By the end of the day, Notre Dame may have a new running backs coach. Perhaps not officially announced due to the time delay necessitated by HR hoops, but one at least reported. If not today, then Monday, or sometime next week. With the search reportedly down to two primary candidates interviewing this week, the process should not take much longer, at least in theory.
It has been more than two weeks since reports filtered out about Autry Denson taking over as head coach at Charleston Southern. In a previous time, one as recent as two years ago, this seemingly normal delay in the hiring process in January would spark some degree of concern.
National Signing Day is just a week and a half away. Lacking a running back coach at this critical juncture would put any pertinent recruits and their commitments in question. This cycle, that would have little effect, given the early enrollment of rivals.com three-star running back Kyren Williams, but the general premise stands: The early signing period mitigates much of the urgency to assistant coaching hires.
Consider literally two years ago, when much of the Irish coaching staff turned over following the 4-8 debacle known as the 2016 season. Head coach Brian Kelly retained only four of his nine assistants, needing to also bring in a 10th with the NCAA granting that additional slot presumed imminent.
Three of those six eventual hires were reported by the end of December. The esteemed Keith Arnold reported Tom Rees sliding into the quarterbacks coach position as that 10th assistant as early as Jan. 2. The only two that took some time — then-linebackers coach Clark Lea and receivers coach Del Alexander — were the easiest hires to project, coming along with their respective coordinators from previous stops.
Notre Dame moved relatively quickly, because National Signing Day loomed. That decisiveness helped the Irish keep together a class of 15, a “core” Kelly gave much credit to for sticking through the rough season and the staff churn, and then add six more, a half dozen largely attributed to the new hires.
That need no longer exists. Even if Williams was not already taking classes, he would already be signed. Defensive line coach Mike Elston, then recruiting coordinator, no longer has to hold together a recruiting class nearly all on his own.
Nothing about this is inherently shocking; just a side effect to the early signing period not yet realized around Notre Dame. Last offseason’s two in-house hires (promoting Lea to defensive coordinator and Jeff Quinn to offensive line coach) clouded this newfound relaxed reality, especially with the departures of defensive coordinator Mike Elko and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand coming after the early signing period.
It may have been nice for this change to occur before the Irish had to hire six assistant coaches in one offseason, but it has at least made life easier while replacing three more in the following two years.