Reports: Notre Dame to add Autry Denson, Keith Gilmore to football staff

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The final pieces of Notre Dame’s football coaching staff appear to be falling into place.

Reported additions of running backs coach Autry Denson and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore would likely complete the Irish coaching staff before spring practice starts next month.

Blue and Gold Illustrated, a member of the Rivals network, first reported Gilmore would leave North Carolina to join the Irish. Later Tuesday, Irish 247 of 247Sports reported Denson, Notre Dame’s career rushing leader, would leave his post at South Florida to return to South Bend.

A Notre Dame spokesperson declined to comment on either report.

The moves would push Notre Dame to four assistant coach additions this month. Notre Dame has yet to officially announce any football staff hirings.

What is known for certain is the loss of quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur (Atlanta Falcons), running backs coach Tony Alford (Ohio State) and defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks (Oklahoma). Moving Irish outside linebackers Bob Elliott to an off-the-field role, as Sports Illustrated reported, would make room for the fourth addition to the staff.

Earlier reports this month indicated Boise State’s Mike Sanford would become Notre Dame’s new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, and Todd Lyght, a former Irish cornerback, would coach defensive backs.

Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin confirmed the departure of Sanford in a press conference Tuesday while announcing his new coaching staff. Lyght already has been in contact with some Notre Dame recruits.

Denson, who rushed for 4,318 yards and 43 touchdowns for the Irish from 1995-98, has coached only five seasons following his professional football career. He recently joined the South Florida staff in January after one season at Miami of Ohio under former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. Denson previously coached three seasons for Bethune-Cookman at the FCS level and one season at Pope John Paul II High School in Boca Raton, Fla.

Denson, 38, would help fill the recruiting void in Florida created by Alford’s departure. Denson played at Nova High School in Davie, Fla., before attending Notre Dame. His last season at Miami was the only season of his coaching career not spent in Florida.

"That was big,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “They needed to get a guy who would have a presence in Florida. He certainly has that. He will know his way around the Sunshine State. He's a guy that has a name around there. What he'll be talking to recruits about, he's actually lived."

Denson’s running backs at Miami struggled in his only season with the program. The RedHawks rushed for only 97.6 yards per game, 119th out of the 125 FBS teams in 2014.

Denson had much better success at Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats finished with a top 10 rushing offense in the FCS all three seasons. In the worst statistical season, 2013, Bethune-Cookman still averaged 243 rushing yards.

“In the same fashion as Todd Lyght, he's a guy that doesn't have a lot of experience,” Wiltfong said. “But you're talking about a guy who is a Notre Dame grad, who is going to be very excited about the position, and a guy that has an opportunity to really work on the field and recruiting with the guys around him.”

Gilmore, 56, resides on the other end of the coaching experience spectrum. His coaching resume reaches back 30 years since his start at Wayne State in 1985. His most recent stops include two seasons at North Carolina and four seasons at Illinois, both as defensive line coach. Gilmore has served on Brian Kelly’s staff at Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Grand Valley State.

At North Carolina and Illinois, Gilmore forged a reputation as a developer of NFL talent. He has produced five NFL Draft picks in the last four drafts including two first-rounders at Illinois: defensive tackle Corey Liuget (2011) and defensive end Whitney Mercilus (2012).

North Carolina’s defensive line struggled last season. The Tar Heels allowed 240.5 rushing yards per game, which finished 117th in the FBS. An average of 1.69 sacks slated UNC at No. 91 in the country. The Irish scored 50 points in a home win against North Carolina in October.

Gilmore’s best statistical season came in 2011 at Illinois. The Illini allowed just 123.85 rushing yards per game and averaged 3.15 sacks. Those numbers were No. 26 and No. 6 nationally in their respective categories.

“If Gilmore is the next defensive line coach, he is a tremendous coach that's put a lot of guys in the league,” Wiltfong said. “He's developed a lot of guys. When he gets to a new job and inherits guys, he's helped make them better quickly.”

Gilmore didn’t recruit all of the players he helped guide to the NFL, but he has proved to be a capable recruiter in previous years. At North Carolina, Gilmore focused his recruiting efforts in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area in addition to the Tar Heel State. Landing 2014 defensive end Jalen Dalton, a heavily-recruited, four-star prospect, stands as possibly his best recruiting effort.

"He has a good reputation, and high school coaches like him a lot,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

The loss of Alford and Cooks left the Irish with big shoes to fill on the recruiting trail. The mix of youth and experience coming from the expected new hires could prove to be a combination to counteract that loss.

In the end, Lemming said, it will come down to effort from each new coach.

"With all of the new coaches, we'll know by this time next year how good of recruiters they are,” Lemming said. “All four of them have to prove themselves."

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

South Florida running backs coach Autry Denson and North Carolina defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will reportedly join Notre Dame's coaching staff in the same positions. (Photos courtesy of Miami (Ohio) Athletics and UNC Athletic Communications)
Former Notre Dame running back Autry Denson will reportedly be joining the Irish coaching staff as running backs coach. (Photo courtesy Miami (Ohio) Athletics)
North Carolina defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will reportedly join Notre Dame's coaching staff in the same position. (Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications)
Former Notre Dame running back Autry Denson will reportedly be joining the Irish coaching staff as running backs coach. (SBT File Photo)
North Carolina defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will reportedly join Notre Dame's coaching staff in the same position. (Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications)

Head coach Brian Kelly

Offensive coordinator/QBs coach: Mike Sanford

Running backs coach: Autry Denson

Wide receivers coach: Mike Denbrock

Offensive line coach: Harry Hiestand

Tight ends coach: Scott Booker

Defensive coordinator: Brian VanGorder

Defensive line coach: Keith Gilmore

Linebackers coach: Mike Elston

Defensive backs coach: Todd Lyght