Notre Dame football: Diaco masterminds Irish defense


South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Words are chosen carefully. Any thought worth having is one that begs for examination and reflection.

Decisions are based on confidence bred from experience; 17 years as an assistant coach in college football, the last four as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator.

Bob Diaco has perfected the art of the split personality.

On one hand, he was the rogue mastermind of one of the nation's top defenses a year ago. Focused and unrelenting when it came to the development and execution of the total package.

On the other hand, he's the guy who will wear full sweats — top and bottom — and a big, floppy hat on every day of preseason camp. Humid and 90 degrees? So what? He bounces around from player to player, with the intensity of a jack rabbit on the first day of hunting season.

There's no cookie-cutter that molded Diaco into last year's Broyles Award winner, recognizing college football's top assistant.

Diaco is definitely his own man.

"He's very unique," said Irish safeties coach Bob Elliott, who was Diaco's position coach (linebacker) at Iowa in the mid-'90s. "I've been in coaching a long time (35 years), but I've never seen his style of leadership as a defensive coordinator. It's way beyond whatever I've seen."

The only thing Diaco hates worse than talking about himself is watching his defense give up points. He was the gatekeeper for a unit that yielded just 13 points and 306 yards a game during last year's 12-1 season.

Still, it's hard to pry the cover off such a complicated guy as Diaco.

"He's always been a brilliant guy," said Elliott. "He has an intellect that would be successful in any walk of life. He's a great communicator; always has been. Even when he was a player, he was a great communicator. Those are pretty important traits for leadership."

"We're not a "flavor of the month" or "flavor of the year" group, in terms of tweaking, changing, creating energy, propaganda to get the unit going," Diaco said. "We believe in our unit culture. We believe in our unit identity. Those are based on core principles that we believe create great defense."

Toughness. Intensity. Accountability. Execution. All part of the Irish mantra. Just one-eleventh of the defense, that's all Diaco asks from a player.

"In Bob's case, I don't think he cares about what other people do," Elliott said. "He really has a good background. He's read a lot, philosophical things. He's developed, with a lot of help from (Irish defensive line coach) Mike Elston — they've been together a long time — he's developed his own style. He's not afraid to do something different.

"It's very, very interesting to me, and very unique."

"What we're interested in is improving and raising the level — even if it's .0001 percent," Diaco said. "We're interested in raising that level — every player and every coach in that unit.

"The next part is just to be sure we're being innovative and creating opportunities for growth and not being a stick in the mud. When you think back to 2012, you're looking at the things you did poorly. "You're not looking back to the things you did well. We're not going to change our culture. We want it to grow. And we want to minimize the myriad, bucketful, bushel-basketful of things we did wrong — both physically and mentally.

"When we get that done, the players improve just a little bit; the coaches improve even a little bit. We hold steadfast to the ingredients that created this unit. Then we go back and inspect the areas we did poorly and the areas we could do better, and we should improve."

"He's driven, and he's smart," Elliott said. "He really cares about our players and the people around him. There's nothing phony about Bob Diaco. Nothing. It's all sincere; it's all straight-forward; it's all honest. Those are some pretty good traits."

Handle the heat under pressure? No problem. Handle the heat of in sweats during two-a-days with the sun beating down?

"I would have melted on the turf if I would have done that," Elliott said, shaking his head.

"I like to get a sweat on," Diaco explained. "If you're running around and you slam into somebody or they slam into you, you've got a little extra cushion."

That's just who Diaco is. Unique.

Bob Diaco