Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct.10, 2016

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

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18 OCT. 10, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED not expect us to be," Kelly said of the midseason firing, believed to be the first in the program's history. A common critique during Van- Gorder's tenure was his scheme, and the fact that it might be too compli- cated for the college game that has more limited hours than the NFL. Kelly has largely refuted that claim the past three years. Kelly stood by that, but mentioned that there might be too much "analy- sis" on defense. Streamlining those efforts will fall to him and new de- fensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who was promoted from his position of off-field defensive analyst. Kelly will now be in a super- visory role on the defense to help Notre Dame try to regain its footing. There will be personnel changes and players in different roles, he said, in hopes of getting the Irish to play with passion and energy, areas he feels the team has been lacking this season. "Guys played hard, but we lacked some of the energy and enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you need to have when you're playing on de- fense," Kelly said. When Kelly informed the team of the change, he made one thing clear. "I'm certain that there's some feel- ings in the room, but they clearly understand that when you're 1-3 at Notre Dame, changes are going to be made." ✦ Brian VanGorder was the only defensive coordinator James Onwualu had ever known. Since making the position change from wide receiver to linebacker follow- ing his freshman season, Onwualu and the now-fired VanGorder grew close both on and off the field. So when the senior linebacker heard the news, it came as a complete shock. "Obviously, this is the only defensive experience I've ever had," Onwualu said. "He's really all I knew defensively. It's difficult for some older guys, and me included, to put that aside and just take the next step into something new." Junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said the firing was a "bit surprising" to him as well. In the unforgiving world of college football, Morgan understands that tough decisions are sometimes made. "It's a business. We've really bought into what Coach [Greg] Hudson has been saying, and we have to move forward," Morgan said. "We can't linger in the past." Both Morgan and Onwualu said they had conversations with VanGorder after he was fired. Morgan chose to keep the details of their talk confidential, while Onwualu told his former defensive coordinator that he was grateful for their time together. "For me it was just thanks for the opportunity, because without him — he was really the one that gave me the opportunity and spent the time and invested in me to be able to play defense and to be able to be where I'm at today," Onwualu said. "It was just a quick thanks for the opportunity and the time that you spent with me. "I don't think it's a huge goodbye," the senior team captain added. "It's like anybody you work with, right? It's a business. Stay in contact, and I hope your next step is a good one." Morgan said the team's shortcomings always fall on the players, while junior safety Drue Tranquill was disappointed in what happened. "I had sympathy for the man. I played for him since my freshman year, and it wasn't just Coach VanGorder's fault," Tranquill said. "The entire defense was struggling as a whole, and he happens to be the leader of that. This is a really cutthroat business. "I personally feel a sort of responsibility on my end. I can't just watch the leader of the defense walk out and lose his job. It's a really hard situation, and it's just real life. "Part of me really felt for him and a part of me realized that he probably wants me to rally around the guys in the locker room. He probably wants me out there giving my all each and every day and not worrying about him. It's about Notre Dame winning football games, so we just have to come in with a positive mentality." Onwualu said he also feels some responsibility. "As a unit, the coaches are in it with us," Onwualu said. "So obviously he's going to be the first to go. But the whole defense knows that we need to play better ball, and obviously if we were playing better ball, that maybe it not would have happened." — Matt Jones Most of VanGorder's coaching work in the last decade was in the NFL, leading to popular opinion that his schemes were too much for young players in college to digest. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS Players React To VanGorder's Dismissal

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