Yesterday, Brian Kelly met with the remaining members of Charlie Weis’ coaching staff. Today, he’ll meet with the coaches from his Cincinnati Bearcats’ staff, hoping to finalize his coaching staff at Notre Dame. Kelly will make plenty of important decisions as the man in charge of Notre Dame football, but not many will be as important as the one that’s next on his agenda.
Building the right coaching staff is critical for Kelly. And no position is more important than that of the defensive coordinator. While the Irish defense was terrible this season, there is some up-and-coming talent on the roster that should have Kelly (and hopefully a talented defensive coordinator) excited. While many Irish fans hope Kelly searches far and wide for Jon Tenuta’s replacement, there are two front-runners for the job.
Cincinnati defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is one logical candidate. Diaco was an All-Big Ten linebacker under Hayden Fry and finished his playing career as one of the all-time leading tacklers in Iowa Hawkeye history. A member of the Parcells coaching tree, Diaco is a young, high-energy guy who would bring back a 3-4 scheme. He’s been well-regarded at every stop along the way, and worked under Kelly at both Cincy and Central Michigan.
Another contender for the job is Grand Valley State head coach Chuck Martin. Martin has coached the DII powerhouse Lakers for six seasons since Kelly left to take the CMU job. At every stop Kelly has made along the way, he’s called Martin and asked him to come and be his defensive coordinator. The fact that Martin was willing to publicly comment on the potential job less than a week before his team played in the national title game goes to show you that he might be interested.
While neither coach would be the splashy, big-name hire that many Irish fans are clamoring for, I think you can make a pretty good argument that the Irish would be better off without it.
When Charlie Weis announced the high-profile hiring of Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, most Irish fans praised the bold move that seemed very out of character for Notre Dame. The Irish were bringing in a hired gun; a coordinator that had just had his way with the Irish offense, and an experienced coach that would allow Weis to spend more time with the offense while the defense would morph into another exciting edition of a high-pressure, exotic blitzing defense that was a Tenuta trademark.
I think we all know how well that worked…
In the next few days, dozens of people will share their opinion on who Brian Kelly should tag as his next defensive coordinator. You shouldn’t listen to any of them. While many Notre Dame fans will complain when and if Diaco or Martin are hired on staff with the Irish, it’s rare to find a fan (let alone a sportswriter) that can speak intelligently on the merits of assistant coaches.
Kelly has coached with both men and is well aware of what they can do. One of the downfalls of the Weis era was the fact that Charlie waited far too long to make changes on his staff, and the changes he did make didn’t pay off. That’s part of the problem that goes with hiring strangers that you only know by reputation.
While Diaco and Martin aren’t household names, they are very well regarded in the mind of the one man whose opinion truly matters.