Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 16 of 55 JANUARY 2020 17 many categories. It was in the top half or the top third of many." Are statistical rankings the best way to encapsulate the success of an offense? No, but Long was also adept at the art of play calling and drew up a few game-clinching plays. The most noteworthy happened against Virginia Tech Nov. 2. Losing by six points with 35 seconds left in the game, Long called for a designed quarterback run on third-and-goal from the 7-yard line. The result? Se- nior quarterback Ian Book skipped into the end zone and shushed a fren- zied Notre Dame Stadium. DECISION MADE News that Long and Notre Dame were parting ways broke Dec. 11 by and, over the next 24 hours, was confirmed by other out- lets, including Blue & Gold Illustrated. In the weeks prior, there were ru- mors that a change of this magnitude could occur, but the first real hint that Long would be out as offensive coordinator came when he missed a scheduled recruiting trip to see highly sought after 2021 all-purpose running back Will Shipley. Still, it's surprising that it hap- pened before Notre Dame's matchup with Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl Dec. 28. It appears that Long's relationship with offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, among others, had become strained due to frustrations with the team's inability to effectively move the ball with a conventional rushing attack, plus numerous motion penalties. Over the last six games, the Irish running backs totaled 371 yards on 109 carries, which comes out to 61.8 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. In Long's mind, this had more to do with the line's inability to run block than his play-calling aptitude. It's also plausible the ultra-intense Long was crossing the lines when it came to how he communicated with players and had begun to alienate them. Kelly may have insinuated as much. "Any head coach has to have the pulse of his team," he said. "But if you're asking did I have interviews with my team to make a decision? Absolutely not. "But I think any head coach that does not have the pulse of his foot- ball team is not going to be a head coach very long." LONG THE OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Prior to Notre Dame, Long was the offensive coordinator at Memphis in 2016. His longest coaching stint was with Arizona State from 2012-15, where he was the recruiting coordi- nator and tight ends coach. He also spent time with the Sun Devils in charge of special teams. He received his start as a college football coach with four years as a graduate assistant — two years at Lou- isville and two more at Arkansas. After that, he went to Illinois, where he was the tight ends coach for two seasons. In Long's first game at Notre Dame, the team scored 49 points in a rout of Temple and the offense had numerous dominant performances throughout that season, led by a vet- eran line coached by Harry Hiestand (now with the Chicago Bears). Another career highlight came the following season. Incumbent signal- caller Brandon Wimbush started the first three games, earning the game ball in a win versus Michigan. Most offensive coordinators would strug- gle to replace a quarterback who led his team to nine victories the season before, but not Long. He was the cata- lyst to make a change at quarterback. That led to Ian Book's breakout season and a berth in the CFP. "He's the one that gave me my opportunity," Book said. "I haven't played a game here without him. I couldn't thank him enough. When he's the one that gave you your shot — your lifelong dream to play college football — you can't short that at all." Long is also a productive recruiter and played a significant role in at- tracting several members of Notre Dame's highly heralded 2020 offen- sive class, including Rivals top-50 commits in wide receiver Jordan Johnson (No. 25), tight end Michael Mayer (No. 37) and all-purpose run- ning back Chris Tyree (No. 43). There was some speculation that without Long, some of Notre Dame's prized recruits would look elsewhere, but instead every desired commit in the 2020 and 2021 classes are locked in. ✦ What's Next? With a vacant offensive coordinator position, Notre Dame immediately began to move forward with its preparation for Iowa State. The team had its first bowl practice Dec. 14, which was primarily used as a chance for young players to get extra work in front of the coaches and for veterans to rest. They will gradually begin to install the game plan as they get closer to the game Dec. 28. Two position coaches were charged with collaborating and implementing that plan offensively: quar- terbacks coach Tom Rees, who will handle the passing game, and running backs coach Lance Taylor, who is responsible for the run game. It has yet to be determined which coach will call the plays in the bowl game. All Kelly has indicated is that it won't be him. "I'm not calling plays. I will not call plays," Kelly said. "That's not my role. I've moved past that role. I will certainly be much more involved in the organization of the offense and clearly making sure that our room is where I want it to be, and I think it is. "I will assist, I will be there to lean on and consult with, but this will be a collaborative approach, with the lead coming from Lance and Tom." There were rumors that offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, who was Kelly's offensive coordinator at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, would take over the run game. Instead, the Fighting Irish head coach clearly sees something in his two youngest offensive position coaches, but will that be enough for one of them to be given the role of offensive coordinator in 2020? They're going to have to earn it. "All of it is an evaluation process for me," Kelly said. "I have not made any decisions on will there be a new offensive coordinator from the inside? Will I bring somebody from the outside? I have some thoughts as to what it should look like, but no decisions have been made. Certainly, there's a lot of interest in the position as you can imagine. "This is a great job, so I think you can imagine the kind of interest that has come across my desk rela- tive to wanting to be the offensive coordinator here." As soon as it was reported that Long was out, rumors were already swirling that Rees was in line for the job, but Kelly made it clear that claim is unfounded. "We had an offensive coordinator who was extremely successful, and I did what I thought was best for the program, so I'm going to again do what's best for the program," he said. "That doesn't mean default back to hiring just to hire somebody. We're going to do what's in the best interest of this foot- ball program." — Andrew Mentock

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