Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

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

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Page 20 of 63 JANUARY 2022 21 BY PATRICK ENGEL B rian Kelly's departure for LSU did not initiate a mass coaching exodus from Notre Dame. In fact, most of his 2021 Notre Dame staff members have stated their intent to remain with the Irish — a significant step in making Marcus Freeman's promotion to head coach a more viable move. Among the 10 on-field assistants, only special teams coach Brian Polian is fol- lowing Kelly to LSU. Assistant strength coach Jacob Flint, defensive analyst Kerry Cooks and director of sports nutri- tion Matt Frakes also have left for Baton Rouge. Freeman's hire, of course, leaves an opening at defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Here's a rundown of each assistant's status in the wake of the Kelly exit and Freeman news. OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/ QUARTERBACKS COACH TOMMY REES Rees told Notre Dame players he will remain with the Irish, turning down an offer to join Kelly at LSU that reportedly included a significant pay bump. Notre Dame gave him one to remain with the program. Keeping Rees on staff was a key cog in the appeal of hiring Freeman, who can turn his focus to further elevating what Kelly built instead of needing to restart with a new staff and a new offensive direction. Rees will begin Year 3 as offensive coordinator in 2022 and Year 6 as a Notre Dame assistant. RUNNING BACKS COACH/ RUN GAME COORDINATOR LANCE TAYLOR Blue & Gold Illustrated reported Taylor will remain at Notre Dame for his fourth season as an assistant. He has spent the past three seasons as running backs coach and the past two seasons as the program's run game coordinator. Taylor also has NFL experience coaching wide receivers. WIDE RECEIVERS COACH DEL ALEXANDER Alexander is coaching for Notre Dame through the Fiesta Bowl, but there has been no final decision on his status. He has served in his current role since 2017. TIGHT ENDS COACH JOHN MCNULTY McNulty is staying on staff, Blue & Gold Illustrated can confirm. He joined the program in 2020. OFFENSIVE LINE COACH JEFF QUINN Sources have told Blue & Gold Illustrated that Quinn's next move is not final, with an exit or staying put still in play. The former appears more likely, though. He reportedly interviewed for the Nebraska offensive line coaching job but did not get it. Quinn took over as offensive line coach in 2018 and has spent 29 seasons on staffs with Kelly, dating back to 1989 at Grand Valley State. Kelly, though, kept LSU's holdover offensive line coach, Brad Davis, on his staff. DEFENSIVE LINE COACH/ RECRUITING COORDINATOR MIKE ELSTON The 2022 season will mark the first time since 2004 Elston and Kelly will not be on staff together. Elston announced on Twitter he is staying at Notre Dame, where he has worked since 2010. The question now becomes whether he will be pro- moted to defensive coordinator in Freeman's place. CORNERBACKS COACH MIKE MICKENS Mickens, who joined the staff in 2020, will stay at Notre Dame. Once Freeman was selected as head coach, Mickens' retention was all but guaranteed. The two were teammates at Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne High School and worked together at Cincin- nati from 2018-19. SAFETIES COACH CHRIS O'LEARY O'Leary is remaining with the program, Blue & Gold Illustrated reported. He is in his first year as the safeties coach and his fourth at Notre Dame. He spent the first three in defensive analyst and graduate assistant roles. SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR/ ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH BRIAN POLIAN Polian has accepted the same role at LSU with Kelly. He spent the past five seasons at Notre Dame following a four-year run as Nevada's head coach. He also served as Notre Dame's special teams coordinator from 2005-09. DIRECTOR OF SPORTS PERFORMANCE MATT BALIS Balis told the team the day after Kelly's exit he would not follow Kelly to LSU and instead stay in South Bend. He has led Notre Dame's strength and condi- tioning program since 2017. Notre Dame tweeted a video of Balis informing players that he wanted to re- main at Notre Dame and "want[s] to die here." Few individuals are considered as crucial a part of the Irish's post-2016 rebirth than Balis. OPEN POSITIONS As of press time, Notre Dame has openings at defensive coordinator, line- backers coach and special teams coordinator. The Irish have eight of the 10 on-field assistant spots filled. Freeman plans to fill those openings and any others that come up after the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1. He has not yet announced who will call defensive plays in the bowl. Senior defensive analyst Nick Lezynski is filling in as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator through the bowl game. He figures to get a look as the linebackers coach. He has been with the program since 2018 and worked closely with the linebackers. "He has taken a big leadership role in the linebacker room," Freeman said of Lezynski. "He has been with me all year. He has been in every linebacker meeting. "He knows exactly the progression we have in the linebacker room. He has been doing a great job in individual meetings." ✦ KEEPING THE BAND TOGETHER Most of Notre Dame's assistant coaches are staying on with Marcus Freeman Defensive line coach Mike Elston, who has worked with Brian Kelly for 18 consecutive years, is remaining on Notre Dame's staff. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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