Notre Dame went through a great deal of change last off-season by bringing in 4 new assistant coaches and shuffling around the responsibilities of others on staff and within The Gug. The lead up to the 2016 season is expected to be much more stable for the Fighting Irish with the possible exception of the defensive coordinator position where Brian VanGorder has endured a very rocky 2 years in South Bend.
We can only speculate as to the future of VanGorder, however, we will reiterate that there is virtually zero smoke surrounding the departure of the current defensive coordinator.
Be that as it may, we've assembled a list of names of possible candidates in the event that Notre Dame is looking for a new DC at some point in the coming weeks.
First, a quick explanation on how we came up with these names. We scratched off targets we deemed unrealistic. For example, we would not expect one of the country's highest paid assistants in John Chavis to up and leave Texas A&M when he is making $1.5 million per year and has spent his entire life working in the South and now Texas. This won't be a "throw a bunch of money at the popular top 5 coordinators" type of list whom the average fan are aware of anyway.
We also are limiting things to current college defensive coordinators to save time for both you and me while not including men who just recently took new jobs over the last few weeks. To get a broad idea for names we first looked at the programs with better DFEI scores* than Notre Dame this year then paid attention to a quality DFEI average over the last 5 seasons where applicable. This wasn't strictly adhered to in every case but was a method to weed out perceived poor candidates.
*DFEI scores for 2015 are prior to the final post-season numbers
Power 5 Possibilities
Pete Kwiatkowski, Washington 2014-15, Boise 2011-13
Kwiatkowski may not be among the most popular names in the industry but it's hard to argue with his results in recent years. The former Boise State defensive lineman became a budding star at Montana State from 2000-05 and eventually returned to his alma mater while ascending to the DC position in 2011 under Chris Petersen.
He followed Petersen to Washington in 2014 after a clunker in his last campaign with Boise (83rd DFEI) but Kwiatkowski has put up Top 21 DFEI scores in 4 out of his 5 years at the FBS level, including back-to-back Top 6 performances with Washington and the No. 1 defense for 2015.
Washington recently promoted Jimmy Lake to co-DC last month and the whole Petersen staff seems in harmony right now. As one of the rare Pac-12 programs to play defense at a high level it's difficult to see Kwiatkowski walking away for another job. He's also spent 21 years of his playing and coaching life at Boise State and would probably want to stay out West where he'd be a prime candidate to take over once Bryan Harsin leaves the Broncos.
Tony Gibson, West Virginia 2014-15
A member of the Rich Rodriguez coaching tree, Gibson got his big start coaching the defensive backfield for 7 seasons at West Virginia from 2001-07. From there he followed Rich Rod to Michigan and then spent a season each at Pitt and Arizona. In 2013, Gibson returned to West Virginia to coach safeties and was promoted to DC in 2014.
The defense improved from 55th DFEI to 24th and this past season shot all the way up to 4th as Gibson led a veteran and experienced unit. The Rich Rod affiliation and discrepancy between the traditional stats (Mountaineers gave up at least 40 points in 4 games this year) and advanced stats probably leaves most Irish fans a bit skeptical, especially with a 3-3-5 scheme. Since he's spent most of his life in West Virginia, Gibson is probably a top candidate for the West Virginia job once Holgorsen is gone.
Bob Shoop, Penn State 2014-15, Vandy 2011-13
Shoop played at Yale and became the Bulldogs' DC for 3 seasons in 1994-96 before taking the same job for one year at Villanova. From there, he was the DB coach at Army for one season and held the same position at Boston College for 4 years.
DC Bob Shoop said the simple answer is no, he doesn't want to coach elsewhere. But, he still has HC aspirations. pic.twitter.com/ZO1ybbWLed— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) December 29, 2015
In 2003, Shoop was hired as the head coach at Columbia but was dreadful with just 7 wins over 3 seasons. He fell back to a DB coach at UMass for a season then did well as the DC for William & Mary for 4 years, making the playoffs in his last 2 seasons.
James Franklin scooped him up for the Vanderbilt DC job in 2011 and since then Shoop's been a rising star. The DFEI ratings with the Commodores were all decent (peaking at 35th in 2012) but it's been the last 2 seasons with the Nittany Lions where he's put together back-to-back Top 20 defenses.
Phil Parker, Iowa 2012-15
A former standout defensive back at Michigan State. Parker took one year as a grad assistant in East Lansing then spent 11 seasons coaching defensive backs at Toledo. He was hired to coach DB's when Kirk Ferentz took over at Iowa and has been with him ever since.
For the 2012 season Parker became the Hawkeyes defensive coordinator and has done pretty well with Top 30 DFEI appearances in 2 out of the last 3 seasons. He could be lured by a significant raise coaching at Notre Dame but really hasn't shown any desire to leave Iowa and likely wouldn't be viewed as a big-time hire.
Tom Bradley, UCLA 2015, PSU 2000-11
Bradley spent his entire adult life, from 1975 until 2011, playing and coaching at Penn State. He put in 37 years with the Nittany Lions, and while he escaped blame for the atrocities that came to light in 2011 and took over as interim coach, Bradley was passed over for the permanent head job in 2012.
After sitting out of coaching for a couple seasons he became the assistant head coach and D-line coach at West Virginia for a year prior to becoming UCLA's defensive coordinator this past off-season. While struggling with some key injuries, the Bruins finished a respectable 31st in DFEI but Bradley was known as one of the game's best DC's during his time at Penn State--finishing 15th during his last season in Happy Valley.
The uncertain fate of Jim Mora, who seems to be eyeing some NFL jobs, could put Bradley back on the market again.
John Jancek, Tennessee 2013-15, Cincinnati 2011-12, Georgia 2009
If Brian Kelly stays within his coaching tree the selection of Jancek would make sense as he was rumored to be in the mix before Brian VanGorder was hired in 2014. While Jancek was a player at Grand Valley State he was being coached by a young assistant named Brian Kelly. In 1991, Kelly became head coach at GVSU and Jancek spent a year as a grad assistant before later becoming defensive coordinator at Wayne State under head coach Brian VanGorder.
Jancek then reunited with Kelly becoming his DC at GVSU for 1999-2002 and then again for one season at Central Michigan in 2004. Since then, Jancek has coached linebackers at Georgia for 4 years and became co-DC for the Bulldogs in 2009. His last 6 seasons have been split evenly between Cincinnati and Tennessee where he's followed Butch Jones.
Jancek's first 4 seasons as DC were promising with 3 Top 30 finishes, including the No. 13 DFEI in his last year with Cincinnati. Since running the defense in Knoxville he's done well but the advanced stats don't love him--just one Top 40 finish (38th in 2014) and an average DFEI with the Vols of 50.6 over 3 seasons. UPDATE: Jancek was just fired by Tennessee yesterday.
Josh Conklin, Pittsburgh 2015, Florida International 2013-14
This would be a bold move similar to bringing in Mike Sanford last year, although the presence of Mike Denbrock and Brian Kelly on offense helped that situation out and would be tough to replicate on defense. Conklin is just 35 years old and became the Citadel DC in 2010 after being an assistant at Wofford and South Dakota State.
He coached safeties at Tennessee for one season in 2012 then engineered a massive turn around as DC at Florida International taking the Panthers from 109th in DFEI in 2013 to 29th in 2014. Conklin was hired by Pat Narduzzi for his first season at Pitt in 2015 and finished this past season with the 68th DFEI ranking--nothing too amazing but a respectable 42 spots higher than the previous season.
Non-Power 5 Possibilities
Phil Snow, Temple 2013-15, Eastern Michigan 2010-12
If you're looking for a well traveled coordinator here's your guy. Snow's first big gig came as DC at Boise State in 1983 and then he would coach DB's for 10 years at both California and Arizona State. From 1995 to 2000 he was the Sun Devils DC and then did a tour of the Pac-10 as UCLA DC (2001-02) and Washington DC (2003-04) before being an assistant in the NFL with Detroit for 4 years.
After taking a couple years off, Snow came back to college as the DC of Eastern Michigan for 2010-12 and has spent the last 3 seasons as the DC at Temple. His stock is obviously high right now taking an Owls defense from 112th DFEI in his first year to the 17th and 18th rankings over the last 2 seasons. At 60 years old, and coming off coaching a few generational talents at Temple, he could be a risky hire.
Marcel Yates, Boise State 2014-15, Texas A&M 2012-13
The 38-year old has spent most of his career at Boise State where he played college ball. In 2003 he became the Broncos cornerback coach and then added the whole defensive backfield in 2006. Yates spent two seasons in College Station as the Aggies Co-DC but the 87th ranked DFEI sent him packing back to Boise.
Over the last two seasons Yates has done well as the DC of the Broncos posting the 25th and 20th ranked DFEI units. Like many who spend so much time at their alma mater you wonder how much he'd want to leave.
Chuck Heater, Marshall 2013-15, Temple 2011-12
Heater's not getting any younger at 63 years old but brings an absurd amount of experience, including 5 years at Toledo, 3 years at Wisconsin, 3 years at Ohio State, and 3 years at Notre Dame where he won a National Championship under Lou Holtz. He took his first DC job at Colorado State in 1991 after leaving South Bend but only spent 2 years there before moving on.
Heater spent 11 seasons between Colorado and Washington but neither position as DC. In 2004 he was hired to coach corners for Urban Meyer in Utah and followed him to Florida where he later became co-DC in 2010. Since 2011 he's become a full DC again at Temple and Marshall. His first year with the Herd saw a 73rd ranked DFEI but since then it's been 32nd and 23rd. Bad news though, he played his college ball at Michigan.