Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

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

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Page 20 of 55 FEBRUARY 2017 21 special teams units seldom had much success. Notre Dame allowed touch- down returns five times in 2016, including twice on kicks during a season-ending loss against USC. Dec. 15: Mike Elko reportedly hired as defensive coordinator. Wake Forest defensive coordinator accepts the same position at Notre Dame, filling the position vacated by Brian VanGorder, who was fired on Sept. 25 after a 1-3 start. Elko, 39, was one of two known people to interview for the opening. Irish assistant Mike Elston, who is ex- pected to remain on the staff in some capacity, also interviewed. Elko's hiring was made official by Notre Dame Dec. 20. Dec. 16: Notre Dame reportedly hires Brian Polian as special teams coordinator. After four seasons as the head coach at Nevada, Polian was brought back to Notre Dame as special teams coach. Polian was an assistant for the Irish under Charlie Weis. In 2008 under Polian, the Irish led the country in fewest yards allowed per kick return at 16.5. "He simply understands Notre Dame, what it's about," Kelly said of Polian in the university release Dec. 27. Dec. 18: Reports surface that Paul Longo has been demoted from his role as head strength and condition- ing coach. Among the changes made by Kelly following the season was the demo- tion of his longtime strength and conditioning coach Longo. Though not officially announced, Longo will likely be reassigned to a different po- sition inside the program. Dec. 29: Mike Denbrock leaves Notre Dame to become the offen- sive coordinator at Cincinnati. Denbrock, who called the plays for the Irish the past couple seasons, left Notre Dame to take the same position under new Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell. The Irish had plenty of offensive success under Denbrock, though he was not expected to return as play caller in 2017, a decision that report- edly sparked Denbrock's move to the Bearcats. Dec. 30: Chip Long reportedly named the team's new offensive co- ordinator/tight ends coach. Notre Dame fills its offensive co- ordinator and tight ends coach va- cancies, hiring the 33-year-old Long away from Memphis, where he was offensive coordinator for one season under Mike Novell. Despite losing NFL first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch, the Tigers' offense averaged 38.8 points per game (16th nationally) and scored at least 41 points in each of their last five games. Long's hiring was made official by Notre Dame Jan. 9. Jan. 2: Reports indicate that alum Tommy Rees will interview for a position on the staff. Rees, a 2010-13 Notre Dame quar- terback, had his name surface to be- come an Irish offensive assistant, re- placing Mike Sanford. Rees, who started 31 games for the Irish, would reportedly help with the team's quarterbacks. Rees has spent the last two years as an offensive as- sistant at Northwestern and with the NFL's San Diego Chargers. His hire, if it does occur, has not been made official by Notre Dame. Jan. 6: Matt Balis reportedly hired as strength and conditioning coach. Balis, the strength and condition- ing coach at Connecticut for all 24 sports, will take over the role Longo held at Notre Dame. Balis has ties to several former Notre Dame assistant coaches who went on to become head coaches, in- cluding the recently fired Bob Diaco at UConn. Balis spent the past three seasons as the strength and condi- tioning coordinator at Connecticut. Prior to his time at UConn, Balis spent five years as the head strength coach at Mississippi State. His hire had not been made official by Notre Dame as of Jan. 10. ✦ When Blue & Gold Illustrated went to press Jan. 10, three more hires on the Notre Dame staff were forthcoming. • Per's Pete Thamel, 35-year-old Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea was expected to be brought on board in the same capacity with the Fighting Irish. The 2004 Vanderbilt graduate — a two-time All-SEC Academic team pick —worked under newly hired Fighting Irish coordinator Mike Elko in 2016 with the Demon Deacons and was at Syracuse (2013-15), Bowling Green (2012), UCLA (2009-11) and South Dakota State (2007-08). • On Jan. 6, Blue & Gold Illustrated learned that 2010-13 Notre Dame quar- terback Tommy Rees — who started 31 games and had several other game- saving efforts off the bench — was at Notre Dame to interview for a position on the staff. Rees spent the past season as an assistant on offense for the NFL's San Diego Chargers after serving as a graduate assistant at Northwestern in 2015. With a clear grasp of Kelly's system — the Irish head coach always believed Rees would become an outstanding coach — he could serve as a complement to new offensive coordinator Chip Long and as a buffer to the extremely inexperienced quarterback situation in 2017. "He's an incredible young man that he can stay so focused in the game, know what's going on during the game," said Kelly during the middle of the 2012 season in which Rees was college football's top fireman with his relief efforts off the bench during Notre Dame's 12-0 regular season. "At halftime, I'm talking with him and Everett [Golson], and he's pointing out some things about the outside coverages that we should maybe think about running, as well. He's just a very smart football player." • The weekend of Jan. 8, Notre Dame interviewed three candidates to coach wide receivers: Frisman Jackson, DelVaughn Alexander and Darrell Wyatt. Jackson, a Chicago native, played five years in the NFL (2002-06) and was with current Notre Dame director of player development Ron Powlus at Ak- ron in 2010-11. His most recent stop was with Matt Rhule's Temple staff that had consecutive 10-win seasons in 2015-16, a first in school history. Alexander has been a college assistant the past 20 years, including with John Robinson at UNLV (2000-02), Jim Harbaugh (2005-06) at San Diego, Bret Bielema at Wisconsin (2007-11) and under Todd Graham at Arizona State since then. He also was on the Oregon State staff that defeated Notre Dame 38-21 in the 2004 Bowl. Wyatt spent 2016 at Houston (where he also was recruiting coordinator) and the previous season as an offensive analyst at Oklahoma State. He was the co-offensive coordinator at Texas in 2013, and was the co-recruiting coordinator and receivers coach at Texas in 2011-12. In 2010, he was the co-offensive coordinator at Kansas. Prior to that he served as the associate head coach/offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Southern Miss from 2008-09 under Larry Fedora. • What the role of current linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Mike Elston will be is uncertain. He has been with Kelly since 2004 and could move back to defensive line, the position he coached from 2010-14 before Keith Gilmore handled it the past two seasons. Elston also has coached on offense and special teams in the past for Kelly. — Lou Somogyi Final Vacancies On The Verge Of Being Filled

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