At some point in the next week or two, Notre Dame will hold a press conference wherein Irish head coach Brian Kelly will heap praise upon first-time defensive coordinator Clark Lea, associate head coach Mike Elston, reportedly-hired safeties coach Terry Joseph and newly-promoted offensive line coach Jeff Quinn. Kelly will speak to their qualifications, their fit within the current staff and how they will be driving forces for a team with College Football Playoff aspirations.
None of that is surprising. No employee is publicly-criticized, questioned or minimized upon the day of a promotion or hiring, nor should one be.
Kelly held a similar press conference a year ago. In fact, as of a week from yesterday, it was exactly a year ago Kelly introduced seven new hires, six of which came from outside his previous experiences.
“We needed to make some significant changes,” Kelly said Jan. 30, 2017. “Significant not just in terms of personnel, but in how we do things on a day-to-day basis, and it starts with me.”
Those changes took hold, laying a foundation for a 10-3 season concluding with a New Year’s Day bowl victory over a top-20 opponent. Six of those seven hires remain, five of those six still coming from outside Kelly’s first 26 years as a head coach.
In a distinct departure from that year-old storyline of the benefits of the coaching staff’s wide-ranging backgrounds, the Tuesday promotion of Quinn very much comes from Kelly’s past. Whereas hiring Joseph to work with the Irish safeties continued that trend, Quinn has spent 22 total seasons working with Kelly across four different stops.
One coach does not a pattern make, and one does not erase the previous changes wholesale. Quinn very well may have spent the last three years as an offensive analyst and assistant strength coach learning from former offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. He certainly had the opportunity to do so. Kelly may feel that apprenticeship made Quinn the most-qualified and best-ready candidate to continue the long- and recent-history of top-flight Notre Dame offensive lines.
A year ago, Kelly described the support from Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick as thorough and encouraging during the revamping of the coaching staff.
“Got great support from Jack Swarbrick allowing us to go out and find the very best,” Kelly said. “… I think that says a lot about who we have here in our administration and allowing us to go out and find the very best.”
Nothing occurred in 2017 to indicate that support has shifted. Swarbrick took the long view in retaining Kelly after Notre Dame’s 4-8 debacle in 2016. The progress shown in 2017 would, theoretically, strengthen that strategy. By that logic, then, Quinn was deemed the top option in Kelly’s eyes.
Aside from the time spent around Hiestand making such a possibility into a reality, Kelly knows what he gets with Quinn. He gets a qualified coach — even the harshest and most irrational critics of the promotion should acknowledge 34 years coaching collegiate football with a focus on offensive schemes cannot be diminished outright; nor can a reasonable case be made against the bona fides of coaching 12 future NFL offensive linemen and 22 All-Americans at the position.
Kelly also gets an assistant who has, by and large, learned from only one head coach. Aside from two years under Nick Mourouzis and three as the offensive line and tight ends coach for Tom Kaczkowski (Who? Well, exactly), Quinn has had one boss in coaching: Kelly. Just as there is value in a variety of voiced viewpoints on the coaching staff, there is value in learning from a spectrum of schematic approaches, developmental methods and personnel management habits.
Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long does not need someone in game planning sessions who thinks like Kelly. He has Kelly for that, and Kelly doesn’t need somebody to tell him what he’s already thinking. Finishing each other’s sentences is a sign of redundancy, not efficiency.
That is what Quinn represents on the surface, along with a willingness to return to some ingredients which cooked up success in the first 19 seasons of Kelly’s career. At least, that is what Quinn represents until shown otherwise.
To once more pull from Kelly’s comments in his most-recent press conference announcing new hires.
“The great thing about Notre Dame is you’re not defined by what happened in the past. It’s about what you do in the future.”
It is a hard sentiment to argue, even if it is also a hard one to abide by when Quinn’s past is well-known and well-trodden.