The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a roster full of players and coaches, and we want to talk about them all. One Foot Down’s player profile series will take a look at every single one of them, and hopefully we all learn a little bit more about these guys, and Notre Dame’s chances for the upcoming 2020 season.
John McNulty, Tight Ends Coach
John McNulty arrives this season to fill the vacancy left by Chip Long, who was Notre Dame’s tight ends coach as well as its offensive coordinator. McNulty has a long football history, having started as a walk-on player for the Penn State Nittany Lions from 1988-1990. He entered the coaching game in 1991 as a graduate assistant with the Michigan Wolverines, where stayed for four years before wisely abandoning the Skunkbears and becoming the wide receivers and special teams coach for the Connecticut Huskies, where he remained for another three years. His subsequent job postings are so numerous that they are best displayed in bullet-point format:
- 1998-2002: Jacksonville Jaguars, first as offensive quality control coach (?) from 1998-2000, then as wide receivers coach from 2000-2002.
- 2003: Dallas Cowboys, wide receivers coach.
- 2004-2008: Rutgers Scarlet Knights, first as wide receivers coach from 2004-2005, then as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2006-2008.
- 2009-2012: Arizona Cardinals, first as wide receivers coach from 2009-2011, then as quarterbacks coach in 2012.
- 2013: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterbacks coach.
- 2014-2015: Tennessee Titans, quarterbacks coach.
- 2016-2017: Los Angeles Chargers, tight ends coach.
- 2018-2019: Rutgers Scarlet Knights, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
- 2019: Penn State Nittany Lions, offensive analyst (McNulty was fired by Rutgers in September 2019).
What stands out in that resume is not only experience (with both success and failure), but the list of positions McNulty has been able to coach across different levels of football. Quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends; McNulty has been a jack of all trades throughout his career. And while Notre Dame would very much be content if he could show himself a master of one, it’s always good to have a versatile and experienced brain like that in the room while building a new offense. McNulty also has a year of experience coaching alongside new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who reportedly pushed for McNulty’s hiring.
My wife and I literally just finished watching The Wire last Thursday night, so it feels like fate that l ended up getting to write about the Irish coach with the same last name as the show’s sort-of-protagonist.
Like Dominic West’s veteran detective, John McNulty is a dedicated and effective professional who has bounced around to a variety of positions in his career, at times due to political reasons (such as the firing of his head coach) or coming up against his own personal limitations (such as his abortive tenure as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator). However, when he’s given the right case, there’s no beating McNulty’s efficiency or dedication, and our McNulty has also shown that he can excel when given the proper role.
With the departure of Cole Kmet to the NFL, McNulty inherits a group of talented, but inexperienced tight ends. At the start of the season, I expect McNulty to run a timeshare at the position between Brock Wright and Tommy Tremble at first, with George Takacs in a significant supporting role. The wild card here is Michael Mayer. Deciding how and when to use this incredibly talented 5-star freshman may be the greatest test of McNulty’s coaching skills in his first year.
What, exactly, McNulty’s duties will be beyond the obvious (coaching tight ends) is not yet clear. He is not an experienced or accomplished recruiter, but Notre Dame has other coaches who are. Given his experience at other positions and in general offensive strategy, and his connection to Tommy Rees, it seems likely that he will have some role in crafting the overall offensive scheme, while implementing that scheme in the tight ends group.
It’s never a bad thing to have a veteran strategist on board, and that’s exactly what McNulty offers the Irish. It’ll be interesting to see how his role develops as the season goes on.