Purdue v Notre Dame

Notre Dame formalizes coaching staff shakeup


After weeks of speculation, Brian Kelly has announced his coaching staff for the 2015 season. The result is four new assistants, a few new assignments and the homecoming of a handful of former Irish stars.

Kelly will speak with the media shortly, but his coaching staff has been made official:

2015 Notre Dame Football Coaching Staff
Brian Kelly – Head Coach
Mike Denbrock – Associate Head Coach/Wide Receivers
Brian VanGorder – Defensive Coordinator
Mike Sanford – Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Mike Elston – Recruiting Coordinator/Linebackers
Scott Booker – Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
Autry Denson – Running Backs
Keith Gilmore – Defensive Line
Harry Hiestand – Offensive Line
Todd Lyght – Defensive Backs
Maurice Crum Jr., Mike Hiestand – Graduate Assistants for Defense
Ryan Mahaffey, Donovan Raiola – Graduate Assistants for Offense

Moving off the field will be veteran assistant Bob Elliott, who is now the Special Assistant to the Head Coach. Also of interest is the reassignment of Denbrock, who received a “promotion” to Associate Head Coach, even if most see this as a step backwards for Kelly’s long-time lieutenant.

(Denbrock is listed second on the staff roster, basically an org chart released by UND.com.)

Mike Elston is moving up the ladder to the recruiting coordinator. He’ll shift to coach linebackers this spring, now in charge of a defensive position group that’s likely the Irish’s deepest and most dynamic after this recruiting class.

Coming home to Notre Dame are former stars Lyght and Denson. Also joining them is former Irish captain Crum, who will be a graduate assistant for the Irish, along with Ron Powlus, who will become Notre Dame’s director of Player Development.

Mailbag: Sanford, running game, the option and getting to 85

Tarean Folston, Daniel Gonzales, Obi Uzoma

Before Brian Kelly introduces us to his new coaching staff tomorrow, let’s finish the mailbag.

I appreciate the people who actually asked questions… even if they were hard to dig out.



1) Do you see Sanford being able to “get through” to EG better than BK (apparently) did? I say apparently only because of the week-in week-out display by EG on the sidelines that seemed to convey an un-willingness to be coached, but alas, I’m not down there so don’t know…

1b) Assuming he CAN get through (if it was even an issue) do you think he will be able to foster an environment where BOTH EG and MZ feel utilized/satisfied with playing time and intangibles (playing hard for the good of the team no matter what)?

2) Has Sanford worked in a multiple QB situation successfully?

I’m letting NotreDan cheat with this question, if only because I think at the heart of this is a really important issue.

The fact that Brian Kelly hired Mike Sanford is huge. It’s also a fairly large development and a huge turn from the past five seasons. In the past Kelly has had Charley Molnar, Chuck Martin and Mike Denbrock coordinate his offense.

Literally. It was his.

With Sanford, I’m assuming there’s going to be an influx of ideas and schemes, and there’s little chance Sanford is in South Bend without a feeling of ownership (at least partial) in how this offense will run and work.

We’ll all likely get caught up in who is calling plays and what this all means for Mike Denbrock, but there’s zero chance this move happens without significant discussion, and that’s a big step forward. So the reality of the move is a big one, and one that shows Kelly is far from having the hardline stance that many attribute to the coach.

Now on to the business of, “getting through,” to Everett Golson. I’d argue Kelly and Denbrock got through to Golson just fine, but the quarterback went through the same phase that got Jimmy Clausen, Tommy Rees and even Jameis Winston in their second full season of playing football.

A little unbridled confidence can go a long way towards turning the football over.

I tend to dismiss immediately any notion that Golson checked out or was unwilling to listen to Kelly. It’s just so far from the reality of what we saw and what I know from talking to people inside the program.

But if Sanford has one duty this spring, it’s to make sure both Golson and Malik Zaire feel an ownership of this offense and that they both believe they’ll be key pieces to helping the Irish win next season. Because I tend to think that’s what sets this football team up to succeed.


goirishgo: Can BK truly commit to the run?

This is an awesome question. It feels a little bit like the dress that took over the internet. What color is it?!?

Someone is going to have to explain to me what “truly committing to the run” really means. Because after seeing Pete Carroll get tarred and feathered for throwing the ball at the 1-yard-line and having lived through the Davie era at Notre Dame and listening to people bellyache about not having a modern offense that could successfully throw the football, I feel a little bit like we’re talking about the different looks of Derek Zoolander.

Kelly and the Irish offense committed to the run against LSU. That was with Malik Zaire at quarterback. With Golson under center, the Irish did the same thing at times, though mostly in 2012, when the Irish rode Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood to the BCS title game.

(Remember that undefeated regular season, guys? I know we all have short memories, but it was literally two years ago.)

That being said, I get what you’re getting at. But nobody would accuse Bill Belichick of committing to the run, yet he has had a Top 5 “Run Success Rate” in each of the last nine seasons, according to this interesting read by Pete Sampson.

Maybe Kelly hasn’t been a huge run the ball guy because he hasn’t had a team that’s been that efficient doing so?

And maybe that’s why Mike Sanford is now in South Bend, especially after he turned down overtures from Vandy and Ohio State.

The power of this team will likely be the offensive line. The receiving corps are going to be close to elite and Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant aren’t too shabby either.

But it’s no longer the era of three yards and a cloud of dust.


southeastirish: Are there any other defensive strategies that ND could employ that might limit the injuries we seem to sustain each year in the Navy game?

I dug this question out of quite a declaration… which included a few suggestions for stopping Notre Dame’s annual thorn in the side. But I don’t know if there is an easy answer, nor do I think that Navy has been that responsible for injuries.

But as long as the Midshipmen (and next year, add Georgia Tech to the slate) are cut blocking, the defensive line needs to keep the opponent off their legs and their bodies off the ground.

ND tried that with  four-point stances up front. They also tried it with two-point stances as well. Ultimately, I think stacking the box and keeping guys moving in and out is the answer, while also forcing an option attack to beat you outside in.

(Easier said than done.)

It’s a violent game. Especially when doing battle within close quarters.

But I expect VanGorder to do better next year against the option, just as every Notre Dame defensive coordinator has done in their second shot at the Midshipmen. But in Keenan Reynolds and Justin Thomas, the Irish have to stop two of the most dangerous playmakers in college football, so that’ll be a handful to say the least.


ndlv: Keith, now that recruiting is over and ND got a graduate transfer, what is the team’s current status in terms of scholarship numbers? That is, how many freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors? There is still time for attrition (e.g., transfers, medical, etc.), but how many 5th years will likely be back? Who might not make the cut?

Expect Brian Kelly to field a few questions about this tomorrow, though he’ll want to keep the focus on the new coaches. He also said he’s going to need as much time as possible to get down to 85, so I’m not sure when we’ll be hearing a true update from him.

Right now, Notre Dame is in the low-90s with scholarships. The fifth-year candidates will come into focus sooner than later, though it could actually go through spring football to straighten itself out.

We know Conor Hanratty is walking away from football after concussion problems. Eilar Hardy will be playing elsewhere. Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown are gone. And I also think some very frank conversations will be had with guys who either haven’t figured it out yet, or don’t fully buy into the Kelly program.

(After the comments on Signing Day, Ishaq Williams’ return sure doesn’t feel as certain as it did before hand.)

Still, we seem to be really worried about this every year around this time only to have all sorts of things happen that solve this problem before a freak out is warranted. But I will say, this year does feel different… so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Mailbag: Spring football, position changes and feeding the trolls

Joe Schmidt

Well crew, I’ve gotta say… I’m a little underwhelmed by the mailbag question. And in the 150+ comments of people screaming at each other about mostly stupid stuff, I think I speak for everybody when I say:

a. You’re better than that.


b. We are in some need of football.

Let’s get to a few mailbag questions:


MattyMill: Keith, sorry if this is a repeat question, but as I’m writing this there are 155 other comments, and I’m guessing there are about 15-20 football related where the rest are either trolls or responses to trolls.

Here’s my question: the #1 most intriguing storyline of Spring ball has to be the QB battle. In your opinion, what is 2nd most intriguing storyline?

That’s a great question. And I think it has to be the evolution of Brian VanGorder’s defense. We need to see if the first half success of last year’s defense was smoke and mirrors or what we can expect from this group at full strength.

The safety depth chart is hurting. Cornerback play needs an upgrade (outside of Cole Luke), which hopefully comes when KeiVarae Russell returns. Notre Dame also needs to find a pass rush from their front four, and guys like Jhonny Williams and Jon Bonner will get their first shot.

After Joe Schmidt went down this defense never looked even close to the same. So we need to see how VanGorder decides to use his linebackers and how he plans on combatting opponents who try to move quickly, because North Carolina exposed that vulnerability.


grammarnazi69: Which players will (not should, but will) switch positions?

Right now, the only player I can tell you “will” change positions this spring is Michael Deeb. Per a report from Christian McCollum at IrishSportsDaily.com, Deeb is going to open up spring as a defensive end, bulked up to nearly 260 pounds of chiseled granite.

I’m intrigued by the move. And Deeb’s only path to the field last year came after Schmidt went down, Greer Martini went down and Nyles Morgan was temporarily out as well. This could be a great move for Deeb, or it could be a bit like when we saw Lane Clelland get a chance at defensive end after struggling to advance on the offensive line depth chart, and then flipping back after the move didn’t pay off.

As for making declarative statements about other position changes, I’m unable to do that. But I’d keep an eye on talented athletes with diverse skill-sets, players like Amir Carlisle (who will probably take some snaps at running back this spring), Justin Brent (big, strong and fast can translate to safety) and Matthias Farley (he’ll likely need to take some snaps at safety to help the depth chart).

Update: After listening to this week’s Irish Illustrated Podcast, it sounds like Doug Randolph will be playing defensive end as well. So add him to the list.


billtetley53: How can this fanbase, year after year, continue to be so ignorant as to think they have a shot at the National Championship? How are they so unrealistic every. single. year?

Hi Bill,

Thanks for writing. I enjoyed going into the blogs archives and looking up every post you’ve made… and then deleting them. If you’re looking for ignorant, you likely see if every morning when you brush your teeth or pull out the shaver. Or at least that’s what I see when I see everything you’ve written in the comments here.

The pleasure you derive coming here to spar and throw internet haymakers makes no sense to me. Especially if you aren’t a Notre Dame fan. What else do you want us to talk about on a blog called, “Inside the Irish?”

Did you forget that Notre Dame played for a national title just two seasons ago?  You know how many teams have done that since then? Florida State. Auburn. Oregon and Ohio State.

There are a whole bunch of idiots who write around here. And if we had the manpower to monitor it, or a better spam filter or banning protocol, believe me, I’d initiate it.

Few things annoy me more than anonymous internet people spewing hate at each other. So thanks for making this website a worse place, and reminding me to continue to delete whatever you post here from now on.


RIP Father Ted

Theodore Hesburgh

Former Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., died Thursday night on campus. Father Ted was 97. He said his final mass on Thursday, the day he passed away.

“We mourn today a great man and faithful priest who transformed the University of Notre Dame and touched the lives of many,” said the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s current president. “With his leadership, charisma and vision, he turned a relatively small Catholic college known for football into one of the nation’s great institutions for higher learning.”


Brian Kelly has cancelled his press conference scheduled for Friday to announce the changes to his coaching staff and to introduce the four new coaches on the Irish staff. So let’s take a few minutes to share some special stories that are being shared as people around the world honor the extraordinary life of Notre Dame’s greatest man.


I’ve linked to this video before, but it’s a favorite of mine. Father Ted opened his home—on the 13th floor of the library—to the WatchND team.

The man could tell a story, and managed to talk president Jimmy Carter into giving him a ride on the SR-71, the fasted manned aircraft in the world:


Among the decisions he made over his 35 years as the university’s president was the introduction of a coeducation undergraduate education, with women joining the student body in 1972.

“If we say we are educating for leadership, we ought to educate the other half of the human race.”


There may have been no more important American in the battle for civil rights than Hesburgh. Per a university biography, “Father Hesburgh was acknowledged as the principal architect of the Civil Rights Act,” and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom the same year.


Advice columnist Ann Landers asked Father Ted for advice back in 1975 when she announced her divorce.


Here’s what former president Bill Clinton had to say about Father Ted:

“Once he was criticized by some clergy for his emphasis on academic improvement, and he said, ‘Piety is no substitute for competent scholarship.’ The legendary Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago once said that Father Hesburgh’s improvements at Notre Dame constituted ‘one of the most spectacular achievements in higher education in the last 25 years.’”


I’m not qualified to judge what makes a saint, but am very happy to have the memory of a private mass with my roommates and our moms in the library one Sunday morning.

Even as we nursed self-inflicted headaches that morning, it was a moment we knew would be a memory for a very long time.



Spring Solutions: Secondary

Matthias Farley

Gone are Cody Riggs and Austin Collinsworth. Returning is a safety position that’s struggled, another transfer, a young cornerback on the rise, and (hopefully) an exiled potential star.

Welcome to the Notre Dame secondary. New coaching, same scheme, different players, and one of 2015’s great unknowns.

In year one of the Brian VanGorder era, we saw the best and worst from this group. Early in the year, the Irish were an aggressive, man coverage team that shutout Michigan for the first time in the rivalry.

Against USC, Notre Dame’s depleted secondary looked like burnt toast, with JuJu Smith, George Farmer and Nelson Agholor having their way with a group that looked lost and overmatched.

Kerry Cooks is gone to Oklahoma. Todd Lyght will be introduced shortly. And if we’re to believe reports, VanGorder himself will take aim at the safety position, fully intent on making Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate the playmakers this defense requires.

Before Avery Sebastian, Nicco Fertitta, Mykelti Williams (and hopefully KeiVarae Russell) and some young cornerbacks arrive on campus, let’s take a look at the remaining bodies in the secondary.



CB: Cole Luke, Jr. 
S: Elijah Shumate, Sr.
S: Max Redfield, Jr.
CB: Devin Butler, Jr.*
Slot: Matthias Farley, Grad Student

CB: Nick Watkins, Soph.
S: Nicky Baratti, Sr.*
S: Drue Tranquill, Soph.

Gone are Eilar Hardy, Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson — all three essentially unusable last season as well. This is easily the thinnest position group on the roster, and a big part of why Notre Dame’s looking to bring in five more players in the secondary in next year’s recruiting cycle.

Even if Sebastian isn’t as readymade of a player as Riggs was, there’s no doubting Notre Dame’s need for a veteran who has played competitive football.

Because there’s just no knowing what the Irish can get out of Baratti or Tranquill coming off of injuries and after seeing Butler play late last season, his spot in the starting lineup is strictly a placeholder.



Cole Luke: For as big of strides as Luke made in 2014, the USC game showed there is still work to be done. That’s no knock on Luke, who Brian Kelly credited with one of the biggest jumps on the defense.

Luke has cover ability. He’s a good tackler. And he’s game for any challenge, his work on Louisville’s DeVante Parker was as good as there was.

But if KeiVarae Russell’s Michigan game in 2013 served as his motivation during last offseason, watching George Farmer, Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith light up the Coliseum should do that for Luke.

Notre Dame has a very good cornerback here. But Luke’s task this spring is to take the next step, something that looks very possible.

Elijah Shumate: Where to begin… Shumate’s a senior now, the final season of a career that started with Shumate excelling in a specific role, but struggling with more heaped onto his shoulders.

We saw bright spots — though his pick six to end the Michigan game was called back after a questionable flag. But Shumate has to mentally succeed this offseason, matching up his considerable physical skills with the Football IQ needed to be a great safety.

With Tranquill and Baratti not full go this spring, it’s Shumate or bust, especially before the reinforcements arrive this summer. So that’s likely why VanGorder will spend a ton of time with the safeties, knowing that Shumate and Redfield are the only guys capable of getting this thing done.

Max Redfield: When Redfield was benched after a disappointing performance against Arizona State, it was eye opening. Here’s a guy who was one of September’s heroes, a former 5-star prospect coming into his own… or so we thought.

From there, Redfield was stuck deep in the doghouse. Like special teams gunner deep, who was glued to the sideline as the Irish coaching staff committed to playing a one-armed Austin Collinsworth and Drue Tranquill. Nevermind that it was painfully evident that the freshman wasn’t ready or capable to be a full-field safety.

Redfield salvaged his season in the bowl game, recovering from a broken rib to play well against LSU, even with a potential mistake allowing a touchdown over his head.

Redfield’s freshman eligibility was put up in smoke during the Pinstripe Bowl, with Kelly forcing him into the lineup. His sophomore season was spent learning an entirely new system.

Now his junior year needs to be the one where his talent shows through. This spring is key from a mental perspective as well as from a leadership point of view. Your free safety needs to be the brain of the operation. Let’s see if Redfield can take that step.

Devin Butler: I’ll be the first to question if Devin Butler is a starting-caliber cornerback. What we saw late last season leads me to believe the answer is a resounding no.

So Butler has 15 practices to make sure the coaching staff believes he’s a player who can make an impact. Or he’s going to be passed by Nick Watkins (if he hasn’t been already), and likely a slew of freshmen who will enter this June with eyes on early playing time.

Butler has length and has shown a knack for making a big play. But he also turned way too many passes by Cody Kessler into big plays for the Trojans.

Butler’s positional flexibility makes him a useful piece. But right now, it’s Butler’s job to show that he can be a player capable of contributions come September, especially when asked to match up in man coverage against top programs.

Put harshly, there’s no weaker piece in the starting lineup than Butler, and his name is here simply because there’s nobody else to put in there.

Matthias Farley: If any of the players in the secondary want to take solace in their struggles and know that better days can be ahead, just look at Farley. After being put out to pasture and left for dead last spring by fans, Farley was one of the defense’s most productive players.

The position switch to slot corner looked like a demotion and likely burial on the depth chart. But Farley played critical snaps for the Irish defense, and will be asked to do so again — his versatility absolutely perfect for the job.

With the safety depth chart, he may end up there. And there are limitations to his game, Farley will still occasionally struggle matched up in man coverage.

But Farley showed a knack for making plays, a nose for the football, and the type of competitiveness you can only hope everybody on the defense has. If you’re looking for a below-the-radar captain candidate, put Farley near the top of the list.

Nick Watkins: We heard nothing but good things about Watkins coming out of high school, early in camp, and throughout the season. Now there’s a starting job (even if it’s temporary) there for the taking, and Watkins needs to go out and get it.

Even if Watkins is the third corner, that’s a job that’s going to be vital. And after playing only sporadically last year, we need to see a big jump from the sophomore out of Dallas.

Nicky Baratti: Another shoulder injury put Baratti’s future in question, his first snap against Purdue throwing a weakened shoulder out of socket and ruining another season for the Texas native. But Baratti is intent on coming back, will be working with the team this spring, and could be desperately needed come the fall.

What Notre Dame can get out of him? Who knows at this point. But Baratti was one of the first freshmen to see the field in 2012, and if he’s capable of staying healthy, he’s a football player who could help the weakest depth chart on the roster.

Drue Tranquill: After tearing his ACL in November, Brian Kelly mentioned that Tranquill is well ahead of schedule in his recovery. (Then again, Kelly says that about everyone.) So spring will be about getting healthy and recovering… before asserting himself back into the mix for playing time.

Tranquill showed himself to be very useful as a third down component in this defense. While he was exploited in space after stepping in for Max Redfield, he was also a freshman playing for the first time, hardly the last to have that happen.

At 220-plus pounds, Tranquill is a unique athlete. He’s also the type of ingredient who can be utilized in scheme specific game plans if he’s not ready to be the team’s starting strong safety. But all of that necessitates a healthy recovery from ACL surgery.