Notre Dame’s search for a new tight ends coach appears to have ended.
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported Saturday that Penn State offensive analyst John McNulty is expected to be hired as Notre Dame’s tight ends coach.
The Irish have operated without a full-time tight ends coach since parting ways with offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long nearly two months ago.
A Notre Dame spokesperson could not confirm McNulty’s hiring on Saturday.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly told The Athletic’s Pete Sampson on Friday that he had already identified one of his new assistant coaches, but he did not specify if that person would fill the opening at tight ends coach or cornerbacks coach.
“We’ve got our one guy,” Kelly told Sampson. “The other, we made an offer (Friday). We’ll see how that plays out over the next few days.”
McNulty, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan in 1991, was fired by Rutgers last year four games into his second season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. After McNulty was hired in 2018, Rutgers finished the season ranked dead last in the FBS in scoring offense (13.5 points per game), No. 127 of 129 in total offense (266.3 yards per game) and No. 123 in passing offense (132.2 yards per game).
Through the first four games of 2019, Rutgers ranked No. 127 out of 130 in scoring offense (16 points per game) and No. 123 in total offense (302.8 yards per game). McNulty and head coach Chris Ash were fired following a 52-0 loss to Michigan.
McNulty’s connection to Notre Dame came at his previous stop as the tight ends coach for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers from 2016-17. Current Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees also worked for the Chargers in 2016, as an offensive assistant. Rees returned to his alma mater in 2017 to become the Irish quarterbacks coach.
While with the Chargers. McNulty coached eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and 2016 second-round pick Hunter Henry. In 2016, Gates finished third on the team with 53 catches for 548 yards and seven touchdowns. Henry caught 36 passes for 478 yards and eight TDs. In 2017, Henry finished third on the team with 45 catches for 579 yards and four TDs. Gates caught 30 passes for 316 yards and three TDs.
McNulty’s two-year stint with the Chargers is the only line on his résumé as a tight ends coach. Most of his career has been spent coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers both in the NFL and at the college level.
McNulty, a Scranton, Pa., native who played safety at Penn State from 1988-90, landed his first full-time assistant coaching job leading the wide receivers at UConn in 1995. After three seasons, he left to coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he worked his way from offensive quality control coach to wide receivers coach. While at Jacksonville, McNulty coached wide receiver Jimmy Smith to his fourth and fifth Pro Bowls, in 2000 and 2001.
McNulty returned to college in 2004 to coach wide receivers at Rutgers after one season with the Dallas Cowboys. His first stint with the Scarlet Knights went much better than his recent one. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007. That season, Rutgers became the first FBS team to have a 3,000-yard passer (Mike Teel), 2,000-yard rusher (Ray Rice) and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood).
McNulty returned to the NFL as the wide receivers coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. He became the Cardinals quarterbacks coach in 2012 before taking the same role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 and Tennessee Titans in 2014-15.
Larry Fitzgerald made the Pro Bowl in all three seasons McNulty coached wide receivers for Arizona. At Tampa Bay, McNulty coached quarterback Mike Glennon to the All-Rookie team. In 2015, McNulty did the same with Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. Mariota finished 2015 with the highest passer rating among rookies (91.5) and broke the Titans’ records for most passing touchdowns (19), completions (230) and passing yards (2,818) by a rookie.
McNulty’s success at Notre Dame will likely be defined by how he meshes with Rees’ vision for the Irish offense and his ability to recruit top talent at his position. McNulty’s experience in various parts of the offense could help Rees as a first-time coordinator.
Recruiting tight ends to Notre Dame shouldn’t be a tough task, given its reputation for putting tight ends in the NFL. Under Kelly, the Irish have signed at least one tight end in all but three recruiting classes since 2010. Each year Notre Dame signed a tight end, at least one was ranked among the top 12 tight ends in the country, per Rivals.
McNulty will inherit a talented tight end group at Notre Dame in 2020. The roster includes junior-to-be Tommy Tremble, the team’s leading returning pass catcher from 2019. Tremble caught 16 passes for 183 yards and four touchdowns last season. Senior Brock Wright, whom Rivals ranked as the No. 1 tight end in the 2017 class, hasn’t lived up to his ranking, but he brings 37 games of playing experience, with four catches for 57 yards and one touchdown.
George Takacs played in his first six games last season as a sophomore and caught two passes for 12 yards and one touchdown. Incoming freshman Michael Mayer, rated as a five-star recruit by 247Sports, could immediately challenge for playing time. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound product of Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic recorded 50 receptions for 970 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior.