A home run hire? Former outfielder Terry Joseph set to become Notre Dame football assistant

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Selected 12 rounds after pitching phenom Kerry Wood by the Chicago Cubs in the 1996 Major League Baseball Draft, Terry Joseph put his family football legacy out of sight.

But never out of mind.

Four seasons after topping out at Class Double-A in the minor leagues, the aspiring Major League outfielder became an aspiring football coach and almost instantly a rising star in the profession. That ascent for the 44-year-old New Orleans native will continue soon at Notre Dame, multiple sources have confirmed to the Tribune.

The school's George O'Leary-inspired vetting process for coaches will likely keep the official announcement of Joseph as the school's next safeties coach percolating for a while.

But that won't keep Joseph from familiarizing himself with the position group that most needed a transformation, when one-and-done defensive coordinator Mike Elko took over at ND in December of 2016, and now appears to be gathering the assets to do so under recently promoted successor Clark Lea.

Joseph spent the past season as North Carolina's defensive backs coach, with previous coaching stops including Texas A&M, Nebraska, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech. His first college gig was as a defensive graduate assistant at LSU in 2006, a season that ended with a 41-14 romp over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

“Notre Dame got a really good one, no doubt — a really good football coach and a really good person,” offered Hank Tierney, who coached Joseph at Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero, La., as well coaching his cousins — current Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph and LSU receivers coach Mickey Joseph.

“The famous Joseph family from the West Bank of New Orleans, La., won me a lot of games at Archbishop Shaw. All great players. All highly successful kids beyond their playing days.”

It was Tierney, who has since moved on to Ponchatoula (La.) High, who gave Terry Joseph his football restart, eight years after walking away from the game to play baseball collegiately at Northwestern (La.) State.

There the eventual 13th-round draft choice set 10 career offensive records and two more single-season marks, as well as earning Southland Conference Player of the Year honors. Joseph then spent four years knocking around minor league baseball in the Cubs and Padres organizations.

That included a season in the Midwest League with the Cubs' Class A franchise Rockford, and occasional road trips to play in South Bend.

“He was never really away from football as much as you'd think,” Tierney said. “When he was at Northwestern State, his younger brother (Derrick, who went on to play at Tulane) was a four-year starting quarterback at Shaw for me, so Terry was always coming home.

“And when he did, he was always talking to our kids. And I'd grab him and have him jump in and do a little coaching.

“When he was in the minor leagues, you got a lot of time off in the offseason. And sure enough, he'd come back and work with us, work with our kids. I always knew he'd be an outstanding coach — he was making defensive calls for us when he was a player — but I thought he might make it to the majors in baseball.

“When he decided baseball was over for him, I offered him a job to coach with us. And I wasn't the only one who did. I think everybody could see what kind of potential he had if that's what he wanted to do.”

Joseph has a reputation of teaching his defensive backs to understand the big picture of the defense, requiring them to understand the run fits of the linebackers, for instance.

“He also has the distinction of being a really good recruiter,” said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, noting Joseph was recruiting coordinator at both Tennessee and Louisiana Tech.

It was Tierney's understanding there was no past coaching connection between Joseph and ND head coach Brian Kelly or any of the current members of the Irish coaching staff.

“He said it came out of the clear blue,” Tierney said. “He had gotten a phone call, asked if he had any interest. Once he got clearance from North Carolina to talk to Notre Dame, it kind of just took off from there.”

Joseph inherits the first safety group at Notre Dame, since college football went to two-platoon football in 1964, that went an entire season without an interception last season for the Irish (10-3). All six players who saw action at the safety positions in 2017 return.

But there are four key additions expected to fortify the position, led by Navy transfer Alohi Gilman, who had to sit out 2017 because of NCAA transfer rules. The incoming safeties class includes prodigies Derrik Allen and Houston Griffith, along with former Penn High star Paul Moala.

Elko coached the safeties and coordinated the defense at ND in 2017 before opting earlier this month to join Jimbo Fisher's staff at Texas A&M. With Lea remaining with the linebackers group upon his promotion, finding a premier safeties coach was the next step for a defensive unit that returns 10 starters.

“He'll fit in great,” Tierney assessed. "He's one of those guys that fits in with everybody and everywhere. He's been that way for a long time. Very personable, very popular and very much a student of the game.

“From the time he started coaching with us, I knew the sky was the limit for him. And every step of his journey, I think that's remained true.”

Former North Carolina defensive backs coach and New Orleans native Terry Joseph is expected to be named Notre Dame's next safeties coach. (Photo provided)