Notebook: Notre Dame's Brian Kelly faces staff, system decisions

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

LOS ANGELES — Even if Brian Kelly keeps his job, some of his assistant coaches may not be so lucky.

In the wake of Notre Dame’s season-ending 45-27 loss to USC on Saturday, Kelly — speaking in a makeshift media tent outside the Los Angeles Coliseum as athletics director Jack Swarbrick looked on beside him — addressed the future of his program.

“Everything’s on the table,” said Kelly, who finished a season with a sub-.500 record on Saturday for the first time at Notre Dame and just the second time in his career as a head coach.

“I have to evaluate a lot of things within the program. There’s some really good things in place. But I’ve always felt that the blend of continuity and change is the sweet spot. For me, we need to clearly look at where that is, because it was off (this season). I need to look at where that mix is of continuity and change.”

What will Kelly opt for with the defensive coordinator position — continuity, or change? The former would come in the form of Greg Hudson and linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, who shared leadership of the Irish defense after Brian VanGorder was fired on Sept. 25.

Some of his players, for one, have made their preference clear.

“(Hudson) and coach Elston have both done more than enough (to earn the permanent job),” said graduate student nose guard Jarron Jones, who finished with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in his final collegiate game.

“I hope they’re co-defensive coordinators. I just hope our coaching staff never changes, especially on the defensive side of the ball, because our coaching staff has been tremendous. Going through this transition, it could have been hard on our young guys. They made it as easy as possible for them.

“They brought a lot of fun into the culture. They brought a lot of fun into meetings. They brought a lot of fun into practice. I really feel like if we keep our coaching staff where it is, they will be more than fine going into next year.”

But who will be Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator going into next year?

And, for that matter, who will be the head coach?

“I think that’s garbage,” Jones said of the speculation that Kelly might be fired. “I think coach Kelly deserves another chance if people are talking about him being fired. This is just one bad season.

“He took us to the national championship. He took us to the Fiesta Bowl last year. Coach Kelly is a great coach. Just because we have one trip-up doesn’t mean he deserves to be fired.”

Staying or going?

Kelly said that four players with remaining eligibility — quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive guard Quenton Nelson, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and linebacker Nyles Morgan — have had their names sent to the NFL Draft Advisory Board for feedback on whether to remain at Notre Dame or make the leap to the NFL.

McGlinchey, who said earlier this season that he would return to Notre Dame for his fifth season in 2017, didn’t soften that stance on Saturday.

“It’s obviously something to think about, but I don’t think it’ll change my mind,” said the 6-foot-8, 310-pound left tackle. “I’ll have a conversation with my family and the coaches and then things will be decided. Obviously I’ve been pretty clear on what I’m doing next year, but we’ll see what happens.”

Advice for Tillery

Sophomore defensive tackle Jerry Tillery earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter on Saturday when he stepped on the foot of USC offensive lineman Zach Banner, who was lying on the ground following a teammates’ touchdown run.

And while Kelly said following the game that he didn’t see the specific incident, Jones did — and he admonished Tillery for it in the aftermath of the play.

“You just can’t do stupid things like that,” Jones said. “That’s going to reflect on you as a player. That’s going to reflect on your character. You don’t want to do anything like that. He needs to be more disciplined.

“I understand it’s the heat of the moment and we were down big and emotions can flare, especially against our rival. But he just has to be smarter than that. He has to grow up quickly.”

Squibs

• Notre Dame and USC met for the 88th time on Saturday. USC is the second-most common opponent in Irish football history, behind Navy (89 meetings). Purdue sits third on that list with 86 all-time meetings. Notre Dame’s 46 all-time wins over USC are 14 more than the next-closest Trojan opponent, California.

• In the last 66 games in the Notre Dame-USC series where at least one team is ranked, including Saturday, the higher-ranked team is 42-19-5.

• Notre Dame lost seven games by eight or fewer points this season, more than any team in the country. That’s also the most one-score losses in one season in school history. The Irish are the first Power Five program to lose seven games in one season by eight or fewer points since NC State in 2006.

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Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, here leading his team onto the field for the Notre Dame-Southern Cal game on Saturday, has some tough decisions ahead this offseason. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)