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OFD Opinions: Grading the New Staff Hires

Coach Brian Kelly was forced to retool his staff this offseason after some coaching departures. How did he do?

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For the second straight offseason, Coach Brian Kelly had to break out his Rolodex to fill some vacancies on his Notre Dame staff.  As you already know, he lost RB coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford (Ohio State), DB coach Kerry Cooks (Oklahoma) and QB coach Matt LaFleur (Atlanta Falcons) to other jobs.  Additionally, OLB coach Bob Elliott is taking a position off the field.

How would you grade the new hires?


Jim Miesle:

I think BK hit a home run with these hires--and I usually don't like mixed-sports metaphors.  Maybe I should have said he took one to the house.  Regardless, he brought in one of the young up-and-comers to coach QBs and run the offense Mike Sanford.  This job is likely a stepping stone to a head coaching job in the near future, but he should play a big role in recruiting in his time in South Bend.

Bringing in a pair of alums in DB coach Todd Lyght and RB coach Autry Denson was also a great move.  Both understand the demands on football players at Notre Dame.  Despite both being somewhat inexperienced as coaches in the college ranks, they have been moving up quickly in the ranks.

The final piece is bringing Keith Gilmore in as DL coach (and moving current DL coach Mike Elston to LBs).  Gilmore brings a ton of experience and as well as a good reputation as a recruiter.  He has worked with DC Brian VanGorder before and has developed several players into NFL draft picks.

Overall, I give BK an A on this one.

Eric Murtaugh:

At the risk of hanging on the fence all I can do is give an incomplete right now. I'm not sure there's any aspect of college football that is more difficult to judge and rate than the hiring of assistant coaches. At times, it can be difficult enough to predict the fate of head coaches--the history of assistants is ten times more volatile filled with laughingly incorrect assumptions on both sides of the aisle.

I will say that in the long-term the coaching moves provide a lot of potential as the new staff members are a nice mix of experience with high ceilings--particularly in recruiting.

My only concerns are that Notre Dame has to replace two good coaches and there are still many questions surrounding the role of Mike Sanford and how he'll fit in as the offensive coordinator. Also, this is a lot of coaching change heading into a very important season. The new coaching moves could galvanize the program and add a much needed breath of fresh air or we could spend 2015 still working out the kinks and suffering on the field as a result.

It's way too early to make any grand statements about the new hires but I'm generally happy with them.


I loved them. I loved every last one. I was among Brian Kelly's most vocal attackers last November, and while results on the field will obviously determine how these hires work out, the philosophy was sound. Bringing in a guy like Sanford - an up-and-comer who, if things go well, won't be here long, because he'll get hired away by a major program - was the kind of move ND has rarely made in recent years. I can't think off the top of my head the last time ND had an assistant that had as many glowing reviews coming into the school as Sanford, and more to the point, a young one. (I'm not counting Diaco, who built his reputation while here.)

If reports that Sanford turned down Urban Meyer to be Ohio State's OC because he wouldn't surrender full control are true - which, it stands to reason, would mean Kelly did offer him that - I like it even more. Kelly is certainly not a bad offensive playcaller, as much of last season did show, but I think he is best served focusing on being the head coach and letting another guy handle that responsibility.

The other moves, Lyght and Denson in particular, were excellent too. Bringing in successful alums, guys who can relate to players and recruits better than anyone about the challenges and benefits of being at ND, is a great idea. And (I'm stealing this from one of our other writers, and I forget who, so I apologize) having dynamic younger black coaches on staff is always a plus. Alford was that, and by the accounts I've seen, Denson certainly is that too.

Results will obviously be determined later, but I can see the thought process that went into these hires, and I couldn't agree with it more. A+ for Kelly.


I applaud Brian Kelly's creativity in his hires. He drew from Notre Dame's history by hiring Autry Denson and Todd Lyght. He showed his awareness of up-and-comers in hiring offensive wunderkind Mike Sanford. He was able to grab a more established and respected coach in Keith Gilmore. Coach Kelly also used the chance to shuffle positions on his staff and bring in some other collaborators for off field roles. While we have a general idea of what the staff will look like, it will be interesting to see all the nuts and bolts when Kelly officially announces the roles at Monday's press conference.

The new hires for the football staff receive my B grade. Kelly gets points for creativity and potential. I'm reserving the A grade for if Kelly had convinced coaches from each top ten staff to join as graduate assistants. That is a gross exaggeration, but in reality, I see the hires as very good rather than the best possible result. Which is fine! In a year where Kelly had to deal with unexpected turnover, he put together a strong and intriguing staff.