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Vowing to fix offense, Kelly announces staff shake-up

Feb 10, 2012, 4:21 PM EDT

Brian Kelly 9

After spending the days following Notre Dame’s bowl loss in a sprint to the recruiting finish line, Brian Kelly spent Friday morning announcing the staff changes that have taken shape since wrapping up the 2011 season. With offensive coordinator Charley Molnar taking over the football program at UMass, and Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton joining Urban Meyer’s Ohio State staff, the opportunity allowed Kelly to drastically reorganize the offensive coaching staff, something that likely would’ve been on the docket after a disappointing 8-5 finish.

“When you don’t reach the goals that you’ve set for yourself, it’s important that the appropriate measures are taken in terms of evaluating all facets of your program,” Kelly said.

The biggest move made was an internal one, with Chuck Martin making a rare shift from coaching a position group on defense to coordinating the offense. It’s a move that illustrates how strongly Kelly trusts Martin, who will be tasked with running an offense with a vision shared not only by the head coach, but by the personnel and position groups that’ll be tasked with orchestrating it.

“At the end of the day, he’s the leader of the group,” Kelly said of Martin. “I’m looking for someone that can communicate the message clearly across the board without any inconsistencies from group to group. Chuck is a great communicator and that is the strength that he brings to the staff.”

Other major changes on the offensive staff include the move of Mike Denbrock from tight ends to outside wide receivers. Denbrock will also coordinate the passing game, a nice title bump for one of Kelly’s oldest coaching connections. Denbrock once coordinated Kelly’s offense at Grand Valley, so while Denbrock’s long been seen as an offensive line guru, he’ll work with Martin in developing a passing attack that needs to make more big plays.

“We need to make more big plays,” Martin told the Chicago Tribune. “However it is, we need to make more big plays. In the pass game, we had two completions over 40 yards last year. You talk about inconsistency – it’s hard to consistently go on 15-play drive. Part of how you become consistent – you have a couple three-play scores and all of a sudden your consistency level is higher.”

Denbrock’s move pushes first-year assistant Scott Booker to tight ends coach, where he’ll work with arguably the most talented position grouping on the offensive side of the ball. Tasked with coaching All-American Tyler Eifert and developing elite prospects like rising sophomore Ben Koyack and rising junior Alex Welch (who saved a year of eligibility during his freshman season), Booker spent two years interning with the Irish coaching staff after spending five years as a position coach in the MAC conference.

Filling out the rest of the offensive staff is Harry Hiestand, who left Tennessee to coach the offensive line and coordinate the Irish running attack. With a blue-ribbon pedigree that includes a mentor in former Irish offensive line coach Joe Moore, Hiestand will make some subtle adjustments to the Irish line play that’ll help evolve the offense.

“Last year, we were a big gap and pull team,” Kelly explained about the Irish running attack. “You’ll see a little bit more of a zone influence with this offensive group. But more than anything else, it’s Harry’s great experience as an offensive line coach. Having done it and having succeeded, and really wanting somebody that was so focused on technique and development of the offensive line.”

Defensively, the Irish adding veteran coach Bobby Elliott to the staff, giving former Hawkeyes Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks a coach they’re familiar with both as a colleague and a mentor. On paper, bringing in Elliott seems like a no-brainer, as the former coordinator for Bill Snyder’s best Kansas State teams would be enough to fill the position. Adding his relationship with the leaders of the defense and a sterling reputation only make the fit that much better.

“I want people, first of all, that I enjoy being around,” Kelly said. “Any time you’re hiring you want guys that you enjoy being around, that are passionate for what they do, and have a commonality with everybody in the staff philosophically. That’s what Bobby brings. And certainly his prior relationship with Kerry and Bob Diaco make that an easy fit.”

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was the mention that Scott Booker would take over coordinating special teams for the Irish, replacing Mike Elston who had the job for Kelly’s first two seasons while also coaching the defensive line. Kelly was adamant to stress this wasn’t meant a reflection on Elston’s job running the Irish special teams, but after subpar results — especially in the punt return game — the move was made to Booker, who will receive help from the entire staff.

“His focus is on that defensive line,” Kelly said. “We pulled him in a lot of different directions last year with special teams and it takes a lot of time out of you. Now he can focus strictly on the defensive line. It’s going to make us a better football team… It’s going to be exciting from a defensive standpoint in that room that we can have Mike focused on the defensive line and game planning.”

  1. dickasman - Feb 10, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    So did BK fire himself for the 2 8-5 seasons of is he still on the staff? Good thing his name is not Tyrone he’d

    • paiten34 - Feb 10, 2012 at 8:09 PM

      Well the problem that got Tyrone fired was the fact that his teams got worse every season along with his recruiting classes. If his seasons went in reverse he would have gotten a chance to coach another season. It was the fact that the team was heading in the wrong direction. Yes this ND season didn’t play out the way people thought but turnovers were the reason as much as anything else. As a football coach I can tell you without question turnovers can’t be planned for. We’ll see what happens this year.

      • nudeman - Feb 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM

        I am curious if anyone here was at ND during Ty’s tenure and has any inside info on him.

        I’ve read comments here and there – but nothing comprehensive – in various places regarding things like work ethic, spending too much time on the golf course, doing strange things recruiting like overstaying his welcome in a recruit’s living room, etc.

        Obviously they didn’t win, so that was a main reason for canning him. But it seems like there’s more to the story; like they absolutely knew they’d made a mistake; like he himself hadn’t bought into the ND, wasn’t an “ND GUY” and had little internal support.

        Firing him was a fairly bold move. At the time the only guy who’d been canned before the end of a contract was Davie. I absolutely never for a second thought there was a single thing racial about it and lost respect for Willingham afterwards when he never had the guts to say that directly but did nothing to put a lid on that speculation in the weeks afterward. When he got asked about racism being a factor he would smile in a coy way and say something like “We’ll talk about that at the appropriate time”. Cowardly.

      • bernhtp - Feb 11, 2012 at 12:03 PM

        Nude, I never bothered getting the inside info on Willingham’s firing, but I agree it was a gutsy and necessary move. It was more the trajectory of the program under his management – performance going down, recruiting falling precipitously, and issues about his work ethic and personality – more than the final W-L. His downward spiral obviously continued at Washington, so it didn’t appear to be a Notre Dame issue.

        The move was gutsy because Willingham was Notre Dame’s first black coach with a pretty good history at Stanford. People were very surprised. I remember having a long talk with Allen Pinkett (color for ND radio) during a plane flight to South Bend at the beginning of Tyrone’s last season, and he seemed to be still a big fan. I was thus a bit surprised by the firing at the time and the national controversy it stirred, but the subsequent facts vindicate the decision.

      • nudeman - Feb 11, 2012 at 12:06 PM

        Right, gutsy because they knew they’d take heat and get charged with racism, which is of course exactly what happened. Weak.

        bern, you mentioned “work ethic”, so apparently you’d heard/read some of the same things I did. Any specifics?

      • bernhtp - Feb 11, 2012 at 1:22 PM

        It was the too few recruiting trips, too much time on the golf course, and other indicators that he was succumbing to stress and avoiding the job. When the stress got to Ara, he quit. Few have this internal barometer of when they’ve had too much.

      • 9irish - Feb 11, 2012 at 1:37 PM

        I can say that I hated him because of that smug Bob Davie-type smile on his face when things were going to hell during a game. I LIKE the my-head-is-going-to-explode type coach (Kelly/Holtz).
        The only scuttlebutt that I ever heard was that they knew he wasn’t going to workout and they scrapped PC and fired him then, trying to get that guy that ended up in Florida.

      • nudeman - Feb 11, 2012 at 3:42 PM

        Interesting. Thanks 9Irish and bern.

        I don’t know how you can get to that level in any profession with a lousy work ethic. The other thing I remember at the time was some comment from the administration about “we like everything Ty does Monday through Friday”.

        Like telling a pipefitter “you do great work with everything except pipes”.

      • runners00 - Feb 13, 2012 at 3:56 PM

        We fired Ty because we wanted Urban. Simple. Yet, Urban had his deal with Florida before we decided to fire Ty. I still think the university would have kept Ty had he won one more game — or if Urban were either already at a BCS program or had firmly committed to Utah.

        Coaching Notre Dame is the hardest job in college sports. There is no break. There is no forgiveness. You are only as good as your last game. And few coaches really want that level of pressure unless they’re already ND fans. The Alabama job is probably the second toughest gig because of its legacy but Notre Dame is a very difficult place to coach.

  2. dickasman - Feb 10, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    So did BK fire himself for the 2 8-5 seasons of is he still on the staff? Good thing his name is not Tyrone he’d be long gone

  3. bernhtp - Feb 10, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    This is starting off badly. First, we have a major article about coaching that fails to mention Tony Alford and his tenuous future at Notre Dame. Then we have Dick make two failed attempts at a coherent post.

    • borromini - Feb 10, 2012 at 8:03 PM

      Tony Alford was quoted in an interview on ESPN’s ND blog that even if offered…he would likely stay at ND.

      • bernhtp - Feb 11, 2012 at 4:51 PM

        If you take the interview, you are likely going to take the job if offered. I remember when Greenberry took the official visit to Houston a few days before NSD and everyone said he was just doing it for fun and experience and, of course, he really wasn’t interested in going there.

        I hope that Kelly and Swarbrick are doing everything reasonable to keep him, but he ultimately may get an offer he can’t refuse.

  4. ct111 - Feb 10, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    That made no sense

  5. 9irish - Feb 11, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    Well, I am not paying alot of attention right now, it’s just all lip service. Let’s see what they do on the field (any idea how tired I am of hearing about the “Urban Meyer Experiment” in Ohio?)

    I will say that the players are the ones that do the work, but there are several coaching gaffes in the past 2 years (Tulsa, anyone?). Clock management is another huge deficiency. I am not a coach, but there have been several times I have found myself saying, “I can’t believe they just did that!”

    Special teams has been almost a non-entity, so interested in how that shift goes.

    So we’ll see.

    Go Irish

    • nudeman - Feb 11, 2012 at 11:37 AM

      A more mobile QB with a stronger arm and better decision making abilities and a coaching emphasis on taking care of the ball will go a long way to “fixing” this offense.

      I like the Martin move a lot. There was a disconnect between BK and Warriner judging by the number of times confusion reigned getting plays in. (Stanford redzone debacle was Exhibit A).

      Plus Martin seems like an “ALL IN” guy. Irish Catholic from Chicago, impressive to listen to when interviewed, personable but no nonsense. And apparently has the guts to stand up to BK.

      Now if we can get #5 behind center, cut the turnovers in half, and continue playing stout D, who knows?

      • bernhtp - Feb 11, 2012 at 12:15 PM

        Despite an oppressive schedule, I’m optimistic about this season, though I admit to having this congenital optimism cause psychological trauma for decades following my graduation. I only got to discontinue my therapist for a few years during the Holtz era.

        The only negative on the O side is the loss of Floyd, though this may fall under “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” The O line should be slightly better. TE should improve with the return of Eifert, emergence of Koyak, etc. Other than Floyd, WR should improve. QB will definitely improve given the coaching staff’s focus on the issue and the worst case (and extremely unlikely one) is that an improved Rees wins the job.

        D should be at least as good: better D-line, better linebacking, though some risk (and upside) in the secondary given graduations and recruiting/development (e.g., T Shepherd). I hope for some improvement in special teams.

      • nudeman - Feb 11, 2012 at 12:22 PM


        I see a better team in 2012, and POSSIBLY a better record. I say “possibly” because the schedule is a killer. But this might actually be the year ND beats a couple top 20 teams. If so they should win at least 10. Very do-able.

        All bets off though if #11 is the QB.

      • 9irish - Feb 11, 2012 at 1:22 PM

        I agree with all of that. So close…just so many mind-boggling mistakes and calls. And still mostly (with notable exceptions) slim losses.

  6. ajw21 - Feb 11, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    I dont want to be negative but if you think the secondary will be better then last yr then your fooling yourself. 3 new starters. I hope the coaches let the d line & LB bring pressure like the 1st half of Florida State but that seems unlikely.

    • ct111 - Feb 11, 2012 at 1:53 PM

      I’m curious about what they are going to do with the running back/slot receiver hybrids. Will the offense going to start looking like Oregon’s offense?

    • nudeman - Feb 13, 2012 at 4:58 PM

      Well I’m betting they get at least one thing next year that they didn’t get in 2011:
      1 INT from the Safety

      Sorry. I won’t miss Harrison

  7. twebb2 - Feb 11, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Wow, I guess I’m missing the boat by not being negative. One thing that’s impressed me from day 1 with Kelly is assembling a staff of coaches who seem to work well together and be on the same page. Coach Weis has admitted that he had difficulty throughout his time at ND with tensions on the staff, so this is a refreshing change.

    • nudeman - Feb 11, 2012 at 3:50 PM

      Kelly just turned over his staff after 2 years, and from things I’ve read not everybody got along. One article said Warriner in particular “didn’t fit in”.

      I’m not saying this is an outrageous indictment of Kelly or his approach at all. Just saying that when you take 7-8 aggressive, intelligent football guys, put them on the same staff, put them under ND level pressure, it would be unusual NOT to have one or two end up not being on the same page.

      If I remember correctly about Weis, his biggest hot spot was the D coach, right? He never got things right on that side of the ball – coaches or playing talent level – and in the end it was probably his biggest undoing.

  8. kfiz14 - Feb 11, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    Did he hire anyone to help him kill more cameramen?

    • nudeman - Feb 13, 2012 at 4:59 PM

      You know what kfiz? Whoever you are, you just insulted the Sullivan family with that.
      You’re an ass.

  9. jonathanfesler - Feb 11, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    I think that Tulsa game will haunt me forever! I compare that game with the Fla St game, afterword I thought the coach should been tar’ed and feathered and run out of town on a rail! Seriously? I’m way to old to keep going through football coaches! after this years recruiting and how the rich get richer? IDK boys I recon we can look forward to beating Purdue and maybe finishing in the top 25 or a pre season top 20 pick? Times are hard in Irish land?

    • nudeman - Feb 12, 2012 at 1:53 PM

      Tulsa was bad
      USF was worse
      Michigan 2011 was worser
      FSU in the Bowl was the worst

  10. rmgorey - Feb 12, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    @kfiz14. You are an ass to make light of a tragedy.

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