Notre Dame promoted a defensive analyst to safeties coach, but perhaps not the one many assumed the Irish would default to. Rather than veteran coach Kerry Cooks, Brian Kelly and new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman have reportedly tapped graduate assistant/defensive analyst Chris O’Leary.
O’Leary knows Notre Dame’s roster, having been on staff as a defensive graduate assistant for the last three seasons. He spent 2020 focusing his efforts on the Irish outside linebackers, of note given Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s rise to unanimous first-team All-America status and certain first-round pick-to-be.
Just as applicable, O’Leary went on the road recruiting for Notre Dame a little more than a year ago while the Irish searched for Todd Lyght’s replacement, eventually Mike Mickens. Aside from first-team All-American rising junior Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame has struggled in safety evaluations in recruiting, suggesting that aspect of the job was a priority in this decision.
Before joining the Irish, O’Leary spent 2017 as the safeties coach at Division II Florida Tech, and for the two seasons before that, a graduate assistant at Georgia State. To use this hiring as an example of how coaching networks can expand and evolve …
A Terre Haute, Ind., native, O’Leary played receiver at his hometown school, Indiana State, from 2010 to 2013. For the first three seasons, his head coach was Trent Miles, also a Terre Haute native.
Miles then took over at Georgia State, guiding the Panthers into the FBS. He brought along with him his Sycamores defensive coordinator, Jesse Minter. O’Leary worked under Minter for two seasons, including 2016, when Minter hired his father, Rick, as the Panthers defensive line coach. Yes, that is former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter. (Hold on, there is more overlap to this than Rick Minter, last coaching in South Bend in 2007.)
When Miles was fired from Georgia State, the elder Minter was hired as the defensive coordinator at Florida Tech, bringing along O’Leary as his safeties coach, under Tech head coach Steve Englehart, yet another Terre Haute native and O’Leary’s offensive coordinator at Indiana State in 2010 before launching the Florida Tech program, still its only head coach today. But the elder Minter branch of this is network is more coincidental than anything.
Rather, to close this loop, the younger Minter started his career with two seasons as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati, on Brian Kelly’s staff, working with a star cornerback by the name of Mike Mickens. Minter is now the new defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt, one of the first hires for Clark Lea, the Irish defensive coordinator the last three years. Minter had been the defensive backs coach with the Baltimore Ravens for the last four seasons, since the Georgia State run came to its end.
To summarize all that: O’Leary played for Miles as his head coach and Englehart as his offensive coordinator. He then coached under Miles, with two Minters also on staff. Next, O’Leary worked under the elder Minter and Englehart, before joining Notre Dame for three years. More than the elder Minter connection to South Bend, O’Leary had the younger Minter connection to Kelly and Mickens to break the ice.