Notebook: Next Notre Dame coordinator will have freedom to choose his staff

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

MISHAWAKA — Notre Dame’s next defensive coordinator, whether in-house or an outside hire, will have the power to pick his own staff, a philosophical shift for head coach Brian Kelly.

And the most critical assistant coaching search of the Kelly era at Notre Dame will start to take shape in short order.

“I’m going to be on the road recruiting this week,” Kelly said Sunday during the Shop With a Player charity event at the Meijer store on Grape Road and sponsored by the Kelly Cares Foundation.

“The (NCAA-mandated recruiting) dead period begins (Dec. 12), and then it would be safe to assume that week will be pretty active in terms of the defensive coordinator search.

Actually, Kelly was scheduled to fly to the West Coast later on Sunday for a series of in-home visits with prospects that include the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit per 247Sports, offensive tackle Foster Sarell of Graham, Wash.

The next coordinator will replace Brian VanGorder, who was fired Sept. 25, a day after a 38-35 loss to Duke that dropped ND’s overall national total defense ranking to 103rd out of 128 FBS teams. The Irish (4-8), under linebackers coach Mike Elston and interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, climbed 58 spots to 45th over the final eight games.

“I think it’s reasonable to expect that if you did hire from within there could be change,” Kelly said of the defensive staff composition. “And if you did hire from outside, I think you have to allow that person to interview and feel comfortable with the staff.

“There haven’t been any mandates that, ‘This guy’s gotta stay, that guy’s gotta stay.’ I think everybody is in that process of evaluation.”

Kizer in holding pattern

Kelly said he expects a final decision in the next couple of weeks as to whether starting quarterback DeShone Kizer will return to school in 2017 or enter the NFL Draft.

Underclassmen have until Jan. 16 to decide, and the junior has two years of college eligibility remaining, because he redshirted as a freshman in 2014.

“We've got to kind of make plans for him being here and for him not being here,” Kelly said.

Kizer was one of four ND players who applied for feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, with those evaluations expected to be completed in the next week to 10 days. Kelly said he’ll gather feedback from other NFL sources in the meantime.

Kizer, with 23 career starts at ND, is No. 2 all-time in career passing-efficiency at the school, behind only Kevin McDougal. He is projected as a first-round pick by many draft analysts in what is considered a thin crop of pro-ready college QBs.

If Kizer does goes pro, sophomore Brandon Wimbush would move to the top of the Irish depth chart. He would be backed up by redshirting freshman Ian Book and current high school senior Avery Davis.

Davis played his final game Saturday for Cedar Hill High, in a Class 6A Texas state quarterfinal game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder accounted for 572 of his team’s 574 total yards in a 55-41 loss to unbeaten DeSoto, currently the nation’s fourth-ranked high school football team by USA Today. He threw for 463 yards and four TDs on Saturday and ran for 109 yards and two more scores.

As far as the other players who submitted feedback from the NFL board, Kelly has conducted exit interviews with all three of them in the past week — offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, offensive guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Nyles Morgan — and expects all three will be back at ND in 2017.

“You never know, but I feel pretty comfortable,” he said.

Last year all five of the underclassmen who applied for feedback ended up jumping into the draft pool. The group comprised offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Will Fuller, linebacker Jaylon Smith, running back C.J. Prosise and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

Position switches?

Kelly said there could be a handful of players who eventually switch positions before spring practice, but the evaluation process to do so is still weeks away.

“I think we go into the winter program and probably get into a competitive situation there before we start to make any decisions on whether we have any hard-core position switches,” he said.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has made a philosophical shift and will allow his next defensive coordinator to determine his own staff. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)