The scheduled press conference to introduce new staff members at Notre Dame was postponed from Friday until 11 AM Monday due to the death of Father Hesburgh. Today, head coach Brian Kelly finally gathered with the media to talk about the new coaches joining the football team and updating the world on a few other issues.
Kelly opened up his presser by honoring the passing of Father Hesburgh and his importance to Notre Dame. The team will honor him this week and are thankful to have a cross blessed by him hanging in the team room.
THE BEST STAFF?
There were no punches pulled in describing this new coaching staff. Kelly called it "the most committed, cohesive, experienced, and probably brightest coaching staff" that he's ever put together in his career. No pressure, you guys!
As you would expect, there was a lot of coaching jingo thrown about: momentum, commitment, excitement, connection to Notre Dame, etc.
The next topic was the return of 4 former players (Todd Lyght, Autry Denson, Ron Powlus, and Maurice Crum) who add an extra level of commitment because they've walked in the shoes of the current student-athletes. Kelly mentioned that these coaches understand the principles at Notre Dame and will strive to help the Irish win a National Championship. He seemed genuinely impressed that this group knew how hard it can be in South Bend but were determined to make it back and help out anyway.
Note, Powlus is back in South Bend as the Director of Player Development and Crum is a grad assistant.
NEW D-LINE COACH, KEITH GILMORE
The code word for Notre Dame's new defensive line coach was "cohesiveness" which is a term that is usually reserved for a member staying on staff and not joining. However, Kelly was talking about that in terms of coaching with him at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati. It's clear that Kelly and VanGorder are very comfortable with Gilmore and like his experience a lot.
NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR, MIKE SANFORD
"The best and the brightest" is what Kelly was looking for, Sanford topped that list, and they were happy to be able to bring him on board.
What's interesting with Sanford is that he's been given the Offensive Coordinator title but his role as described by Kelly is someone who will "coordinate the run and pass game through daily practice and game plan preparation" in addition to his duties as the new quarterbacks coach.
Former offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has now added Associate Head Football Coach to his resume and will "oversee the organization of the offense, and in particular he's going to be installing, implementing and putting together the entire offense."
So it seems right now that Sanford is still a ways away from being handed the keys to the offense. It at least seemed to me that ‘quarterbacks coach' was stressed during this presser more so than ‘offensive coordinator.'
NEW DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH, TODD LYGHT
Kelly mentioned that VanGorder was looking for a particular skill-set and the ability to coach more man-to-man techniques. They think they found that person in Todd Lyght who has a light resume of coaching but was one baller of a corner in college and the NFL. He knows his stuff.
NEW RUNNING BACKS COACH, AUTRY DENSON
There were copious amounts of candidates knocking on Notre Dame's door to coach the running back position, and Kelly admits, Denson was not someone he thought he'd hire but the all-time leading rusher in Irish history "blew him away" during the interview process.
DONOVAN RAIOLA- NEW GRAD ASSISTANT
Kelly snuck this tiny bit of info into the presser but former Wisconsin offensive lineman Donovan Raiola has joined Notre Dame as a grad assistant under Harry Heistand. He bounced around the NFL for several years only sticking on a bunch of practice squads for the most part and is now getting into coaching.
NEW ROLES FOR MIKE ELSTON
The one coach who got stayed on staff but was shuffled around was Mr. Elston. He'll move from coaching the defensive line to dealing with the linebackers. Also, it's official now that Elston is the program's recruiting coordinator. Kelly was very effusive with his praise of Elston calling him someone who has a "vision for what it takes to communicate to today's kids out there that are being recruited."
Kelly even went a step further and said Elston has "arguably been our best recruiter day in and day out. If you just look at our roster, it's proven that to be the case." That's an interesting nugget of info that may come as a surprise to some people.
However, I'm not sure Elston has been one of the main points of contact for the recruiting sites so his role has probably been diminished by the general public. Kelly mentioned that Elston is very good at "finding the right buttons to push when it comes to recruiting" which always doesn't mesh well with the recruiting guru's who sell vague ideas of "outworking" everyone on the recruiting trail and brush aside the nuance and challenges required to recruit at Notre Dame.
BOB ELLIOTT, SUPREME COMMANDER OF SPECIAL PROJECTS
That's not an official title, by the way. But it does sum up the role Elliott is stepping into as he moves from the field and will be basically running around doing a whole variety of things for the program. Here, I'll let the head coach explain:
"It will be a special assistant and special project. I can give you 10 of them right now. But they are really pertinent to the day to day operations within the football program. Everything from researching some of the current trends in option football, to analytics, to roster management, to our bridge program in the summer. All of the things on a day to day basis that can help and assist me on a day to day basis so we can be more detailed, more organized on a day to day basis, as well as leaning heavily on him and his experience in game day and game week preparation."
QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION NOTES
*They are still working on who will call plays during the games and it's something that won't be decided until after spring camp ends. If you were skeptical about the communication and leadership process from the coaches on offense you're probably not elated about this news. Too many cooks? Let's hope the offense is able to hum properly in 2015.
*Kelly praised Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and Associate Athletic Director Chad Klunder with giving him the resources to add so many new pieces to the coaching staff. He said it was "pretty easy" going through such an overhaul in such a short time.
*Brian VanGorder will "float around" to different position groups on defense but they've talked about him focusing on working with the safeties.
*Kelly thinks they'll be stronger in recruiting. Denson will be provided some help in Florida and is focusing on south Florida specifically. Sanford will recruit Texas and California. Lyght will be matched up in some of the same areas, as well. Mike Elston will remain in his usual spot recruiting the Midwest and Atlantic seaboard.
*The program will be hiring 3 more analysts, one each for offense, defense, and special teams. Those positions will be quality control and oversight, especially with meetings and some gameplan research. These people cannot coach on the field.
*Chip Kelly spoke highly of Todd Lyght when he was with the Eagles and everyone liked his ability to command the room and gain the respect of his players, largely due to his NFL career.
*Kelly thought Sanford was impressive going back to his days with Stanford. They went after him right away this off-season.
*Verbiage and nomenclature will not change on offense. The offense is and will remain about the players first. What fits the players takes precedent over play-call.
*Kelly is putting a lot of trust in Denbrock and Sanford to run the offense. He has "no problem not being involved" running it and he doesn't need to be the play-caller. He says he's hired other people to do this for him and if the program is better served with him out of the equation then that's what it's going to take. Do you buy all of that?
*The spring game will be held at the LaBar outdoor practice facility. They are in the process of adding temporary seating and bidding out the gate to companies. Kelly does not know yet whether NBC will be televising the game or not. Their floating a number of around 3,000 people for the game.
*Scott Booker will stay as the special teams coach, in addition to working with the tight ends. He'll have a lot of help from Bob Elliott and an analyst for special teams.
*Kelly mentioned that the coaches who left did not do so for better money.
*Jarrett Grace has looked great in workouts, even beat Jaylon Smith in a couple of cone drills. Was Jaylon trying to be nice??
*Nicky Baratti has full clearance for spring practice.
*Joe Schmidt is starting to move around a little bit, in a straight line. Sounds like he won't be doing much throughout spring practice.
*Jarron Jones still needs a couple screws out of his foot. That'll likely happen after spring break. They are not too worried about his situation.
We'll embed the video of Brian Kelly's presser when it becomes available.