The news of Mike Elko’s departure from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was a brutal fact to face on Thursday. Notre Dame fans were up in arms even though most are used to bad news during the offseason.
The upheaval was justified. Of all the “nightmare” scenarios that didn’t involve the NCAA or the legal system, losing Mike Elko probably ranked as #1 and #2. We saw so much improvement this year on defense, that a three year plan with Elko had real national title hopes burning a fire in our hearts.
According to a lot of the X and O gurus, what the Notre Dame defense did this season was even more remarkable because of the poor safety play all season long. It was the first time since 1964 that a safety didn’t record an interception. Great defenses have safeties that make plays. Notre Dame was a good defense - not great, but with Elko also operating as the safeties coach, there was hope that the safety play would get better in the near future (not to mention blue-chip recruits like Derrik Allen).
So, it should come as no surprise that schools were going to come after Elko. How it all went down, however, is a little surprising.
A lot of fans, including myself, thought that Notre Dame just didn’t put up the cash necessary to keep Elko. Notre Dame has been known to be fairly cheap in that regard - even with that million dollar salary to the guy that Elko replaced, Brian VanGorder. It simply wasn’t the case this time around. According to the South Bend Tribune, Elko and Notre Dame had agreed on two raises in two days that had them sitting at 1.5 million a year. After The Texas A&M Aggies countered again, Notre Dame had simply had enough of Mike Elko’s haggling.
Some news in this story: per source, before he left for A&M, Elko verbally agreed to a new contract with ND in excess of $1.5M. Would have been highest paid assistant in ND history. Then A&M won bidding war. https://t.co/Zy3TuRpIQi— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) January 5, 2018
But all of that is history now. The matter at hand is what Notre Dame does now to fill its defensive coordinator position. It’s a matter that is much more complicated than just filling the coordinator position.
- Mike Elko was also the safeties coach.
- Will Clark Lea, Notre Dame’s linebackers coach, follow Elko to College Station?
- Would Mike Elston, the Irish defensive line coach, leave if he is passed over for the DC job again?
- How attractive is this job to established defensive coordinators?
Given those variables, we could drop about 20 names and still be way off. So right now, it really is a wide open race with unknown racers. If we need to talk about some names (and we all are anyways) let’s throw a few out there. How about 6?
OUTSIDE SOUTH BEND
These are two established defensive coordinators that I like a lot, and should be considered.
Glasgow runs a 4-2-5 defense, and I’ve always liked the way TCU plays defense. They’re aggressive and fundamentally sound. They held up pretty well in an offense driven league like the Big 12, and it would be a bit ironic considering Brian Kelly’s comments about that conference. He’s relatively young at 45, has ties to Texas high school talent, and can coach safeties.
Kwiatkowski has been a solid defensive coordinator at the FBS level for 8 years now. All of those years have been with Head Coach Chris Peterson, so it’s hard to say how much he’d be willing to leave his fellow coach. I think his defenses have been great, and they consistently hold up well (like REALLY well) in another conference that is offensively driven. As a position coach, he is a really good defensive line coach - which would mean, possibly, an awkward move for Mike Elston.
INSIDE SOUTH BEND
There are a couple of possibilities in-house.
MIKE ELSTON, Defensive Line coach / Assistant Head Coach
Mike Elston was interviewed for this job last year - along with Mike Elko. Elston’s only experience as a defensive coordinator came in 2005 as a co-coordinator for the Central Michigan Chippewas, and his interim duty (or whatever it was) in 2016 for the Irish. It’s hard to say what this move would actually bring to the team.
CLARK LEA, Linebackers coach
With Lea, we get a Elko disciple. Lea came with Elko after one year with him as the linebackers coach for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and a year with the same dynamic with the Bowling Green Falcons. The nuts and bolts of the defense would still be basically the same - but how would he adjust to calling the defense on gameday? Is this a risk that’s worth it? Is this the only way he stays in South Bend?
NOT COMING TO SOUTH BEND
Just a few of the many names that have been brought up that definitely won’t be coaching at Notre Dame.
Leonhard is a guy that a lot of Notre Dame fans drool over because of what he has done with the Badgers - but he ain’t coming. He was born and raised in Wisconsin, played football for Wisconsin, and is now their DC with a future leg up as the Badger head coach. Basically, he’s Wisconsin’s Pat Fitzgerald.
BO PELINI, Youngstown State Penguins
No. No, this is not going to happen. Please stop.
With the early signing period locking in 12 defensive recruits already, Notre Dame doesn’t exactly need to rush to a decision. Signing day is a month away, but this shouldn’t affect what happens for Notre Dame on that day. The Elko departure already took care of that.
Happy waiting! We are bringing Nick DuBose back to OFD to breakdown whomever Notre Dame hires - much like he did with Mike Elko and his 3 part series on the 4-2-5, so we should all have a better idea about what we are getting in 2018 (and maybe even in 2019 GASP).