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2015 Assistant Coach Regular Season Grades

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Looking back at the performance of the assistants in the 2015 season.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Elliott, Special Assistant to the Head Coach

GRADE: A+

In his work as head of The Institute for Option Studies, Bob Elliot really exceeded all expectations in developing solid game plans against Navy and Georgia Tech, as well as getting the SWAG team ready to prepare the Irish defense against a solid option look. I'm sure plenty of other little tidbits from Coach Elliott made it into the day-to-day of the Irish program as well

Paul Longo, Director of Football Strength and Conditioning

GRADE: B+

The Irish continue to be able to show superior speed and power against lesser foes, and stand toe to toe with other very strong teams. No signs of fatigue in the 4th quarter of games, or severely overmatched players. Small knock due to some of the injury trouble this season, but it's unknown entirely how much of that is on strength and conditioning vs football being football. I'm sure Longo and CBK will discuss in the offseason to make sure that they're doing everything they can to prevent these injuries moving forward.

Mike Denbrock, Associate Head Coach/Wide Receivers

GRADE: A

Across all of his roles, Denbrock performed very well this season. The Notre Dame offensive playcalling was solid all year, save some troubles in the red zone from time to time. As receivers coach, Denbrock put together arguably one of the most talented units on the field from top to bottom, including Biletnikoff hopeful Will Fuller.

Brian VanGorder, Defensive Coordinator

GRADE: C-

Arguably one of the hardest grades to determine is that of BVG. The Irish defense came out strong this season, with a near shutout against Texas, but it seemed to be all downhill from there. The front seven, especially the defensive line (more about them later), proved to be an extremely solid unit, but the secondary under Brian VanGorder had multiple blown coverages throughout the season and looked lost at times.

Despite the lapses in the secondary, the defense still performed well enough for the Irish to win every game they played in, and were an overall slightly above average unit. For a team with an offense like Notre Dame, that will be good enough most games, but there is room for improvement to become a more complete team next season. The biggest question for Brian VanGorder is whether he will put his players in position to become that team.

Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks

GRADE: A+

In his first season at Notre Dame, most didn't know exactly what to expect from Mike Sanford. Throughout the season (and throughout the Showtime series), Sanford showed time and again that he will be able to develop the QB position with aplomb. After Malik Zaire went down with injury, he was able to guide Deshone Kizer to one of the most amazing backup quarterback performances in college football. With the potential for Mike Denbrock to leave for a head coaching gig in the near future, Sanford may be in prime position to take over the ND offense after a solid first year leading the QBs.

Mike Elston, Recruiting Coordinator/Linebackers

GRADE: C+

The grade here doesn't reflect his work as a recruiting coordinator (A+) but rather his development of the linebackers. Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, and James Onwualu all performed at a good level this season as a unit. Greer Martini and Jarrett Grace both filled in well in spot duty. The main issue with Elston is not seeing any rotation or work for Nyles Morgan this season over an at-times struggling Joe Schmidt. It may end up being a player just not putting it together, but the lack of experimentation was a little concerning.

Scott Booker, Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends

ST GRADE: B+

TE GRADE: C-

As Special Teams coordinator, Scott Booker improved the coverage and return units, as well as kept long snapper John Daly, kicker Justin Yoon, and punter Tyler Newsome operating smoothly all season. The fake field goal against Virginia  and experimenting with end arounds on kickoffs show a bit of innovation from Booker that we can hope to see moving forward. The dual highlights of the season for the special teams are the blocked punt against USC and the KO return TD against Stanford.

As the tight ends coach, the inability to develop a true pass catching threat in the absence of Durham Smythe this season proved to be a frustration all season. Alize Jones showed flashes, but as the season wore on, instead of becoming more involved, it seemed that Jones faded out of the spotlight. The tight end blocking this season was acceptable, but we can still long for the days of Troy Niklas demolishing fools.

Harry Hiestand, Offensive Line

GRADE: A

Coach Hiestand put together arguably one of the best OL in the country this season. Save a few hiccups (notably Clemson), the offensive line was one of the things that could always be counted on this season. The Stanford game was likely their shining moment, and hopefully a sign of things to come in the bowl game.

Kieth Gilmore, Defensive Line

GRADE: A

What a hire. It appeared to my untrained eye that almost across the board at Defensive Line (save for perhaps Trumbetti), there was marked improvement from last season. Sheldon Day was somehow even MORE disruptive, Romeo Okwara became a true pass-rushing threat, and Jerry Tillery showed flashes of dominance in his first season. The future is bright for this defensive line under Kieth Gilmore, and I'm really looking forward to the development of the younger members of this crew.

Autry Denson, Running Backs

GRADE: A+

Coming into the season looking to work with Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, and instead turning CJ Prosise into one of the most dangerous RBs in the country, and Josh Adams into the all-time freshman rushing leader at Notre Dame is a pretty impressive feat. Similar to Mike Sanford, Denson did quite a bit with a bad break at his position.

Todd Lyght, Defensive Backs

GRADE: D

I wrestled with the idea of giving Lyght an incomplete grade here, as it seemed for most of the season that BVG was coaching the secondary in team drills while Lyght was managing the individual portions of practice. It's very hard to see the little things that are done on a one-on-one basis in the secondary (jamming receivers, etc.), but as an overall unit the secondary was the least impressive one on the field for the Irish. More of a "too early to tell" here for Coach Lyght than anything specifically regarding his performance this season. We will have a good indication as early as next year if we see some improvement from the secondary as a whole, especially in the development of younger players.