Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

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

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Page 28 of 55 FEBRUARY 2017 29 BY BRYAN DRISKELL S tarting the season as a top-10 team and then finishing with a 4-8 record inevitably results in changes within the program. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly will hand off the offense to former Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long, he hired former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko to run things on the other side of the ball, and former Nevada head coach Brian Polian was tabbed to improve a struggling special teams unit. However, Notre Dame's on-field struggles were tied directly to a strength and conditioning pro- gram that simply wasn't getting the needed results. So Kelly also reassigned longtime strength coach Paul Longo, which set in motion a major overhaul of the strength program. Blue & Gold Illustrated learned in early January through multiple sources that Kelly was set to name Matt Balis (pronounced Bay-less) the program's director of football strength and conditioning. Balis is replacing Longo, who served as Kelly's head strength coach for the past 13 seasons, dating back to Kelly's first season as the head coach at Central Michigan. Balis has ties to several former Notre Dame assistant coaches that went on to become head coaches. He spent the past three seasons as the strength and conditioning coordina- tor at Connecticut, where he oversaw all 24 sports programs for the Hus- kies. He also served as the football strength and conditioning coach. The Chicago native worked with former Notre Dame defensive coordi- nator Bob Diaco (2010-13), who was fired from his post as UConn's head football coach after the 2016 campaign. Prior to his time in Storrs, Conn., Balis spent five years as the head strength coach at Mississippi State, where he worked with Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, a former graduate assistant at Notre Dame (1999-2000). He was considered to be Mullen's most trusted assistant during his ten- ure in Starkville, Miss. "I tell people, the hierarchy on the football staff is I'm one, he's two," Mullen told Brad Locke of the Tupelo Daily Journal back in 2011. "That, to me, is the hierarchy ... of how deci- sions are made, who people report to, how the program's run. You have to have somebody in that position that you trust. "I trust Matt Balis with anything that I possess or own." In 2010, Balis was a finalist for the Football Scoop Strength and Condi- tioning Coach of the Year award after the Bulldogs finished 9-4, including a road win over the defending national champion Florida Gators, a road con- quest of rival Ole Miss, a victory ver- sus Georgia and a 52-14 Gator Bowl shellacking of Michigan. Prior to his stint with Mississippi State, Balis served as the director of strength and conditioning for football at the University of Virginia (2007-08) under former head coach Al Groh. His previous four years were spent working with Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer during his stints at Florida and Utah. Meyer hired Balis to serve as his as- sistant director of strength and condi- tioning at Utah in 2003. Following that season, he was promoted to the Utes' director of strength and conditioning for the 2004 season. Utah finished that season with a 12-0 record, winning the Mountain West Conference cham- pionship and finishing ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll. Balis went with Meyer to Florida (2005-06) where he served as the as- sistant director of strength and con- ditioning under Mickey Marotti. Florida went 22-4 while Balis was on staff, winning the 2006 national championship by defeating Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS National Championship Game. Also expected to join the strength staff is David Ballou, the physical con- ditioning coach for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the last two seasons. Notre Dame has landed two players from IMG Academy, signing safety Spencer Perry as part of the 2016 class and offensive lineman Robert Hain- sey, who is set to enroll in January. Ballou is an Indiana native who was the head strength and condition- ing coach at Avon (Ind.) High School, where he also served as the defen- sive coordinator, linebackers coach and running backs coach during his 14-year tenure. He was a three-year letter winner as a fullback at Indiana University, where he graduated with a B.S. in kinesiology in 2001. Adding Balis and Ballou is more than replacing one staff with another. It signals a shift in philosophy, one that will put a greater emphasis on size, power and explosiveness. Balis will also be tasked with creat- ing a strength program that contin- ues to maximize athletic skills of the Notre Dame players, but also one that develops mental toughness, ac- countability, passion and camarade- rie within the roster. It is hoped that improvements in the strength program will have a broad impact, but improving the team's ability to finish games is near the top of that list. Notre Dame was outscored 81-52 in the fourth quarter during the 2016 season. ✦ Balis spent the past three years at Connecticut, where he served as the football strength and conditioning coach and oversaw all 24 sports programs for the Huskies. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT MAJOR OVERHAUL The hiring of Matt Balis signifies a dramatic shift for the Irish strength program

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