Report: Irish to hire Memphis OC Chip Long

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Brian Kelly may have found his new offensive coordinator. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reports that the Irish will hire Memphis’ Chip Long, who worked under first-year head coach Mike Norvell and coordinated the No. 16 scoring offense in the country, averaging 38.8 points a game.

Long’s work in 2016 is more impressive when you consider that the Tigers needed to replace first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch. With junior college transfer Riley Ferguson, Memphis had the No. 14 passing offense in the country and averaged 6.25 yards per play, 35th best in the country.

A first-year coordinator who called plays this season, Long came with Norvell from Arizona State, where he worked under Todd Graham and served as the Sun Devils’ recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. Long has also coached under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. A former D-II All-American at North Alabama, Long earned recognition from both Rivals and 247 as one of the country’s Top 25 best recruiters.

While Notre Dame has yet to comment on the hire, here’s what Norvell said about Long when he announced his addition to the Memphis coaching staff before last season:

“Chip Long is, without a doubt, one of the brightest young offensive minds in the country,” Norvell said. “Coach Long and I have coached together the last four years at Arizona State, where Chip was our recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach.

“He’s going to direct an aggressive, ‘attack-style’ offense that will showcase our playmakers in every aspect of the game. He has been nationally recognized over the last four years as one of country’s top recruiters. Coach Long is originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and has great ties to the region. He has coached in the SEC, Big East, Big Ten, as well as the Pac-12 and is a dynamic addition to our staff.”

Offensively, there are plenty of similarities between Kelly’s ideal offense and the system Long runs. In a near-term fit, the hire is very good news for Brandon Wimbush, a good offense for the first-year starter to take over and learn.

 

Feldman reports that Long agreed to a three-year deal to come to South Bend. Long could fill Mike Denbrock’s shoes as receivers coach as well, with Kelly potentially opting to hire a quarterbacks coach to complete his offensive staff.

Five Irish recruits compete at Under Armour All-American Bowl

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Five of Notre Dame’s recruits are in Orlando, competing at the Under Armour All-American Bowl. Representing the Irish are linebacker David Adams, cornerback Paulson Adebo, quarterback Avery Davis, offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, and tight end Brock Wright.

While I wasn’t smart enough to get the assignment to head to Orlando and breakdown each recruits performance in practices before the January 1st game that’ll be televised on ESPN, here’s a collection of reports that should give you a quick breakdown on their performances:

 

David Adams:

It’s interesting to look at Adams now that we know he’ll be coached by Mike Elko and plugged into his defense—a Wake Forest group that put together a final dominant performance in an upset bowl victory over Temple, a team Notre Dame will open up against next season. While Adams wasn’t recruited with Elko’s 4-2-5 (but multiple) scheme in mind, there’s no doubt that he’ll fit in just fine.

While Adams (and likely many others) might not be as big as his recruiting profile lists, the reviews of his work this week all point to a highly athletic, instinctual athlete.

The two-time first-team All-State player in Pennsylvania earned this review from Jermain Crowell, his coach for Team Armour, according to a Rivals and BlueandGold.com report:

“Really smart football player, really instinctive and high football IQ,” Crowell told Rivals. “He plays downhill. He’s good in pass coverage, good communicator. I like him.”

With some nice depth returning at linebacker for the Irish, Adams shouldn’t be expected to step into the lineup. That makes it possible for him to spend a year learning and adding some bulk to his frame, just like linebacker Jonathan Jones did this season.

 

Paulson Adebo: 

If there’s a Notre Dame prospect who is helping his stock this week, it might be Adebo. Playing receiver in Orlando, Adebo looks explosive as a pass catcher, impressive as a route runner and athlete with top-end speed, something that bodes very well for an Irish secondary that is young and on the rise.

Adebo, whose commitment back in June caught many by surprise, also said all the right things when asked about the status of that commitment to Notre Dame.

“The big thing for me was the actual school,” Adebo told Irish247. “It wasn’t anything other than that. Coaching changes, one bad year, it doesn’t change anything… Just the fact that they were one of the few schools that had a good academic program and a football tradition and team. That’s what sold me on Notre Dame.”

 

Avery Davis: 

No recruit will have more eyes on him than Davis come this fall, as he could enter the season one hit away from the starting job now that DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire are gone. Ready to compete with Ian Book for the backup job, Davis’s athleticism isn’t in question, though his ability to step in and make all the throws necessary might be.

A highly productive high school quarterback at Cedar Hill in Texas, Davis isn’t big, but he’s athletic, and he’s showing plenty of that this week in Orlando, even if it’s also clear he’ll need to do some mechanical work with whatever quarterback coach Brian Kelly brings in to work with his offense. In a recruiting class where the Irish moved on quickly after missing on Hunter Johnson, Davis is doing what’s expected this week.

 

Robert Hainsey:

While it’s hard to get a true feel for offensive linemen before they get to campus, this is the type of review you want to read about incoming freshman. The early-enrollee got this write-up from Irish247’s analysts after one day of practice:

Hainsey is a mauler. His toughness continues to be on display. He needs to learn to finish his blocks all the way through, but all in all, he had a really good day one. I was impressed when I was told that he looks better in pass blocking than run blocking, which isn’t always the case at the high school level. He is always cross-training at tackle and guard this week and has been getting a ton of reps. Hainsey is clearly taking advantage of this week, as he prepares for enrollment at Notre Dame in two weeks.

Hainsey is playing guard right now in Orlando, though it’s not clear whether Hainsey will play inside or outside yet in South Bend. He was IMG Academy’s starting left tackle.

 

Brock Wright:

Another early-enrollee, Wright certainly looks the part of a ready-to-contribute tight end at the college game. A massively large target who already looks like he’ll be able to hold his own as an attached blocker, Wright does just about everything well—a very nice player to add to a tight end position group that has a ton of depth, and will reportedly be coached by Jeff Quinn.

Wright’s size, speed and strength all look up to par—a big reason why he’s considered a Top 100 prospect and one of the nation’s top tight ends.

Report: Mike Denbrock headed to Cincinnati as OC

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Mike Denbrock is on the move. Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel is reporting that Notre Dame’s associate head coach and play-caller will join new Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell’s coaching staff.

It’s a huge move that removes one more trusted insider from Brian Kelly’s coaching staff. Yet it’s also not surprising, and fits into some of the information that has been coming out of South Bend, as Denbrock was likely to lose play-calling duties after a disappointing 2016 season.

Brian Kelly has been interviewing a wide array of offensive coordinator candidates, with Irish Illustrated reporting that Kelly talked with former Pitt OC Matt Canada before he took the same job at LSU under Ed Orgeron. Kelly’s also been linked to conversations with former Baylor assistant Kendall Briles and former Michigan and Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges, coaches with very diverse offensive backgrounds.

The move of Denbrock and the reports of national interviews suggest that Kelly plans to hire someone from outside the program, not simply plug back in Denbrock or former coordinator Jeff Quinn, who is expected to take over as tight ends coach. It also looks less likely that Kelly will hire a quarterback coach like he did with Matt LaFleur, rather look to find someone who’ll handle the quarterbacks and the coordinator role.

Notre Dame has already announced the hiring of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who coached his final game on Tuesday with Wake Forest, a dominant performance in an upset win over Temple. Brian Polian’s return to South Bend was made official today as well, hired to coordinate the special teams.

Thamel’s report is the first on the potential move and hasn’t been confirmed by anyone at Cincinnati or Notre Dame. The Bearcats finished 4-8 in the American Conference, firing Tommy Tuberville and hiring the former Ohio State defensive coordinator in mid-December.

Denbrock has had two stints in South Bend, coaching 10 total seasons at Notre Dame under Ty Willingham and Kelly, who he first worked with at Grand Valley State.

Brian Polian officially introduced as Notre Dame special teams coordinator

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Brian Polian‘s return to Notre Dame is official. After four years as Nevada’s head coach, Polian is back in South Bend, coordinating the Irish special teams, a position he held under Charlie Weis, and also held at Stanford and Texas A&M.

Head coach Brian Kelly released the following statement:

“Brian not only brings a successful history of coaching special teams, but he’s also considered one of the nation’s top recruiters. He simply understands Notre Dame, what it’s about, and the type of student-athlete that we need to succeed at the highest level. I’m extremely excited to have Brian join this program, and our players will benefit from his mentorship, passion, energy and enthusiasm — both on and off the field.”

Polian, whose Nevada team lost to Notre Dame this September 39-10, began his coaching career when Charlie Weis hired him in 2005, spending five seasons under Weis in South Bend. He has coached under Nick Saban, George O’Leary, Jim Harbaugh and Kevin Sumlin and is the son of Hall of Famer and six-time NFL executive of the year Bill Polian.

The 42-year-old coach got his first head coaching job when he replaced heralded Nevada coach Chris Ault. He won just four games in his first season before back-to-back seven-win seasons, winning the Arizona Bowl over Colorado State in 2015. He was fired after Nevada went 5-7 this season.

“I’m thrilled about the opportunity to return to Notre Dame,” Polian said in a statement. “This is a very special University and football program. I want to thank coach Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for the opportunity to re-join the Fighting Irish family. Laura and I are looking forward to coming back to this wonderful community. I’m excited to go to work, get to know the terrific student-athletes and prepare for a great 2017 season.”

Polian’s time in South Bend is best marked by his recruiting win of five-star linebacker Manti Te’o over favorite USC. He’ll likely recruit the West Coast and help in Texas as well, areas he’s worked before as both a head coach and assistant.

Ex-ND defensive coordinator Bob Diaco fired at UConn

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Bob Diaco is out as the head coach at UConn after three seasons.

The architect of Brian Kelly’s best defenses at Notre Dame lost his job on Monday afternoon after a 3-9 season, finishing at 11-26 in his three years in Storrs. Diaco’s firing is effective January 2nd, likely a negotiated date as his contract buy-out drops significantly after the new year. Diaco had received a contract extension through 2020 that included a pay raise heading into the season.

The news of Diaco’s firing comes just days after Notre Dame announced the hiring of new coordinator Mike Elko. While there’s absolutely no indication that Diaco would be willing to return to South Bend—or Kelly would pursue a reunion—it’s an eye-opening move as Kelly rebuilds his coaching staff before the new year with a mix of new and familiar faces.

Other than Elko, the timing of the announcement of that rebuilt staff will hopefully be revealed after the recruiting dead period ends right after the new year. Kelly has made no public comments other than those released in written statement following the Elko hire, but did discuss the timeline for coaching moves with Jack Nolan in the latest episode of Inside Notre Dame Football, detailing the next few critical months for both the head coach and his program.

“I’d like to get the staff solidified before the holidays, if we can do that. Maybe that might be a stretch in some instances, but for the most part have that solidified, so nobody is going through the holidays not knowing what their situation is,” Kelly told Jack Nolan.

“Then we get the staff back in here right when recruiting opens back up. Attack the recruiting, finish up—we only have a few spots left in the recruiting. And then get to work on this football team.

“When they get back on campus, it’s going to be pretty exciting, but it’s going to be a great challenge as well. Our football team is going to learn the grind necessary to win games in the fourth quarter and that will be the emphasis.”

Brian Polian has already been reported to have accepted a coaching position, likely special teams coordinator. Former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn, who served as Kelly’s offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and has served in a variety of off-field roles the past two seasons in South Bend, is rumored to be moving to a coaching role, likely tight ends.

While Elko’s hiring announced, Kelly is still looking for a quarterback coach and potentially an offensive coordinator, though it helps to be reminded that he’s chosen different ways to fill that vacancy—hiring Matt LaFleur to be just the position coach while Mike Sanford was both coordinator and quarterbacks coach. (Chuck Martin held both positions after coaching safeties and coordinating recruiting.)

Whoever is hired, Kelly talked about the task of replacing the offensive, defensive and special teams coordinator in one offseason.

“It’s absolutely critical that you find the right people that recognize the vision that you have and embrace the vision that you have for your program and understand Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “We have a uniqueness here at Notre Dame that you need to embrace. And then, they have to be compatible to the things that we want to do on the field.

“I think in all three of those positions, they’re going to make a huge impact. I think we’re going to be able to improve our football team with these three hires and we’re right in the middle of that process, but one that I’m very excited about.”