Notre Dame has finally filled out its coaching staff. Multiple reports this week indicate the Irish will hire Mike Mickens as cornerbacks coach.
In a bit of symmetry, Mickens starred at Cincinnati as a two-time All-American under Brian Kelly and now replaces Todd Lyght, a former two-time All-American at Notre Dame.
Sources: Notre Dame expected to hire Mike Mickens as defensive backs coach. Mickens was a star player for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati. He comes from Cincinnati, where he served as DBs coach.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) February 13, 2020
The 32-year-old Mickens is seen as an up-and-comer in coaching ranks, beginning as a defensive analyst at his alma mater in 2011 and ascending to this Power Five position after just seven years on the sideline. He spent a season at Indiana State, another at Idaho and four at Bowling Green before returning to Cincinnati for the last two years.
Mickens was “only” the defensive backs coach for the Bearcats, but it warrants mentioning they finished No. 15 in team passing efficiency defense in 2019 and No. 13 in 2018. For context: The Irish were No. 5 last season and No. 6 two years ago.
Mickens will have the charge of developing an underwhelming cornerbacks corps, courtesy of Lyght’s years of middling recruiting. Sixth-year Shaun Crawford and rising junior TaRiq Bracy are the likely starters, but neither has the build of a usual boundary cornerback, a role necessitating physicality in coordinator Clark Lea’s defense. A half dozen underclassmen who were all once three-star prospects fill out the position group, with KJ Wallace’s four appearances the most experience among them.
It should not be a reach to think Mickens’ impact will be quick, given his rise through the coaching ranks and his own recent success at the position, playing in 47 games (2005-08) with 14 interceptions and three defensive scores.
He will reportedly join former Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty on Kelly’s staff, with McNulty coaching the tight ends, replacing former offensive coordinator Chip Long. McNulty and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees overlapped in 2016 with the San Diego Chargers when the former coached tight ends and Rees was an offensive assistant. That relationship plus McNulty’s nearly three decades of coaching experience should make him a helpful voice in an offensive system dependent on “more collaboration” moving forward.
McNulty spent 17 years in the NFL, split by five years at Rutgers as the offensive coordinator during Greg Schiano’s heyday, before returning to Rutgers in 2018 to be the offensive coordinator in Chris Ash’s failing tenure. When Ash was dismissed at the end of September, McNulty’s offense had been held scoreless in two of its four games, most notably in a 52-0 blowout to Michigan.
McNulty spent the rest of the year as an offensive analyst at Penn State, where he played in 1988-90.
To some degree, the quick landing involved with one of the country’s best offenses shows respect of McNulty’s acumen within the coaching ranks, even if his time at the helm of offenses has not resulted in the same successes.
With the two additions, along with Rees’ promotion to offensive coordinator, Kelly has a complete coaching staff and any Irish turnover should be resolved until at least a few weeks into spring practice, beginning March 5.