Newly-hired Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman will immediately have a hire to make, with reports late Friday indicating Irish safeties coach and passing defense coordinator Terry Joseph has accepted a job at Texas.
FootballScoop.com first reported Joseph’s decision.
Joseph was somewhat a candidate for the role Freeman ended up getting, that announced just a few hours earlier on Friday. Instead, Joseph will join new Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian’s staff before he even hires a defensive coordinator. Apparently, the soon-to-be-former Alabama offensive coordinator was not much dismayed by Notre Dame’s passing defense in the Tide’s 31-14 Rose Bowl victory on New Year’s Day.
Joseph joined the Irish in 2018, then taking over a position group that had failed to make an interception the previous season, breaking up just five passes. In the 2018 Playoff run, safeties broke up 16 passes and intercepted seven, suddenly a pivotal group in leading Clark Lea’s defense. Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman kept that momentum alive in 2019 with four breakups and three interceptions between them, buttressed by a surging freshman’s six breakups and four interceptions.
Kyle Hamilton will be the crown jewel for whoever steps in to coach the safeties next. The All-American will be widely considered the best in the country leading into the 2021 season and is already a presumptive first-round draft pick in 2022 after finishing this season with six pass breakups and one interception, numbers deflated by opposing offenses outright avoiding him downfield.
Hamilton’s running mate will be determined between now and the season-opening trip to Florida State, with rising senior D.J. Brown the most likely starter though incoming freshman Khari Gee may demand a look. With sixth-year Shaun Crawford (finally) heading to the NFL and Houston Griffith in the transfer portal, there are only so many options remaining.
That depth chart is well-known to current defensive analyst Kerry Cooks, one year into his return to Notre Dame after being part of the staff in head coach Brian Kelly’s first five years in South Bend. Cooks then spent four seasons with Oklahoma and 2019 with Texas Tech, always working with defensive backs, before rejoining Kelly’s staff.
Kelly and Freeman may not turn to Cooks to fill this hole, but he is an obvious candidate.
Whoever is hired as the safeties coach, an emphasis on recruiting should be presumed. Adding the four-star Gee at the 11th hour in the 2021 cycle redeemed this class for Joseph, otherwise including only consensus three-star Justin Walters as a true safety recruit. Even past recruiting successes have struggled to develop the last few seasons, Hamilton the exception. Exhibit A: Griffith — more reflected by Crawford’s moving to safety from cornerback in the preseason than in Griffith’s transfer.
Admittedly, it is early in the 2022 cycle, but the Irish have not yet found any safety commitments in the next class.