It is an unfamiliar feeling for Chip Long. The Notre Dame offensive coordinator has entered a third season at only one previous coaching stop, lasting four years as the tight end coach at Arizona State (2012-2015). Between the Sun Devils and the Irish, Long spent one season as the offensive coordinator in Memphis.
Now in his third spring at Notre Dame, Chip Long expects to reap the benefits of the time he has spent establishing his system, both on the field and in the locker room.
“If we’re going to have any consistency in the last three years, it has to be that leadership and what kind of identity is this offense going to have, what kind of sacrifice are they going to have,” Long said the first week of March. “… It’s exciting to see a standard. I’m not having to teach guys how to practice anymore. They’re going.”
That on-field leadership will come from a number of rising juniors, perhaps fittingly given their arrival coincided with Long’s. A skim across the top line of the Irish offensive depth chart includes running back Jafar Armstrong, receiver Michael Young, tight end Cole Kmet (pictured above), right tackle Robert Hainsey and left guard Aaron Banks, not to mention tight end Brock Wright as part of many packages and guard Josh Lugg looming as the sixth offensive lineman.
It is the tight ends, in particular, where Long most expects the third year to yield production more than potential.
“They’re both extremely confident, flying around,” he said. “[Kmet] seems a lot faster now, especially without 20 pounds of tape on his ankle anymore. Just a confidence you would expect from a veteran guy at this point.”
That same confidence aspect arose when Long discussed Wright, specifically.
“He’s confident in the offense, he’s not having to think what foot do I step (with),” Long said. “He’s just going. He’s been a surprise right now for us, really proud of him.”
Such confidence will be necessary if the duo are to build on their combined 17 catches for 174 yards and one score in 2018. More than double that in every respect has left the tight end position (39 catches for 370 yards and five touchdowns), and even that was somewhat underwhelming.
And such confidence comes from a coach sticking around, a tough thing to find in the profession. Reaching his third year in South Bend bodes well for Long and Notre Dame in 2019, even if a supposed Alabama flirtation in January threatened to continue Long’s transient style. Irish head coach Brian Kelly joked that conversation focused on local barbeque establishments. Long insisted it was more professional advisement in nature, but nothing more.
“[Nick] Saban contacted me, he wanted to visit about what we do offensively, liked a lot of things we did, especially prepping for Clemson,” Long said. “I like a lot of the stuff they do offensively, and an opportunity to go down there and talk ball for a couple hours. …
“It really wasn’t much more than that. He knew my commitment to Notre Dame. It was a good opportunity to talk some ball after the rough two weeks we had.”
Whether that Tide visit was more than that or not, Long has reached a third year with the Irish, just as the pair of tight ends do, as well, one’s success perhaps very much depending on the other.