Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has accepted the head coaching position at UConn. NBC Sports has confirmed the news that was first reported by CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman. The 2012 Broyles Award winner leaves another huge hole in Brian Kelly’s staff, with both Diaco and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin taking head coaching jobs in the past week.
The 40-year-old New Jersey native joined Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, before leaving to coach under Al Groh at Virginia. Diaco rejoined Kelly at Cincinnati where he coordinated the defense in 2009, before joining the Notre Dame staff in the same position. Diaco was promoted to assistant head coach before the 2012 season.
Under Diaco, the Irish defense has improved dramatically. In 2009, Notre Dame was rated 63rd in scoring defense. They improved to 23rd in the country his first season, improving by nearly a touchdown. The Irish stayed a Top 25 defense in 2011 before the 2012 team became one of the best defenses in school history, giving up just 12.8 points a game.
Even with injuries, the Irish defense finished the regular season ranked 32nd in scoring average, giving up 22.9 points a game. While some detractors tired off Diaco’s bend-but-don’t-break coverage schemes and the struggles to create turnovers, Diaco was a key part of transforming an Irish defense that was soft for the better part of a decade before becoming the equivalent of a heavyweight bruiser.
While Diaco’s reputation as a strategist is impressive, where he truly shines is in the locker room. A quick search on Twitter for Irish player reactions lets you know how deeply loved he was by his team. A fiercely intense leader who led with a passion that he demanded from his players, Diaco quickly got buy-in from a team by committing to positive coaching and rebuilding a group with a heavily damaged psyche.
Diaco very nearly left the program after last year’s undefeated regular season. But the timing of leaving his team before they played for the BCS Championship just didn’t sit well with an assistant who preached loyalty above all else.
Diaco takes the reins of a UConn program after Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi turned the job down. CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman reports that Diaco will make $1.5 million a season on a five-year deal.
Brian Kelly will now need to fill two key positions on his staff. Kerry Cooks was promoted to co-defensive coordinator before the 2012 season. Defensive line coach Mike Elston looks to have coordinator chops as well. Even safeties coach Bobby Elliot has a strong reputation and coordinated some elite defenses.
After miraculously keeping the Irish coaching staff together after the 2012 season, Diaco’s departure marks the end of an era. That’s three coordinators under Brian Kelly that have accepted head coaching positions. We’ll find out soon if the Irish head coach can reload as the elite coaches in college football do.