Official: Mike Elko named defensive coordinator

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Notre Dame has officially hired Mike Elko as their defensive coordinator. The university made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, with Elko joining the program from Wake Forest.

Head coach Brian Kelly gave the following comment in a prepared statement:

 

“Mike has consistently coordinated defenses that keep the points down, negate big plays, creative negative plays, excel in the red zone and, quite simply, force opposing offenses to execute at an extremely high level to move the football. This rare combination of consistent success in those facets of defense, along with a proven ability to develop talent and fit it into his system, really places Mike in a class by himself among defensive coordinators across the country.

“As importantly, Mike’s commitment to helping young men reach their full potential in the classroom and in the community make him a perfect fit for Notre Dame.”

The 39-year-old defensive coordinator was Kelly’s choice to reboot an Irish defense left in disarray after Brian VanGorder was fired in late September, but one that also rallied under the guidance of interim coordinator Greg Hudson and linebackers coach Mike Elston, who also interviewed for the position.

Wake Forest had a Top 25 defense under Elko, finishing No. 20 in scoring defense this season as the Demon Deacons finished the year 6-6 and went to its first bowl game since 2011. He came to Winston-Salem with head coach Dave Clawson, serving as his defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, and had many stops along the way after playing his football at Penn.

Elko made the following statement:

“I’m excited to join a program with the prestige of Notre Dame that can recruit the nation’s highest caliber of student-athlete and compete for a national championship. We hope to dictate the pace of the game with an attacking and aggressive style defense, mix physicality and toughness with exceptional fundamentals and, lastly, play with great effort at all times. I can’t wait to dive in and help these players achieve the standard of success necessary to win at the highest level.”

While he might not have been a big-name candidate, Elko’s hiring has received near unanimous approval, with SI’s Pete Thamel deeming Elko one of the hottest defensive coordinator prospects in the country with interest from multiple Power 5 schools. A profile of Elko’s from the South Bend Tribune should be required reading for those looking to learn more about Notre Dame’s new coach, with Elko’s football acumen obvious, even as a player.

Elko is one of just two defensive coordinators to have a Top 40 defense in each of the last seasons. His task will now be to transform an Irish defense that badly needs a pass rush and must continue to develop young players like Daelin Hayes, Julian Love, Troy Pride, Devin Studstill and Donte Vaughn.

Paul Longo out as Notre Dame’s Director of Football Strength and Conditioning

Matt Cashore
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Paul Longo is out as Notre Dame football’s Director of Strength and Conditioning. It’s another huge move in an offseason reshuffle that comes on the heels of a 4-8 football season.

Longo will move into a different position inside the program, likely on Brian Kelly’s support staff. He’s been a key fixture inside the Notre Dame football program since he came in 2010, serving in the same role at Central Michigan and Cincinnati for Kelly.

Longo’s reassignment comes as part of a massive restructuring of the football program. Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko is going through the university’s vetting process and has accepted the job of defensive coordinator. Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker was relieved of his duties. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford has departed for the head coaching job at Western Kentucky.

The moves might not be finished. Veteran assistant and associate head coach Mike Denbrock‘s place inside the program isn’t certain, as multiple reports have mentioned he will no longer call plays. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore‘s status is up in the air, he will meet with Elko in the near future. Former Nevada coach Brian Polian has reportedly accepted an offer to join Kelly’s staff, likely as special teams coordinator.

There won’t be all new faces. Recent hires Todd Lyght and Autry Denson appear safe. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is as well. While Mike Elston didn’t get promoted after interviewing for the defensive coordinator job, he’ll be retained—assuming he isn’t offered a defensive coordinator position elsewhere. He currently serves as the team’s recruiting coordinator.

While the move to replace a strength coach won’t garner the headlines that a new defensive coordinator brings, it’s a seismic move for Kelly—who considered Longo a coordinator and counted him among his closest advisors. The search for his replacement will be national.

Notre Dame offered no comment on Longo’s reassignment, and will make no comment on any hirings or firings this offseason until the moves are complete.

Wake Forest’s Mike Elko set to be Irish defensive coordinator

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Wake Forest’s Mike Elko is coming to South Bend. Multiple reports confirm that the Demon Deacons defensive coordinator is Brian Kelly’s choice to come to Notre Dame to fix the Irish defense.

Perhaps the most important hire of Kelly’s tenure in South Bend, Elko comes on the heels of an eight-loss season and confidence in the Irish head coach at an all-time low. And as rumors swirl about major changes to the Irish coaching and support staff, Elko is the major offseason move that most were waiting for.

SI’s Pete Thamel broke the news on Thursday that Elko was accepting the job. Multiple reports have confirmed as much, with the university vetting process now trudging along, with Elko ready to hit the recruiting trail after the dead period ends after the holidays.

While Elko’s first job will be to hit the road and introduce himself to a recruiting class that’s holding strong but in need of a good finish, his main job will be to pick up the pieces left behind by Brian VanGorder. Interim coordinator Greg Hudson stopped the bleeding– with a huge assist from Mike Elston. But Elko will bring a fresh approach to the defensive side of the ball, a critical move for Kelly who went outside his network to bring Elko into the fold.

While Elko isn’t a name that made waves on the national radar, his work at Wake Forest and Bowling Green is certainly impressive. With a more modest talent base, his three defenses in Winston-Salem were better than Notre Dame’s last three defenses, and he was a large part of David Clawson’s revival of Bowling Green as well, two top ten units in his final two seasons with the MAC program.

The hire certainly isn’t without concerns. The first might be the recruiting trail, where Elko hasn’t been asked to battle against giants like Harbaugh, Meyer and national powers. The next will be the Notre Dame pressure cooker, with the new coordinator’s three-year deal not indicative of the tight rope this staff will be walking next season.

While Kelly had no connectivity to Elko, he could certainly appreciate his resume and job path. Coaching stops at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and places like Stony Brook, Fordham and Hofstra certainly don’t point to a guy who has blue-blooded football roots. But an Ivy league background (Elko went to Penn) and a successful track record at the college level is more in line with the program than VanGorder’s travails in the NFL.

Notre Dame has not commented on the hire. Other rumors are currently swirling as Brian Kelly’s staff is in the middle of a major shakeup.

Torii Hunter Jr. exits program for baseball career

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Notre Dame captain Torii Hunter Jr. is passing on a fifth year. After a star-crossed four years in South Bend, Hunter is saying goodbye to the gridiron and pursing a career in baseball.

The Texas native made the news public, sharing via social media the following message:

I came to Notre Dame to challenge myself, both in the classroom and on the field, but in my time here I found that this university offered a lot more than I would’ve ever imagined. The wisdom and knowledge that I’ve gained from my professors, the lifelong friendships, and the personal growth are only some of the things that have made my Notre Dame experience truly invaluable.

It’s hard to believe that my time at Notre Dame has come to an end. This university has provided me all the necessary tools, including an Information Technology Management degree, to transition smoothly into the next phase of my life.

After long consideration and prayer, I’ve decided not to pursue a fifth year at the University of Notre Dame, but rather follow a dream of playing professional baseball with the Los Angeles Angels.

I want to say thank you to my coaches, teammates, professors, classmates and fans for all the support throughout my career.  I’m truly blessed to be a part of the Notre Dame family. Go Irish!

Hunter was drafted last offseason by the Los Angeles Angels in the 23rd round, the same team where his father spent five years in center field. And instead of returning for his final year of football in South Bend, Hunter will leave with his degree in hand and start a climb up the minor league baseball ladder—a significant climb after playing just part-time in South Bend, hitting just .167 in just 12 at-bats scattered over two seasons.

The move isn’t unexpected, with C.J. Sanders hinting at it a few weeks ago on social media and whispers emerging earlier this fall. And after battling significant injuries for the majority of his time at Notre Dame, a move away from football might be an easy choice.

It’s easy to wonder what could’ve been for Hunter. After being name the MVP of The Opening and an Army All-American as a four-star prospect, Hunter suffered a broken femur in the practices leading up to the game, taking a medical redshirt as a freshman after a slow healing process. Other injuries included a groin tear that cost him a large portion of the 2014 season and a concussion suffered against Texas in the season opener that cost him a game and a November knee injury.

For his career, Hunter made 73 catches for 949 yards and six touchdowns over three seasons.

Report: Scott Booker out at Notre Dame

Irish 247
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Scott Booker is out at Notre Dame.

Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister reported the news Tuesday morning, with the Irish special teams coordinator and tight ends coach relieved of his duties. It was a move that felt a long time coming, especially with special teams flubs happening almost weekly and the tight end position plateauing.

Brian Kelly has not fired assistants in his time at Notre Dame until this year, firing Brian VanGorder midseason and making the move on Booker as the Irish coaching staff heads into a recruiting dead period. Mike Sanford is also departing the staff, expected to be introduced on Wednesday as the head coach at Western Kentucky.

Booker joined Notre Dame’s staff as a coaching intern in 2010 before being elevated to a full-time assistant in 2012. He was viewed as a skilled recruiter, making some impressive inroads in Georgia with a high-energy approach, and landing two top tight end prospects that are preparing to sign in 2017, Cole Kmet and Brock Wright.