Terry Joseph is headed to Texas.
Soon after Notre Dame announced Marcus Freeman as its new defensive coordinator on Friday, reports surfaced that Irish defensive backs coach Terry Joseph would be joining new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian’s staff in Austin.
FootballScoop’s John Brice first reported Joseph’s move. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg and The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported that Joseph will fill the role of defensive passing game coordinator at Texas. A source told the Tribune that Joseph informed Notre Dame players of his decision earlier Friday.
Joseph joined Notre Dame’s staff in 2018, when Clark Lea took over as defensive coordinator. Joseph added defensive pass game coordinator to his title a year later.
With Lea taking over as Vanderbilt’s head coach and Joseph off to Texas, only defensive line coach Mike Elston and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens remain from Notre Dame’s 2020 defensive staff. Mickens likely will remain in place, as he was previously the cornerbacks coach at Cincinnati before being hired at Notre Dame last season.
Elston, who was a defensive coordinator candidate at Notre Dame this offseason and in 2018, could pursue other options. The FootballScoop Report named Elston as a candidate for the defensive coordinator job at Purdue. Elston has been coaching alongside head coach Brian Kelly for the last 17 seasons at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame.
Joseph, whose résumé includes stops at North Carolina, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Tennessee, impressed from the start of his Notre Dame tenure. He inherited the safeties position from former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko and continued to stabilize the back end of Notre Dame’s defense.
With Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott starting next to each other at safety in 2018 and 2019, the Irish finished ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the FBS in passing-efficiency defense. The duo combined for nine interceptions in 2018-19 after Elliott ended a 15-game interception-less streak for Irish safeties in the second game of the 2018 season.
The Los Angeles Chargers selected Gilman in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Detroit Lions signed Elliott as an undrafted free agent.
Joseph also made an early recruiting splash when he landed a verbal commitment from safety Kyle Hamilton less than three months on the job. Hamilton, who later became a five-star prospect, played in a rotation with Gilman and Elliott as a freshman and landed on some All-American teams following the 2020 season.
What Joseph leaves behind, though, are sizable question marks at safety beyond Hamilton, as Mickens sorts through the future at cornerback. Joseph recruited former Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor to Notre Dame as a graduate transfer last season, but Pryor moved to the rover position by midseason.
The Irish were forced to call on 5-foot-9, 180-pound cornerback Shaun Crawford to switch positions in his sixth season at Notre Dame to start at strong safety. Notre Dame’s defensive pass efficiency, which was affected by a dip in cornerback play as well, dropped to No. 34 in the FBS for 2020.
Junior safety Houston Griffith, who Crawford beat out at strong safety, was set to enter the transfer portal earlier this week. That left Hamilton, junior DJ Brown and sophomores KJ Wallace and Litchfield Ajavon as the only returning scholarship safeties from the 2020 roster.
Brown played mostly in third-down packages in all 12 games and totaled eight tackles, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry. Wallace saw action in four games last season and made three tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Ajavon hasn’t recorded a stat in six total games the past two seasons.
Notre Dame could use a boost in safety recruiting. Both Brown and Wallace are converted cornerbacks and likely won’t be the last on Notre Dame’s 2021 roster. The Irish didn’t sign any safeties in the 2020 recruiting class but added two during the early signing period in December for the 2021 class: former LSU commit Khari Gee and three-star recruit Justin Walters.
Rivals rates Gee as a four-star recruit and the No. 28 safety in the 2021 class. 247Sports slate sates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 43 safety. Walters ranks as the No. 36 safety, per Rivals, and the No. 56 safety, per 247Sports.
Irish defensive analyst Kerry Cooks may be an in-house solution to Notre Dame’s newest coaching opening. Cooks, who coached cornerbacks at Notre Dame from 2010-2014, rejoined the Irish staff in 2020 for an off-the-field role. Cooks coached defensive backs at Oklahoma for four seasons and safeties at Texas Tech for one season between his Notre Dame stints.
Cooks carried the title of co-defensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2012-13 and assistant defensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 2016-18.