Notre Dame DC Candidates

Seems like it wasn’t that long ago that we were writing about Notre Dame DC candidates. Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t. Sigh. Well, once more unto the breach, dear friends… With the somewhat unexpected departure of Mike Elko, Notre Dame finds itself back in the market for a defensive coordinator. We’ll take a look at some potential candidates and why each might be interesting, and handicap the likelihood of their addition.

Some Familiar Names

Let’s start with a review of the guys we mentioned in last year’s post. Some aren’t available, some haven’t exactly acquitted themselves well, and some might still be solid options.

  • Pete Kwiatkowski, DC, Washington: Kwiatkowski was always a long shot, as he’s been with Chris Petersen forever. With Washington’s continued success this year he’s even more of a long shot. I like him but I just can’t see him leaving Petersen, unless it’s for a head job.
  • Alex Grinch, DC, Washington State: Grinch was alone at the top of my list last year, and he would’ve been this year too. Unfortunately, Ohio State hired him as co-DC just in the past week. Presumably the Ohio native will lose the “co-” in a year or two when Greg Schiano moves on.
  • Tony Gibson, DC, West Virginia: After steadily improving West Virginia’s defense from 2013 to 2016, the Mountaineers fell off in a big way this year, dropping to 79th in FEI defense and 96th in S&P+ defense after peaking at 16th and 37th, respectively, last season. Down years happen, but that much of a dip is a serious red flag.
  • Todd Orlando, DC, Texas: Orlando was included in the event that he didn’t follow Tom Herman out of Houston. As it happens, he did, and there’s likely almost no chance he can be pried out of Austin. Too bad, since his solid work in Houston doesn’t look like a fluke; he took the Longhorns from 45th to 7th in FEI defense and from 60th to 21st in S&P+ defense.
  • Dave Aranda, DC, LSU: We included Aranda last year in the event that Herman took the LSU job and didn’t retain him. In the past week Aranda signed a 4 year, $10 million, fully-guaranteed contract with LSU, so it’s still safe to consider him off the market.
  • Marcel Yates, DC, Arizona: Yates was DC at Boise State after Petersen and Kwiatkowski left, and he did a pretty good job. Rich Rodriguez hired him at Arizona in 2016, and, well, Arizona has stunk on defense since then. He was tabbed as the interim head coach when Rodriguez was dismissed last week under a cloud of misconduct allegations, and he could end up losing the interim tag. Regardless, given his results in the desert, Yates is an uninspiring candidate.
  • Tim DeRuyter: At the time of last year’s post, DeRuyter had just been fired as Fresno State’s head coach. He did a good job at Air Force and at Texas A&M, but then he trended the wrong way at A&M and trended hard the wrong way at Fresno State. Justin Wilcox added him to his Cal staff as DC this year, and Cal was sort of non-terrible, but I’d take a hard pass on DeRuyter myself.
  • Nate Woody, DC, Appalachian State: I really liked Woody as a dark-horse candidate last year based on his two years at Appy, and he went out and built on that this season. Unfortunately, Georgia Tech will name him as their new DC in the next few days.
  • Jon Heacock, DC, Iowa State: Heacock Did Good Things™ in two years at Toledo before stepping up to Iowa State last year. He had Iowa State ranked 31st in both FEI defense and S&P+ defense, after they ranked 103rd and 96th in his first season. The Ohioan was Jim Tressel’s DC at Youngstown State and succeeded Tressel as head man there as well. He has spent 30 of his 34 years as a coach in Ohio, Michigan, or Indiana. Could the Irish lure him back to the Midwest?

New Blood

  • Mike Elston, DL, Notre Dame: Yeah, I know, everybody hates Elston; I think he’s actually pretty good as a coach and a recruiter. Is he Larry Johnson or Sean Spencer? No. But he’s pretty good. Of course, he would probably also be the most diploma-burn-y choice, so there’s that.
  • Clark Lea, LBs, Notre Dame: Lea represents the best shot at continuity, but he’s not without some risks. He knows Elko’s system inside and out, but he has never run his own defense before. There’s also a decent chance that Elston would leave if Kelly hires over him again, which is a little less continuity. And of course this all assumes that Elko won’t lure him to College Station, which seems pretty likely.
  • Jim Leonhard, DC, Wisconsin: Leonhard has done a great job in one year as Wisconsin’s DC. He’s smart; with the Jets, Rex Ryan couldn’t sit him because he was the only guy who understood the defense. But he’s a Wisconsin alum, and it might be too difficult for him to leave his alma mater. Notre Dame would definitely win a bidding war with the notoriously cheap Barry Alvarez, though. It’s certainly worth kicking the tires.
  • Scottie Hazelton, DC, Wyoming: Wyoming’s 2016 ranks in scoring defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense, FEI defense, S&P+ defense: 101st, 104th, 86th, 52nd, 96th. Wyoming’s 2017 ranks: 9th, 23rd, 15th, 24th, 7th. Sold. Hazelton was Brian Polian’s first DC at Nevada before taking a job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prior to Nevada he coached linebackers for Lane Kiffin at USC. (Shout out to friend of the site and ISD stalwart Jamie Uyeyama for putting Hazelton on our radar.)
  • Kerry Coombs, DBs, Ohio State: Before you die laughing, consider this… There were rumors last offseason that Coombs was considering a jump to Cincinnati to be Luke Fickell’s DC. He was Brian Kelly’s secondary coach for all three seasons in Cincinnati too. He’s a great coach and an excellent recruiter. Would Notre Dame be able to pry him away from Urban?
  • Jimmy Lake, DBs, Washington: Continuing the theme from Coombs, many rumors have circulated about Lake’s desire to move up into a DC role. With Pete Kwiatkowski firmly entrenched in Washington, it’s not happening there. Lake is another plus recruiter and coach. He would be a very ironic hire, as well, since he hammered recent Washington signee and top ND target Kyler Gordon with the thought that Kelly wouldn’t be around for Gordon’s whole career.

Very Well-Informed Opinions (a.k.a SWAGs)

Of the names we looked at last year, I think only Jon Heacock is either worth revisiting or potentially available. I think Elston would be OK (shoot me, I know), but the fan base would be uninspired at best and more likely in open revolt. I like Lea for continuity’s sake and I think he’s an excellent coach, but I’m extremely leery of his relative inexperience. If I had to pick an order, I’d go Leonhard, Hazelton, Coombs, Heacock, Lea, Lake, Elston. In his statement announcing Elko’s departure, Kelly said he would move quickly to bring someone else in. How quickly? Stay tuned, folks.

By |2018-05-09T22:25:38+00:00January 5th, 2018|Football|46 Comments

46
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
13 Comment threads
33 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
23 Comment authors
MrTgonjuiceboxMore NoiseCoyote1985NDForever Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Great post. This is certainly going to be interesting! I’m inclined to agree that Lea should be the preferred internal candidate – we recruited to the 3-3-5, plus with Tranquill it seems like it’s our best option for next year. But hiring a guy with no experience does seem pretty risky.

DCIrish84
DCIrish84

For all the merits of Elston, he has been there all 8 years and not received a chance at a promotion elsewhere. Says a lot.

I am surprised no love for Lyght on all the message boards. If we are going to hire a Wisconsin alum with 1 year of DC experience, why not an ND alum with none? I believe Lyght has more overall coaching experience. Also, Leonhard inherited Aranda’s Wisconsin defense. So he kept it, but we can’t say he is a great DC yet.

Isn’t there bad blood with Coombs these days?

If we are willing to poach and pay big money, why not call Don Brown? He has done a lot at UM and BC before. Nothing like taking the rivalry up a notch.

MTI98
MTI98

Has Elston wanted a promotion? He’s always seemed like the loyal lieutenant to BK. Filling roles that need to be filled without worrying about his own career.

cwod
cwod

I thought I remember reading he considered taking the DC spot under Diaco at UConn.

Coyote1985
Coyote1985

We don’t know if Elston has received a chance at a promotion. We only know that he hasn’t taken one. Big difference.

Also, why Coombs over Lea? Has Coombs been a DC?

And why would we have to pry Coombs away from Urban? It would be a step up from DB to DC. Urban would push him to go, I suspect.

gambit1077
gambit1077

Kerry Coombs is the worst idea I’ve heard from anyone. He’ll always take the low road given any two equal options and isn’t a guy I’d want representing… anything, but especially Notre Dame. I played against his head coached team in high school and wouldn’t let my kids play for him.

If we’re considering prying guys away from other P5 DC positions do we consider Bob Diaco? I wasn’t as involved back when he left, but I didn’t get the impression it was on bad terms.

I’ve also got two off the board options for you that are at least better than Kerry Coombs, so I’m posting them:

Sean O’Leary – Currently the head coach of the Denver Stampede, he just led them to their first Pro Rugby Championship during his first year there after 8 years as the Head Coach of Notre Dame Rugby.

Steve Specht – Defensive coordinator of the U19 team USA, U.S. Army All-American Coach, only prep coach on the USA Football board of directors, and head coach of the St. Xavier Bombers, he’s rumored to be looking to move on from his prep football career since his last kid graduates this year that included 3 D1 Ohio state titles, coaching NFL players headlined by Luke Kuechly (also guys like Super Bowl winners Greg Scruggs and Rocky Boiman), and various coach of the year awards both state-wide and nationally. Also a 3-3-5 guy.

Beyond that I’d be reasonably happy with lots of guys on that list, if you took out Coombs I’d even be on board with your ordered list at the bottom.

tlndma
tlndma

I think Mike Elston has earned a shot. He has coached multiple positions, recruited well, stayed loyal through personal disappointment and filled in well during 16’s nightmare. He has much more experience than Lea, including actually calling defenses during games.
You have to say that the DL did well this season. They were thought to be a major weakness pre season no? Does all the credit for that go to Elko or does Elston get some props too?
I don’t want to see another major change of scheme. Elston has worked under some fine DC’s. There’s plenty of experience there.
Seems to me the fan base likes shiny new toys. Tenuta, BVG being some recent examples. Their wants should not factor in the decision.
I would give Lea a big$ bump and a bigger role and title. I would want to keep him as I think the LB’s played well last season and especially if Coney leaves the LB coach is going to have his work cut out.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

I was pretty negative on Elston yesterday, but after seeing this list I must admit he doesn’t look quite as bad. (Not that the list was poorly done, just that there aren’t a lot of candidates that seem too exciting). I still would find it an uninspired hire, but then again like you mentioned he’s recruited a lot of kids on the defense and it might not be uninspiring to them. I also think, though perhaps not a popular position to take, a case could probably be made that Elston is the best bet for the immediate future.

I would love if they can up Lea’s role (and $$) and keep him on since he does have experience with Elko and perhaps that continuity would be good. Not sure if they’ll have that chance though if he keeps tethered to Elko like many seem to expect.

Definitely agree they should keep the same scheme, and almost have to given how thin the team is on linebacker. At this rate I’m bracing for the worst on Coney, especially in the aftermath his excellent bowl game. He put a lot of great tape out there all season long and I’m not really sure how much higher his draft stock could be one year from now. With a new coordinator and injury threat, it could always be worse..

DrIck
DrIck

Josh Adams to the NFL is now official, but I don’t think that’s terribly surprising.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2745444-josh-adams-declares-for-2018-nfl-draft-after-3-seasons-at-notre-dame

gambit1077
gambit1077

I think this is pretty much always the right decision for running backs who will get signed regardless of where exactly they’d be expected to land. Good for him.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Yep, go get paid! Now let’s have Dexter do blocking drills everyday because if he doesn’t get a starter’s workload this is not going to be pretty.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Yep yep. From the ND perspective, the most important two potential early entrants (assuming Nelson was always a foregone conclusion) are still to announce. I don’t think losing either Adams or EQ would automatically alter expectations for next year, but no Tillery and/or Coney combined with them would.

my name is inigo montoya
my name is inigo montoya

Bo Pelini

GoldenIsThyFame
GoldenIsThyFame

Winner

dannan14
dannan14

Is this a joke based off of tweet from Fake Bo Pelini? Because the real Pelini removed himself from consideration by playing Ma’lik Richmond.

tlndma
tlndma

According to Lou S., Pelini’s son is a walk on freshman at ND. @If I recall correctly, last time we had a DC with a son, who was a walk on, it worked out well.@

MTI98
MTI98

I believe that if you cannot get a “splash” name (Aranda, Grinch, etc.) — which I do not think they’ll likely be able to do — then they need to focus on continuity. Staying with the same or at least a very similar system is important. An Elston/Lea combination might be good if they can find a safeties coach.

gbsk
gbsk

Hazelton or Leonhard sound great.

Rappong
Rappong

“Hazelton came to Laramie [Wyoming] with the goal of simplifying the Cowboy defensive system, allowing the players to go out and make plays. . . the results have been nothing short of fantastic. . . The defensive turnaround has been like nothing Wyoming has seen since maybe the mid 80’s and allowed me to opine this early in the Air Force game: `This defense is nothing short of amazing this year. Scottie Hazelton is one of the best coordinators in the country.’ Let’s hope [Wyoming HC] Bohl and Hazelton are on the sidelines of War Memorial Stadium for years to come because I have a feeling this Wyoming football program is just getting started when it comes to defensive prominence. The Pokes will return 8 of 11 current defensive starters in 2018 so the future of the defense is bright.”

It is eerie how close that sounds to how we might have described Elko and our situation with Elko just before he was stolen from us. Would be ironic if we steal Wyoming’s Elko from them in the same fashion.

quote from https://wyonation.com/2017/11/scottie-hazelton-and-wyomings-defensive-turnaround/

NDForever
NDForever

I’d be good with Hazelton. He has done a great job at Wyoming. However we probably wouldn’t be getting any kind of boost in recruiting.
http://trib.com/sports/college/wyoming/football/new-coordinator-scottie-hazelton-gets-personal-with-wyoming-s-defense/article_8ddb5051-01eb-5d00-88fe-48a209551c72.html
Also this on Wyoming Defense: https://huskerchalktalk.com/2016/09/09/scouting-wyoming-defense/

Russell Knox
Russell Knox

This whole situation paints Elko with a mercenary color. I don’t admire that in a person. Having said that, I think he was probably the best coach on the staff. His turnaround of the defense and ability to grind on the recruiting trail are both going to be hard to replace.

I’m thinking continuity has to be a major consideration with the new DC. Either find a guy with the same concepts or promote from within and replace the open spot with a dynamic recruiter type.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Jurkovec looks pretty bad in the Army All-American bowl. Yikes. If this is any indication, he’s probably not the answer next year.

Amon-Ra St. Brown probably the best player on the field.

More Noise
More Noise

Orlando Steinauer? The only new name (that is, beyond all you named above) that I have seen come up

juicebox
juicebox

So Lea?

MrTgon
MrTgon

That’s what I read too. Hope it was somehow with Elston’s blessing