Notre Dame football: Diaco's exit to UConn leaves big questions

South Bend Tribune

Bob Diaco sat in Andrew Trumbetti’s living room in Demarest, N.J., Wednesday with Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, waxing eloquently about the future.

Or at least what it looked like in that moment.

“He had me believing he was going to be my coach,” Trumbetti, the top defensive line recruit to date in Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class, told The Tribune Wednesday night. “It was a great visit. But he didn’t say a word about Connecticut. Now I don’t know what to say.”

It wasn’t just that Diaco, Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach the past four years, was leaving to fill the head coaching vacancy at the University of Connecticut. It’s that few, if any, in the Irish locker room and on the recruiting trail, saw the move coming.

“Lol this program!!!!” Irish star defensive end Stephon Tuitt tweeted. “Everything is kept a secret!!!! I guess this is called come here make something out of yourself and leave.”

Tuitt, who later deleted his tweet, ironically, has to make a similar decision, by Jan. 15 — whether to leave ND for the NFL after his junior season or stick around for 2014. Tuitt is expected to go in the top 15 picks of the first round in May if he dives into the draft pool.’s Bruce Feldman was the first to report the hiring and the terms — a five-year contract worth $1.5 million per year -- Wednesday night. A source close to the situation later confirmed it to The Tribune. An official announcement came in the wee hours of Thursday morning. A press conference is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST on Thursday.

Diaco succeeds Paul Pasqualoni, fired four games into his third season with an 0-4 record at the time and 10-18 overall mark. Interim coach T.J. Weist filled in the final eight games as the Huskies finished 3-9 overall, 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference.

The 40-year-old former standout linebacker at the University of Iowa inherits a UConn program just three years removed from a Fiesta Bowl berth against Oklahoma but faces huge identity issues after it was left behind in the mass exodus from the old Big East Conference.

Kelly’s challenges in moving on without Diaco are far less daunting, but certainly more acute. The Irish head coach, who lost both coordinators in the span of eight days, will have to soothe the uneasiness on his own roster about what the defense will look like moving forward and who will be running it.

When offensive coordinator/QBs coach Chuck Martin hit the exit door Dec. 3 to take the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio) University, the offensive recruits and holdover players knew the Irish would still be running Brian Kelly’s offense.

The defense belonged to Diaco.

“Now that’s messed up,” ascending Irish nose guard Jarron Jones tweeted about the Diaco departure.


“Why is everyone leaving?” 2015 recruit and offensive lineman Jerry Tillery of Shreveport, La., tweeted.

The mood may be different when the shock wears off, both close to home and on the recruiting trail.

Trumbetti did emphasize that despite his disappointment he was firm in his commitment to ND. Virginia linebacker Greer Martini, another member of the class and one who will revisit campus this weekend, added via text to The Tribune” "Doesn't change my recruitment, just unfortunate. Excited for my official this weekend."

And there’s Brooklyn, N.Y. standout defensive lineman Jay Hayes: “He ain't the only one who can call a play! I'm bout to rap on this tweet & tell the Irish Fans.. I'M HERE TO STAY!”

The trickier part may come with uncommitted prospects, and the Irish are still chasing some elite ones, including nose guard Matt Elam of Elizabethtown, Ky., and linebacker Nyles Morgan of Crete, Ill.

Kelly had a home visit with Elam Wednesday and was expected to visit Morgan Thursday. A prolonged recruiting dead period, in which there can be no campus or in-home visits, kicks in Monday.

Diaco wasn’t known as a dynamic recruiter, but he produced a defense that finished in the top 50 in total defense and top 32 in scoring defense all four of his seasons in South Bend. His best numbers were in 2012, when ND finished 11th in rushing defense, 16th in pass-efficiency defense, seventh in total defense and second in scoring defense on its way to the BCS National Championship Game.

Diaco was named the Broyles Award winner in 2012 as the nation’s top assistant coach. And he jumped into a negotiating position for the UConn job when 2013 Broyles winner, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, withdrew from consideration.

On a uber-serious night, injured nose guard Louis Nix, who signed with an agent late last week to enter the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility left, provided some needed comic relief, tweeting that he would be the new Irish defensive coordinator.

Kelly will likely name an interim coordinator Thursday for 25th-ranked Notre Dame’s Pinstripe Bowl appearance against Rutgers, which fired its defensive coordinator and two other assistants late Saturday night.

Staff writer Tyler James contributed to this report.


Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Bob Diaco