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Notre Dame Football: Who should replace Clark Lea as the Irish defensive coordinator?

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I’m not going to beat around the bush here

mike elston notre dame football
Mike Elston
Mike Miller/One Foot Down

Of course it’s the week that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are prepping for the ACC Championship game against Clemson — as well as signing day — that we have to focus on a coaching search. Irish defensive coordinator, Clark Lea, was named as the new head coach for the Vanderbilt Commodores on Monday, but he will stay on through the remainder of Notre Dame’s season.

So... Notre Dame is going to need a new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. While I could provide the same list of possible replacements as everyone else right now — I’m going to just throw down what I think SHOULD happen in this coaching search.

Brian Kelly should promote Mike Elston to defensive coordinator and also promote defensive analyst Nick Lezynski to linebackers coach.

One of the more underrated things about Mike Elston is just how incredible of a job he has done in making the defensive line one of the strengths of the team year in and year out. This is a position group that’s supposed to be one of the harder ones to develop at places like Notre Dame — and yet look at what we have. He has done this by doing three main things:

  • Recruiting. Get the best talent available, and/or the best player for the fit.
  • Development. Notre Dame has been thriving on a solid base of 3-Star recruits that Mike Elston has made better.
  • Culture. This is a lot harder to define — but you know it when you see it. The guys love him, and there is a brotherhood there that shows how Mike can bring his guys together.

Add all of that to the fact that Elston has been at Notre Dame since the arrival of Brian Kelly (first started with BK in 2004 at Central Michigan), and the stew is coming together. Mike could be a big piece of continuity for a defense that has been incredibly good since Mike Elko and Clark Lea took over in 2017.

It just seems like such a natural fit and an easy one as well. Sometimes that blend doesn’t always work out, but at this point in Brian Kelly’s career he’s found a really good way of doing things at Notre Dame, and Elston checks off so many of those boxes.

Add in the second part — a promotion to linebackers coach for Nick Lezynski — and there is something very powerful there. Nick is widely considered to by a star on the rise as a coach, and his youthful energy combined with his knowledge of Notre Dame as an alum, will make him a force on the recruiting trail.

Continuity and increasing recruiting strength. This is what Notre Dame can get with the Elston/Lezynski combination. Of course there are other “hot names” out there like Marcus Freeman, and apparently Mike Elko, but this would be the hire that makes the most sense and probably the most good. Kelly had to inject a lot of new blood after 2016 to kickstart Notre Dame back to being a great program. In 2020, they are a great program, and there’s no need to shift the balance they have created.