2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 38 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 37 Chuck Martin on offense and Bob Diaco on defense — departed to become head coaches at Miami (Ohio) and Connecticut, respectively. SEGMENT 2: The Fall To help raise Notre Dame back to the high-rent district of college football — after its eviction by Alabama in the title game — 2014-16 saw the hiring of two assistants: defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder with a seven-figure salary and a rising young as- sistant named Matt LaFleur — now the head coach of the 13-3 NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (2019) — to mentor the quarterbacks and assist newly promoted co- ordinator Mike Denbrock. As effective as Martin and Diaco were, these new hires were to facilitate the Fight- ing Irish reaching the top tier via more ex- plosiveness on offense and a less "vanilla" look on defense. Alas, that three-year segment saw the re- cord plummet from 37-15 in Kelly's first four seasons to 22-16 (.579), concluding with a mind-boggling 4-8 implosion in 2016. LaFleur actually lasted only one year be- fore bolting for the NFL, while VanGorder was axed four games into the 2016 cam- paign, the first Notre Dame coach believed to be deposed during a campaign. Replacing LaFleur was new offensive coor- dinator Mike Sanford, whose presence Kelly said would turn the staff meeting room on offense "upside down," with new ideas. That, too, was a short-lived stint of two years. The saddest aspect of that disappointing three-year run was that the 10-3 outfit in 2015 had the single-most talented all-around starting team in the Kelly era. Six of the 11 starters on offense were first- (four) or second-round (two) picks, while running back C.J. Prosise was selected in the third round. The defense featured Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith, a line where all four starters are currently in the NFL and a veteran secondary. It was squandered with a discombobulated infrastructure that included a strength and con- ditioning staff that had become ineffective. SEGMENT 3: The Rebound The setbacks from 2014-16 resulted in six new on-field assistants getting hired, as well as a new strength and conditioning staff. The rebuild was highlighted by landing coordinators Mike Elko on defense and Chip Long on offense — personnel that was out- side the past Kelly coaching tree. Elko departed to Texas A&M after only In 2020, Kelly will become the fifth Fighting Irish head coach to reach year 11. He posted a 92-37 record (.713 win percentage) — highlighted by a pair of unbeaten regular seasons — over the first 10. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA

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