Matt Cashore - USA Today Sports

Martin, Diaco build their staffs (and rosters)


As Brian Kelly gets closer to finalizing his coaching staff moves, his former coordinators Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco have started to fill up their respective staffs as well. As you’d expect, both ex-Irish coaches have taken some pieces from Notre Dame with them.


Before we get to coaching staffs, it looks like some Irish seniors will have a place to play football next season. Brian Hamilton, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, tweeted that he expects Alex Welch, Lo Wood and quarterback Andrew Hendrix to play next season for Martin at Miami. While Welch and Wood were already decided, Hendrix’s decision to head to Miami signals that he thinks the starting quarterback job is there for the taking, as he’ll battle Ohio natives Drew Kummer and Austin Gearing.

Right now, the only official hires made by either Diaco or Martin have come in Miami, where Martin has reached back to his Grand Valley days for his co-offensive coordinators and the Irish staff for his first position coach. Martin has tapped George Barnett and Eric Koehler as his co-offensive coordinators, with Barnett coaching the offensive line and Koehler in charge of the quarterbacks.

Koehler was Martin’s offensive coordinator at Grand Valley after being the head coach at Wartburg College, staying with the program until last season, when he coached quarterbacks at Illinois State. Barnett is a graduate and four-year letter winner at Martin’s alma mater, Millikin. He spent two years as the Grand Valley offensive line coach before moving on to Illinois State in 2010, where he was the run game coordinator and offensive line coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator last season in addition to his offensive line duties at Illinois State.

Martin reached into the Notre Dame graduate assistant pool for his first position coach hire. Pat Welsh spent the last two seasons as an offensive graduate assistant for the Irish, working primarily with Harry Hiestand. Welsh’s connections with Martin go back to Grand Valley as well, where Welsh served as a student assistant to Martin for two seasons before being hired as a defensive assistant in 2010. He coached quarterbacks at Wittenberg College before coming to South Bend. is reporting that fellow Irish grad assistant Corey Brown is joining the defensive staff at Miami. Brown played defensive line at Iowa from 1995-99, at the same time as Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks. After playing arena football professionally and working at the junior college level as a coach in Iowa, Brown finished his degree from Iowa in 2005 and has been assisting Mike Elston on the defensive line the past two seasons. He’ll reportedly coach the defensive line for Martin. Martin will also reportedly hire Citadel assistant John Hauser as his defensive backs coach.

While it isn’t official, reports that Martin will bring in another guy with ties to the Notre Dame program, with career rushing leader Autry Denson joining the staff as the running backs coach. Denson has been coaching at Bethune-Cookman. also has updates on Diaco’s progress filling out his staff. While there have been no official announcements yet, the biggest news is that he’ll reportedly be taking Ernest Jones with him to UConn, where Jones will get back into the coaching ranks as the Huskies’ running backs coach. Jones has served as the director of player development and engagement the past two seasons at Notre Dame. He served as the head coach at Alcorn State, his alma mater, for a season and worked with Diaco at Cincinnati and Central Michigan as an assistant.

Diaco will also reportedly take with him to UConn Josh Reardon. A defensive graduate assistant the past two seasons, Reardon was the interim linebackers coach during bowl preparation after working primarily with Diaco the past two years. Reardon played his football at Central Michigan under Kelly and Diaco, before becoming a student assistant with the Chippewas.

Expect more hiring news to become official before the recruiting dead period ends January 3rd.

While Diaco and Martin are no longer a part of Notre Dame’s staff, it’s interesting to look at how they reach into their network of assistants to build their own programs. While most only look at Brian Kelly’s coaching tree through big time hires like Jeff Quinn, Charley Molnar (now out at UMass after two seasons), Martin and Diaco, the promotion of graduate assistants to full-time position coaches at programs like Miami and UConn show another extension of Kelly (and Notre Dame’s) growing footprint in college football.





Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.



Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”