Tag: Coaching Change

Todd Lyght

Reports: Todd Lyght to join Notre Dame coaching staff


As soon as word surfaced that Kerry Cooks was leaving Notre Dame for Oklahoma, people began pointing to former Irish All-American Todd Lyght as a possible replacement.  Cooks’ move was confirmed yesterday by SI. And it looks like Lyght’s homecoming is now in motion.

Multiple reports have Lyght leaving Vanderbilt to join Brian Kelly’s coaching staff. He only joined Derek Mason in Nashville last month, after working with Chip Kelly the past two seasons in Philadelphia.

The former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner was the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft after being named a two-time consensus All-American at Notre Dame. He’ll likely slide into Cooks spot coaching the secondary, though Kelly has often split up responsibilities, with both a safeties coach and a cornerback coach working with the different positions.

While the hire hasn’t been made official and is likely pending the university’s lengthy background process, Irish 247 reports it’s a “done deal,” and anecdotal evidence like this seems to prove that point.

Kelly was unwilling to talk about any coaching changes yesterday, though it appears the movement isn’t over. After a brief — and bizarre — report linking Brady Hoke to the Irish staff, Matt LaFleur’s name also became connected with a job on the Atlanta Falcons’ staff, where his brother was just hired as an offensive assistant and he’d be reunited with Kyle Shanahan.

Lyght is relatively new to coaching, working first at Bishop Gorman High School before connecting with Chip Kelly in the NFL. Known as a cerebral player, Lyght brings an excellent pedigree to the staff, and likely came with sterling references.

Before the hire, Brian Kelly likely leaned on Lyght’s former college coach, Lou Holtz. He also probably called his first employer, former Bishop Gorman and now UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez. He could’ve also checked in with Chip Kelly, a colleague who has visited South Bend for coaching camps and remains close with Kelly.

Digging into the archives, here’s a highlight reel of Lyght’s work back with the Irish, compiled a few years back by Blue & Gold Illustrated.




Does Harbaugh to Michigan really matter for Notre Dame?

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am - Final Round

Michigan is in the process of finalizing their deal to make former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh their head football coach. After a mutually agreed upon divorce that feels like a satire on the life and times of Silicon Valley high society, Harbaugh will return to his alma mater to take on the reclamation project of returning the Victors to victories.

Give Michigan brass credit. They went all in on securing Harbaugh, spending the past few months orchestrating the hire of a NFL coach who up until this season had done nothing but win football games at a historic pace.

But for all the flowy wordplay that’ll be dedicated to the hire, a few things require stating:

1. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is about money. Nearly $50 million to a coach from a state that just had its biggest city go through a bankruptcy. This is a bank-breaking, logic-defying deal.

2. Michigan just guaranteed that money to a coach who nearly got traded last year, a fairly emphatic statement on just how difficult Harbaugh is for bosses, colleagues and a work environment that had only seen success with him at the helm.

3. The brand of football that Harbaugh’s team played took a significant step backwards in 2014, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick going from transformative player to serious question mark in one calendar year.

With that out of the way, let’s get serious. This is a grand slam hire.

Replacing Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh is like swapping out that finger-painting from your five-year-old nephew with a Jackson Pollock original. So while it might have pushed college football a few steps closer to the apocalypse with the financial implications, it’s a deal nearly every Michigander is celebrating for good reason.

Now on to Notre Dame. While the two schools haven’t found the time to reboot their rivalry after the Irish pounded one of the first nails into Brady Hoke’s coffin this September, the Harbaugh hire hasn’t gone unnoticed by Domers.

Harbaugh’s move to Ann Arbor could change the gravitational force in Midwestern recruiting. It’ll give Michigan a head coach that can walk into the same living room as Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer and come out looking like the most accomplished of the three.

In the coming days, we’ll find out how Harbaugh plans to build his coaching staff. If the Michigan brass was willing to roll out $8 million for the guy wearing Walmart khakis, what are they willing to give his assistants? Expect some big names to come soon, as the coaching staff will storm out of the gates hoping to salvage the 2015 recruiting class.

Does that mean taking dead aim at some Irish recruits? Of course. And that has some Irish fans expecting the worst. (That seems to be the default setting.)

But while the Irish used to look at Stanford’s defense as the archetype, Brian VanGorder is recruiting to a different mold. That means some overlaps, but hardly a hunt for the same lumbering and lanky edge players that the Cardinal terrorized Notre Dame with.

Offensively, Harbaugh’s first order of business is finding a quarterback. The last time people thought Shane Morris was the answer was when YouTube clips of his junior year in high school were stuck buffering on Internet Explorer. But for better or worse, there aren’t too many similarities between Brian Kelly’s preferred offensive system and the one Harbaugh’s running.



For all the talk Hoke made about a power-running, Michigan offense, Harbaugh’s actually established it. But at Stanford, he found Andrew Luck. In 2009, Harbaugh and Luck went 8-5, turning Toby Gerhart into a Heisman Trophy finalist. The head coach rode a 12-1 2010 to the NFL, turning down the Wolverines to create the mess he’s now cleaning up four years later.

Harbaugh’s hiring has certainly shaken up the Big Ten. While Urban Meyer has managed to get his team into the College Football Playoff, the rest of the conference has shown itself to be second rate. Harbaugh will begin his climb to the top in a conference that’s never been shakier.

With no football to be played until September, Michigan is the king of this offseason. That means no more picking on the guy at the office from Detroit, who will spend the next nine months with a little more pep in his step — because Michigan actually landed their man.

Harbaugh’s return to the college scene adds another A-Lister to a part of the country where most are running from. But until the two teams restart their rivalry on the field, it should be business as usual for Notre Dame football.


Matt LaFleur to be named QB coach

Robert Griffin III, Matt LaFleur

After having smoke around his name for quite some time, former Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur will be named the new quarterback coach at Notre Dame. The news was first reported by the Washington Post.

LaFleur spent the past four seasons as the quarterback coach for the Redskins. He spent two years before that as an offensive assistant with the Houston Texans, working under Kyle Shanahan. He headed to Washington as the quarterback coach when Mike Shanahan was hired and has worked with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins since they were both drafted in 2012.  He’s worked in the NFL since 2008.

LaFleur’s connections to Brian Kelly stem back to Central Michigan, where LaFleur was an assistant on Kelly’s staff. He was a quarterback at Saginaw Valley State, starring at the D-II level after transferring from Western Michigan, where he was a wide receiver. LaFleur will be the youngest coach on the Irish’s 10-man coaching staff.

While the Shanahan era ended in disaster this season in Washington, it’s hard to question the hire of an NFL position coach that guided Griffin to the NFL Rookie of the Year award. LaFleur also worked with Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman.

The news isn’t official yet, with the vetting process at Notre Dame still going on. But Kelly hinted at having a coach in place over a week ago, and LaFleur is the type of hire that makes perfect sense and follows Kelly’s process almost down to a tee, blending pedigree with a personal connection to the head coach.

LaFleur was one of 10 assistants fired by the Redskins after Shanahan was relieved of his duties on December 30. While he’s spent most of his recent years in the NFL, LaFleur spent time at Ashland University, Northern Michigan and Saginaw Valley State, where he played against Kelly’s Grand Valley teams.

Irish adding Buffalo’s Ernest Jones to football staff

Ernest Jones

Brian Kelly spent the morning addressing the staff changes that await the next edition of the Fighting Irish football team. But it appears there’s one more move on the horizon, though it hasn’t been made official by Notre Dame. As reported by the Buffalo News’ Rodney McKissic, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Ernest Jones is leaving Jeff Quinn‘s Buffalo coaching staff for a yet to be named position at Notre Dame.

The move will reunite Kelly with Jones, who worked under the Irish head coach at both Cincinnati and Central Michigan. With the Irish on-the-field staff filled, Jones is taking a position in the football office, where he’ll likely help the Irish in their recruiting efforts, until a staff spot opens up. Jones made a similar move to Cincinnati, joining Kelly after a stint as the head coach of Alcorn State, where he was fired one year into his three-year contract.

Even if he’s unable to work on the field, Jones brings a wealth of knowledge to the coaching staff and potentially a trump card in recruiting. As Quinn’s associate head coach, Jones headed up the Bulls’ recruiting efforts, putting together an unprecedented class as the Bulls signed 19 commitments under Jones’ guidance, having a recruiting staff all but set in December, when in years past the Bulls scrambled until well after Signing Day.

Jones declined to comment when reached by the Buffalo News, but the deal is reportedly signed and his home is on the market in the Buffalo area. It’s also rumored that the move wasn’t all that well received by Quinn, who’s losing his recruiting coordinator, cornerbacks coach and associate head coach to a non-coaching position with the Irish — the second defection to the Bulls staff this offseason.

If you’re looking to read between the lines here, the current offseason might have taught Kelly a thing or two about the desirability of coaches at high-profile schools like Notre Dame. Losing Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton, and having a brief scare with Tony Alford’s interview with the Green Bay Packers, Kelly is creating a contingency plan for the next assistant out the door, with coaches like Bob Diaco, Chuck Martin, Mike Elston and Kerry Cooks on the radar at major programs everywhere.




Hiestand named OL coach and run game coordinator

Harry Hiestand, Frank Omiyale, Roberto Garza

After having his name surface a few weeks ago, Harry Hiestand has officially been named to the Irish coaching staff, replacing Ed Warinner as both offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Hiestand is a 29-year coaching veteran that’s spent significant time in both the NFL and collegiate ranks.

After spending the last two seasons in Tennessee, Hiestand returns to the Midwest, where he spent four years coaching the Chicago Bears offensive line, and eight years in the Big Ten with Illinois.

“Harry is one of the best offensive line coaches in college football, and we are fortunate to have him on our staff,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend and Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

We’ve already spent significant time discussing Hiestand, whose strong reputation might have dimishe thanks to the incredibly raw talent he was given these past two seasons in Tennessee. In his two seasons in Knoxville, the Vols failed to crack the top 100 in rushing offense, though they finished 30th and 50th in passing offense while making gigantic strides protecting the passer, jumping from 116th in the country in Hiestand’s first season (giving up 41 sacks), to 34th (giving up 18 sacks — one fewer than the Irish offensive line).

Of course, qualifying those statistics is important. As Notre Dame published in their official release, Hiestand’s 2010 offensive line was one of the most inexperienced in football, returning only three total starts to the entire line while forcing three true freshmen into the starting lineup. Still, the Volunteers had a 1,000 yard rusher in Tauren Poole, only the 16th in Tennessee’s history, who tied for the SEC lead with six 100-yard games. Hiestand saw his freshmen turn into sophomores in 2011, but still coached one of only seven offensive lines in D-I football that didn’t play a senior.

As for his fit in the spread offense, some have wondered how Hiestand’s blocking philosophies will mesh with Kelly’s principles, namely spending more time zone blocking than Hiestand has done in the past. In quotes released by UND.com, Hiestand addressed those concerns quickly.

“The fundamentals of line play are critical no matter what type of offensive system you are in,” Hiestand said. “Blocking people is about leverage. Blocking people is about getting your helmet where it belongs and getting your pads below someone else’s pads and knocking them off the ball. Being fundamentally sound fits any system. We are going to work on being fundamentally sound. We are going to work on blocking people for the duration of the play.”

Even better, for those looking to play the “return to glory” card, Hiestand also mentioned his connection to former Irish offensive line coach Joe Moore, the legendary teacher who is the gold standard at Notre Dame.

“He had a tremendous impact on me,” Hiestand said of Moore. “Joe was one of those people who you either gravitated to him or not–and there was no in between. I was one of those who gravitated to him, and he taught me a lot about offensive line play. Most of the things I teach have been influenced by what Joe taught. Once that started and we spent that much time together, then I became very close with him as he went back and was coaching high school. He and his wife, Fran, and his family–I was able to be a part of him up until his death.”

Hiestand officially finalizes the changes on the Irish coaching staff. For those looking for a quick look at what’s happened since the bowl game, here’s a quick breakdown of the staff changes:

2011 to 2012 — Coaching Changes
HC: Brian Kelly (unchanged)
OC: Charley Molnar to Chuck Martin
OL/RG: Ed Warinner to Harry Hiestand
RB: Tim Hinton to Tony Alford or Scott Booker
WR: Tony Alford or Scott Booker
TE: Mike Denbrock (unchanged)
DC: Bob Diaco to Diaco and Kerry Cooks (Cooks named co-DC while Diaco adds Asst. HC)
DL: Mike Elston (unchanged)
LB: Bob Diaco (unchanged)
CB: Kerry Cooks (adds co-DC)
S: Chuck Martin to Bobby Elliott