No, that headline is not from two decades ago. Notre Dame announced the hiring of Chris O’Leary as safeties coach on Friday, promoting the defensive graduate assistant coach after two seasons in that role and the one before that as a defensive analyst.
“Chris has been on a job interview the past two years,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He has done an exceptional job of mentoring and coaching the rovers, and in particular Jeremiah Owusu-Koramaoh and Paul Moala. His ability to build relationships and motivate our student-athletes has been apparent to me, and made him the ideal candidate for this job.”
O’Leary will go from coaching one unanimous first-team All-American and presumptive first-round draft pick in Owusu-Koramoah to coaching another first-team All-American and presumptive 2022 first-round draft pick in safety Kyle Hamilton (pictured at top, No. 14). The former had high praise for O’Leary in the Notre Dame statement. Not every assistant coach hire comes with such words from a former player.
“Coach O’Leary understands the art of winning every second, minute and hour of each day,” Owusu-Kormaoah said. “He taught us that if we would continue to focus on painting the small details, that we would one day cultivate a masterpiece.”
O’Leary spent one season as the safeties coach at Division II Florida Tech and two as a graduate assistant at Georgia State before arriving in South Bend.
He will now have his work cut out for him in finding Hamilton’s partner in the defensive backfield. The Irish have a few highly-recruited options, namely rising senior Houston Griffith in his return from the transfer portal and classmate D.J. Brown, but none that have established themselves enough to date to demand playing time. In fact, Notre Dame moved Shaun Crawford from cornerback to shore up the position in 2020’s Playoff run.
— Houston Griffith (@___HG3) February 5, 2021
Rising junior Litchfield Ajavon may also warrant some two-deep consideration, but he has yet to take a defensive snap in his career, so his joining the competition to start would require quite a quick leap under O’Leary’s tutelage.
Late-night Notre Dame thought … Kind of surprised we made it more than 24 hours past the first reports of the Irish hiring a coach named O'Leary without anyone making the obvious joke about George.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) February 5, 2021
O’Leary replaces Terry Joseph, who left Notre Dame for a similar position with Texas.