Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

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

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Page 17 of 63

18 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL T he calls to Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea regard- ing employment kept growing in volume. Sooner or later, they were bound to reach a crescendo im- possible to ignore and deliver a mes- sage he didn't want to snub. Lea, long considered a rising star, is a coaching commodity after oversee- ing three stout Irish defenses the last three seasons. He has been a part of two undefeated regular seasons. The job inquiries are no longer limited to other programs wanting to filch him to be their coordinator — he has fielded calls about the big whistle. Vanderbilt presented one in De- cember. Lea, a former Commodores fullback, decided it was right for him. He's now a head coach. And Notre Dame now has an opening at defensive coordinator. Here's a look at some names Brian Kelly could look to, plus a few shot- in-the-dark candidates: TERRY JOSEPH Notre Dame Pass-Game Coordinator/Safeties Coach This would be a quick, easy transi- tion, much like Tommy Rees' move from quarterbacks coach to offen- sive coordinator last winter. As the pass-game coordinator, Joseph has an existing role in defensive game planning. He has worked under Lea since 2018. And Kelly has a success- ful history of promoting from within. The 47-year-old Joseph has spent the last 10 years as a Power Five sec- ondary coach, starting at Tennessee in 2010. He then went to Nebraska from 2011-12, spent 2014-16 at Texas A&M and 2017 at North Carolina, before Kelly hired him in the 2017-18 offseason. That's a strong résumé rel- ative to plenty of first-time defensive coordinator candidates. Is Joseph ready for his first chance to be at this level? It's worth noting Lea had no coordinator experience prior to his 2018 elevation from line- backers coach. Joseph would bring continuity. He has existing relationships with play- ers. He has been around for both un- beaten regular seasons. MIKE ELSTON Notre Dame Defensive Line Coach/Associate Head Coach Much of the same said about Jo- seph applies to Elston, Kelly's long- time lieutenant who has worked for him since 2004. This would be an- other smooth transition. Elston, 46, started with Kelly at Central Michi- gan as his defensive line coach, fol- lowed him to Cincinnati and then to Notre Dame. He added associate head coach to his title in 2017. Like Joseph, he does much more than just coach one position. If Kelly is looking for maintaining cohesion and trust on his staff, it'd be hard to ignore Elston. He has been a position coach under Kelly his entire career and is one of the best recruit- ers on the staff. He worked closely with Lea and supplied his defenses with deep and talented front fours. He is Kelly's most loyal assistant. This comes down to Kelly's will- ingness to give him the chance at a coordinator title after 17 years and take him out of an already in- dispensable role. Given the internal promotion track record, he's a natu- ral candidate. And he had a hand in coordinating the 2016 defense after Brian VanGorder was fired. MARCUS FREEMAN Cincinnati Defensive Coordinator Here's the swing-for-the-fences outside hire. Freeman has been the Bearcats' defensive coordinator since 2017 and overseen units that have finished in the national top 15 in yards per play two of the past three years and top 20 in the Fremeau Ef- REPLACING CLARK LEA A look at some of the top candidates for Notre Dame's vacant defensive coordinator position Defensive line coach and associate head coach Mike Elston has worked for head coach Brian Kelly since 2004 and is an obvious internal candidate for the top defensive job. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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