Notre Dame parts ways with tight ends/special teams coach Scott Booker

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame has let go tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker, a source confirmed to the Tribune on Tuesday.

The university has yet to confirm Booker's departure.

Booker had served on Notre Dame's coaching staff since 2010. He began as an intern in 2010 and 2011, then was promoted to the role of tight ends coach and special teams coordinator in 2012.

Under Booker's tutelage, Notre Dame's tight ends recorded 12 catches for 159 yards and four touchdowns this season. In 2015, true freshman Alizé Jones — who was academically ineligible to participate this fall — caught 13 passes for 190 yards, but failed to reach the end zone. Notre Dame's other tight ends added seven catches for 43 yards and a touchdown in limited work.

Notre Dame's special teams were a consistent weakness in its 4-8 2016 campaign. The Irish twice lost fumbles on punt coverage when the ball inadvertently struck a Notre Dame player. Junior punter Tyler Newsome had a punt blocked and returned for the game's only touchdown in a 10-3 loss at N.C. State. Returner C.J. Sanders, too, fumbled a punt at the 1-yard line that was recovered for a touchdown in the 30-27 victory over Miami.

In 12 games, the Irish coverage units allowed two punt return touchdowns and two more kick return scores. Notre Dame surrendered four punt returns of at least 30 yards, which ranked better than just one of 128 teams nationally — New Mexico State.

For the season, sophomore placekicker Justin Yoon connected on 13 of 17 field goal attempts and 44 of 46 extra points. Newsome averaged 43.5 yards per punt, landing 16 inside the 20-yard line and recording 15 punts of at least 50 yards. Sanders averaged 25 yards per kick return and scored two touchdowns, while adding 10 punt returns for 125 yards.

“Everything’s on the table,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said, when asked about the possibility of personnel changes following the season-ending loss to USC on Nov. 26.

“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.”

In Booker's first season as Notre Dame's tight ends coach in 2012, senior Tyler Eifert led the Irish with 50 catches, 685 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Eifert was selected with the 21st overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

The following season, junior tight end Troy Niklas — a converted outside linebacker — recorded 32 catches for 498 yards and five scores. 

All five of Notre Dame's 2016 tight ends — Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, Tyler Luatua, Jacob Matuska and the aforementioned Jones — have eligibility remaining.

Despite Booker's unsurprising exit, Notre Dame's coveted 2017 tight end recruiting class appears intact. Irish commits Brock Wright and Cole Kmet rank No. 1 and 3 at their position respectively, according to Rivals.

When asked on Tuesday if Booker's departure affects his commitment status, Wright — who was on campus last weekend and has signed grant-in-aid paperwork to enroll early this January — told the Tribune, "Of course not."

Booker, a Pittsburgh native, was also instrumental in sparking the Irish recruiting boom in western Pennsylvania. Six 2017 and 2018 Notre Dame commits hail from that area, most notably 2018 dual-threat quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

Booker played safety at Kent State from 1999 to 2002. Before joining Notre Dame, he served on the coaching staffs at Kent State and Western Kentucky.

As the news circulated on social media on Tuesday, several Notre Dame players took to Twitter to address Booker's departure.

"Much love to coach book," Sanders wrote. "(He) has always been there for me since day 1."

Added senior defensive end and 2016 team captain Isaac Rochell: "Coach Booker is one of the main reasons I even came to ND...great recruiter and a great person! Love you coach".

Much love to coach book.. has always been there for me since day 1.

— CJ Sanders (@TheLifeofCeej) December 13, 2016

Coach Booker is one of the main reason I even came to ND... great recruiter and a great person! Love you coach

— Isaac Rochell (@Isaacrochell90) December 13, 2016

Tight ends coach Scott Booker talks to players during the Notre Dame football practice in Notre Dame Stadium Friday, April 15, 2016. Tribune photo/MICHAEL CATERINA