian Kelly is the defensive coordinator position. For five years Charlie Weis tried unsuccessfully to find a defensive coordinator that could give the Irish the “nasty” defense he sought and at the end of the day, Weis’s inability to find a defensive coordinator up to the task was one of the biggest reasons the Weis era ended after just five seasons.
Weis brought in a coach familiar with Notre Dame in as his first defensive coordinator when he hired Rick Minter. After two seasons of poor defense and bowl game defensive debacles, Minter wasn’t brought back and Weis went Corwin Brown – a young, energetic, up and coming defensive coach. Despite Brown showing promise as a defensive coordinator early on, Weis panicked a bit in 2008 and added former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to the staff casting a shadow on who really was the defensive coordinator in 2008. Then this past season, with his job on the line, he turned the defense over to Tenuta.
Three defensive coordinators in five years is no way to build a defense, and is a mistake that Kelly cannot repeat if he is to be successful.
Two possibilities for the defensive coordinator position appear to be Bob Diaco, Kelly’s defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, and Chuck Martin, the current Grand Valley State head coach and Kelly’s former DC at GVST. Both seem to be fine defensive minded coaches, but Kelly would be wise to look outside his circle for a big time defensive coordinator that he can work with to build the type of physical, hardnosed, dare I say nasty defense Notre Dame has been lacking.
Fill out his staff
Kelly’s staff will most likely be a mix of some of his assistants at Cincinnati, some current Notre Dame assistants, and maybe an outside assistant or two. Because Kelly hasn’t had a lot of success recruiting on a national scale, he will need to fill out his staff with some coaches who have that experience and can ease the transition for him.
Kelly’s recruiting coordinator specifically should be someone who is familiar with recruiting on a national scale. Charlie Weis brought in Rob Ianello from Wisconsin when he was hired and Ianello turned out to be a vital piece of the recruiting cog Weis built while at Notre Dame. Kelly will need to find a recruiting coordinator who can do the same for him. Ianello would have been an ideal candidate to be held over from the previous staff, but he accepted the head coaching position at Akron on Thursday.
Of the current Notre Dame assistants that could be held over, Kelly would be wise to put on the full court press for running back coach Tony Aflord. Alford’s skill as a coach and a recruiter would be a vital asset to Kelly’s staff at Notre Dame. It’s been reported that Urban Meyer is interested in adding Alford to his staff at Florida already so Kelly will have some competition.
Another coach I wouldn’t mind seeing come back is Corwin Brown. I’ve long been a fan of Corwin Brown and certainly would not want to see Notre Dame have to go up against Brown on the recruiting trail. Would Brown be willing to come back on the staff as a position coach similar to how Greg Mattison stayed on staff under Ty Willingham as a defensive line coach after serving as Bob Davie’s defensive coordinator? Would Kelly considering Brown as his defensive coordinator? Brown did, after all, produce the two best defenses of the Weis era.
When Tyrone Willingham came to Notre Dame, one of the mistakes he made was bringing almost his entire Stanford staff with him. That staff, like Kelly’s at Cincinnati, lacked a lot of big program experience and that hurt them on the recruiting trail. Kelly has assembled a strong staff at Cincy, but he’ll need some assistants with some more experience at big programs.
An example for Kelly to follow would be to bring in a coach like Weis did with David Cutcliffe. Weis brought the former Ole Miss head coach in as his quarterbacks coach when he was first hired, but unfortunately Cutcliffe never made it to Notre Dame due to needing some time off for health reasons before spring ball in 2005. I’ve always wondered just how much differently the Weis era would have played out had Cutcliffe joined Weis in South Bend and served as a sounding board as he learned his way as a head coach, but I digress. Finding a similar hire would be a great component for Kelly’s staff.
Another important component for Kelly will be his strength and conditioning coach. The strength and conditioning program has been a source of debate over the last few years after seeing Notre Dame continually blow fourth quarter leads.
Win over the current players
Recruiting is going to be critical for Kelly in the short term, but perhaps even more important is winning over the current players. Kelly needs to walk into the Gug tomorrow to meet with the team and win them over right away and get them to buy into his vision.
There’s bound to be some transfers at some point. There almost always is with a coaching change, but limiting (or eliminating) any possible transfers and getting the players trust early is very important for Kelly.
Remember, these players for the most part loved Weis. There’s bound to still be some hard feelings about Weis being let go. Kelly needs to assure the team that he is there to win and knows what it is going to take to return Notre Dame to national title contention much the way Lou Holtz did from day one.
Shore up all of the current commitments
Weis and the current staff did an outstanding job of selling Notre Dame to this year’s recruits. They didn’t recruit them to come to Notre Dame for the coaching staff, but rather for the University itself. Early returns are very positive from the recruits and it seems like any decommitments will be minimal outside of Chris Martin who has already decommitted. Still, it will be very important for Kelly to secure these commitments and make sure that any lingering concerns and put to rest.
The fact that most of the current commitments are solid with their selections is a testament to Weis and the current staff – especially the assistant coaches who have stayed on staff since Weis was fired last Monday and have continued to hit the recruiting trail for the Irish.
There are still quite a few elite recruits left on the board for Notre Dame this so Kelly will need to work fast in securing all of the current commitments so at the very least, he keeps the core of this class together.
Hit the recruiting trail running for uncommitted and decommitted recruits
Notre Dame is still pursuing several elite prospects at key positions for this class that could take this from a solid class to something much better. Prospects such as Seantrel Henderson (OL), Corey Cooper (S/WR), Anthony Barr (RB/LB/DE), Ego Furgeson (DE), Matt James (OL), and Brandon Linder (OL) to name a few. It’s also possible that Notre Dame could get back in on Chris Martin now that the Irish have a coach.
Kelly is in a much better position than Charlie Weis was in 2004 when he took over for a couple of reasons. First off, Kelly will be hitting the ground running by not coaching Cincinnati’s bowl game. In 2004, Weis was in the middle of a title run with the Patriots and stayed on staff until New England’s season ended with a Super Bowl win. The Super Bowl ended up coming after National Signing Day and while Weis did the best he could while still working with Pats, recruiting definitely suffered in the short term that first year.
Secondly, Weis and his staff did a much better job of recruiting in their final season than Willingham’s which left Notre Dame with a MAC level commitment list. Kelly has a much better set of committed players and a pool of much more talented prospects to work on to close out this class.
Kelly has a lot to tackle in the immediate future as he takes over at Notre Dame. Luckily for the Irish, he will not be coaching a bowl game next month and can focus his efforts 100% on taking care of what he needs to at Notre Dame.
The coaching search was fun while it lasted, but the next few weeks of recruiting and staff building are going to be just as importance for laying the foundation for success in this new era of Notre Dame football as the result of the search itself was.