Bob Diaco hat

Diaco’s nomination for the Broyles Award well earned


Yesterday, Bob Diaco was nominated as one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. Other assistants nominated are Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Kliff Kingsbury, the OC at Texas A&M, and defensive coordinators Dan Quinn of Florida and Derek Mason of Stanford.

Diaco, who serves as assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Irish, helped Notre Dame put together one of the top defenses in the country, currently ranked the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, No. 5 in rush defense, and No. 21 in pass defense, numbers many thought next to impossible when this staff took over. But Diaco has been steadfast in his belief that he could put together a defense that was the “Best in America,” and it has taken him three seasons to do so.

December, which has turned into banquet season for college football, should likely be kind to the Irish. Beyond Brian Kelly being an obvious front runner for many coach of the year awards, Diaco should likely hear his name called December 4th at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Whether or not Diaco wins shouldn’t take away from the season he — and his defensive staff — have had. With a rebuilt secondary and the loss of their top pass rusher, the Irish defense didn’t miss a beat, improving in just about every statistical category possible. They did that while losing one of their strongest voices, Chuck Martin, who switched from the secondary to offensive coordinator. Taking his place was Bobby Elliott, who has done a tremendous job with the secondary, working lock-step with Kerry Cooks, who ascended to co-defensive coordinator while continuing to work with the cornerbacks. Elliott is no stranger to his two new bosses, coaching both while they were players at Iowa.

With accolades like the Broyles nomination, Diaco has seen his name pop up on the head coaching radar. With 12 jobs open and counting, CBS’s Bruce Feldman had Diaco just outside his top 10 candidates for a new job, a list headlined by Bobby Petrino, that also includes perennial candidates like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

For those Irish fans worried about losing a key defensive assistant, welcome to the world of champagne problems. With the staff Brian Kelly has assembled, it’s only a matter of time before Diaco and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin begin to get head coaching looks. The same can be said for guys further down the food chain as well, which is a credit to the job Kelly has done grooming his staff, and more importantly, winning football games.

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.