Diaco talks personnel, transition, coaching

2 Comments

Friend of the program Bruce Feldman had a nice interview with Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco covering just about everything that’s gone on since the new coaching staff has come to South Bend. Diaco strikes me as a unique guy that clearly understands how the relationship with the media works.

I caught up with Feldman to ask him about his impressions of the interview and he thought Diaco was a sharp guy. What was supposed to be a quick ten minute conversation ended up going much longer and lasted 45 minutes, which seems about right if you’ve watched or read any of Diaco’s media sessions. It’s clear that the guy loves talking football. 

One of the more interesting tidbits came when Diaco followed up on the sense of entitlement that Brian Kelly had mentioned noticing in Notre Dame players. Diaco’s observations on his defensive players was fascinating:

“I would say that, as a coach, the first thing that you see as a person
as a trained evaluator is their body type when they’re walking around.
Who has some level of fitness — tangible qualities or tangible
liabilities. That’s first as you walk in the door and are presented
with the player. You’re getting an opinion on what’s important to that
player. Is he physically fit and lean and trim, and well-dressed and
clean-cut? You can see a lot of other things in there: drive, passion
for the task, energy. If he’s overweight, out of shape, sloppy in his
appearance — things untied, things undone — right there it correlates
a lack of attention to detail in how they’re living their life.”

It’s pretty clear that Diaco is a guy who pays attention to detail, and every player on the defense has been put on notice. This reminds me a lot of the days when Mickey Marotti ruled the weight room, and everything down to the spandex you wore under your shorts was important. Marotti’s attention to the most minute detail — making sure that the “Notre Dame” on the 45-pound plates faced the right direction — set the tone for your time in the workout room. (It was a terrifying experience for an 18-year-old kid, believe me.)

Diaco also talked about his experience with legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry and working with Al Groh, two men that played significant roles in the evolution of the 3-4 defense. While many think of the 3-4 as a new wrinkle, Diaco reminds us that it’s been around for quite some time.

“We did it in college when I played at Iowa, but we just called it
Base-50. Most of the guys with white hair will remind you that whenever
they hear the term “3-4″ that it’s just a Base-50. When I was in
college Bill Brasier was the defensive coordinator and he was just an
awesome coach and an awesome guy. My first touch was in the Hayden Fry
system there. Then to fast forward, 13 years to meeting Coach Groh, it
had elements of Base-50, but he created and built that defense with
Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. To learn it from one of the founding
fathers of that structure was really awesome.”

Diaco also talked about the development process that has Irish fans so excited about Brian Kelly. As Paul Longo was, Diaco was hesitant to give away any trade secrets, but he did hint at a refined system that Kelly has for finding players that’ll fit in his program.

“I don’t want to be coy about this, but I don’t want to talk too much
about Coach Kelly’s development system. I don’t want to give out any
information that he doesn’t want to have out there, but it is a
scientific system of evaluation in the recruiting process. There are
specific categories. We don’t necessarily look at the player at doing
the jobs he’s doing now as correlating to college. We look at the
players that we believe show the tangible and intangible qualities that
we want them to do. They may be at different positions. There may be
tight ends who are tackles or wide receivers that are linebackers. A
lot of people talk about it but Coach really does it, and he also has
the strength and conditioning system to bring that player from one to
the next. You see that at Iowa with guys like (John) Alt, (Ross) Verba,
(Chris) Knipper, (Robert) Gallery — those were dynamic awesome tackles
that were tight ends. You see walk-ons that became great players. It’s
a very similar system with coach.”

As usual, great stuff from Feldman. While we’ve yet to see Diaco do anything, I’ve got a feeling that he’ll be a force both on the sidelines and in the living room.
 

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
6 Comments

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
17 Comments

Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
22 Comments

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
40 Comments

Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”