New defensive coordinator Greg Hudson looks to rejuvenate Notre Dame defense
Mining for gold
Greg Hudson likes to tell his players a story.
Imagine a small, sleepy coal-mining town, and during one particular holiday, the mines shut down and the weary, coal-stained miners head home for a well-deserved vacation.
“But there was this one mine, No. 9, that stayed open and worked,” said Garrett Hudson, Greg’s son, who played under his father from 2013 to 2015 at Purdue as a walk-on linebacker.
“So that was always his thing. ‘Mine No. 9 never closes.’ We’ve got that in big letters here on the wall of our (Purdue) defensive meeting room. I’m looking at it right now.”
A Greg Hudson defense never stops working. It reflects the values of its coordinator, who played linebacker on the Notre Dame football team and caught for the baseball team from 1986 to 1990. Hudson’s work ethic and enthusiasm was so undeniable, in fact, that though Notre Dame didn’t have any openings for defensive graduate assistants in 1993, Lou Holtz invited him to help coach the offensive line, despite the fact Hudson lacked any tangible experience in that area.
“Greg Hudson is your typical Notre Dame guy,” said Rick Minter, Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1993 and again from 2005 to 2007. “Those are high-character, high integrity, smart, intellectual, outgoing, extroverted, self-assured guys.
“Those are the kind of guys that usually end up at Notre Dame, so it was no surprise that Skip (Holtz) and coach (Lou) Holtz ended up getting him back onboard there. They wanted him back onboard so badly.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Hudson went on to coach under Skip Holtz at UConn (1994-1996) and East Carolina (2005-2009), the latter stop as his defensive coordinator. Minter also hired Hudson in 1997 to coach the tight ends and offensive linemen at Cincinnati, eventually flipping him to the defensive side and elevating him to assistant head coach.
It should be no surprise, either, that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hired Hudson as a defensive analyst this summer after Purdue let him go, or that he handed Hudson the reins after firing third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Sunday.
“He’s a typical linebacker. He’s got some fire in his eye, now,” Minter said. “The blood can boil a little bit, which is good, because he can light a fire under people both from a ‘get after you’ style and a very positive, enthusiastic style.
“He’s a ‘rah rah’ guy, now. He’ll be calm and cool and make good calls and good selections, but he’ll bring a defensive mentality and demeanor to the fellas.”
Garrett Hudson has seen it — first as a son, then as a teammate.
“When I was younger, I was always close with all the players he had at ECU and (as the linebackers coach at) Florida State,” Garrett said. “I got the vibe that he was the coolest guy in the entire world. He was the guy that I grew up wanting to be. I still do.
“I got the vibe from his players that that was the same thing that they felt.”
His players respected him. They sweated for him, bled for him.
Even when they feared him, they loved him.
“You could tell as soon as he walked in if he had that look on his face,” Garrett said. “His guys (at Notre Dame) will come to know that look, I promise. Once we knew it was time to lock in — it was time to go — it was no joke.
“I’ve got pictures on my phone of him from 10 years ago. There’s pictures of him screaming, pictures of him jumping, pictures of him running out onto the field. We had a goal line stand versus Nebraska in 2014, and he dang near got a flag thrown on us because he’s out on the numbers, celebrating, high-fiving guys.
“You’ll be able to tell that he’s 100 percent in, and especially at Notre Dame. That’s his home.”
Hudson certainly has work to do, but that’s the challenge he embraces. The 49-year-old former linebacker is right at home in the dark, surrounded by teammates, swinging a pickaxe inside mine No. 9.
“There’s all eyes on all coaches. The pressure is great,” said Minter, who knows more than most about the challenges attached to the defensive coordinator position at Notre Dame.
“But you couldn’t work in a better environment. When you go to work every day, when you drive into the city every day, when you drive onto that campus every day, that mystique is right there with you. It’s not working against you. It’s working with you. So you have confidence. He walked those sidewalks as a student, so he knows what every one of their student-athletes is going through, feeling that Irish pressure to perform on Saturdays. He’s walked a mile in their shoes, which will only enhance his ability to do this job.”
It’s Hudson’s job to convince a new crop of players to walk, and then run, alongside him.
“If he has the chance to be around those linebackers at Notre Dame, they will see in him the fire, the passion and the intensity of playing the position,” Minter said. “But they’ll also see the love for Notre Dame, which is why he has an opportunity to be a big success there.
“He’s the right man for the right job at the right moment.”
Here’s the moment Hudson inherits: on Saturday, the 1-3 Irish head to Syracuse to square off with the No. 7 passing team in the country. Notre Dame’s defense currently ranks 111th nationally in pass efficiency defense, 101st in scoring defense, 96th in rushing defense and dead last in sacks. The defense is young, inconsistent and fundamentally unstable.
There’s plenty of work to do.
Luckily for Kelly and Co., mine No. 9 never closes.
“Given the opportunity to stay connected to Notre Dame in any capacity, he’ll be all in,” Minter said. “He’s full-blown Irish. He wants that university to do great. He bleeds when they bleed. Always has, down through the years.
“So he’ll be hard on himself and pressure himself to be everything that coach Kelly wants him to be and needs him to be at this time. He really does need to be a rescuer of the defense. It’ll be a good fit.”
Coaching experience: 25 years
Alma mater: Notre Dame
1991-92: University of Redlands (linebackers)
1993: Notre Dame (offensive line graduate assistant)
1994-96: UConn (offensive line)
1997: Cincinnati (tight ends)
1998: Cincinnati (running backs)
1999-2000: Cincinnati (assistant head coach/linebackers)
2001: Minnesota (linebackers/recruiting coordinator)
2002-04: Minnesota (defensive coordinator/linebackers/recruiting coordinator)
2005-09: East Carolina (defensive coordinator/linebackers)
2010-12: Florida State (assistant head coach/linebackers)
2013-15: Purdue (defensive coordinator)
2016: Notre Dame (defensive coordinator/analyst)