Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long in no rush to become a head coach

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

One of the first stops in Chip Long’s coaching career came in Arkansas.

After spending his first two years of coaching as a graduate assistant at Louisville, Long took a graduate assistant job with the Razorbacks.

Ten years later, Long returned to the state to be recognized as one of the top assistant coaches in college football following an undefeated regular season as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator. Long attended the Broyles Award ceremony in Little Rock, Ark., earlier this month as one of five finalists for the award.

“It was great,” Long said. “To be able to go back to Little Rock, to see a bunch of people I knew when I was a GA there, to have your name next to coach (Frank) Broyles is a tremendous opportunity.”

Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley won the award. Later that day, Locksley was named the head coach at Maryland. Long, coaching in his 13th season since a playing career at North Alabama, figures to be a hot commodity in the coaching carousel eventually too.

But Long, 35, isn’t in a rush to leave Notre Dame.

“I want to be at Notre Dame as long as they want me to be here,” Long said. “It’s a great place. You don’t get to coach kids like this anywhere else in the country. It’s such a special place. I don’t ever see myself leaving in a long, long time.”

Long’s wife, Karissa, is pregnant with their second child, a baby girl due in April. Karissa is originally from Chicago.

“My wife loves it here,” Long said.

And Long tends to listen to his wife. She made him kick his addiction to Diet Coke by replacing it with Fresca. The players have taken note of his attachment to the sparkling grapefruit-flavored soda.

“They always tease me about,” Long said. “I had no idea what Fresca was either. It’s a good drink, and it gives you the sugar you need.”

Regardless of his immediate plans, becoming a head coach remains a goal for Long. He’s just not in a hurry to get there.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed about doing,” Long said. “I’m not chasing a head coaching job at all. It has to be the right fit. They have to have the success — that they want to win — that Notre Dame has. If not, I’m in no rush to do it. I love what I’m doing here.”

What Long did this season, his second as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, was lead an offense through an early season quarterback change to finish the regular season in the top 35 in total offense, team passing efficiency and scoring offense.

Long will forever be associated with the decision to replace quarterback Brandon Wimbush and his 12-3 record as a starter with Ian Book. Long, who had only one year of offensive coordinator experience at Memphis before coming to Notre Dame, said he hadn’t made a coaching decision quite like that in the past.

“No,” Long said, “I haven’t put my job security on the line like that.”

But Long’s confidence in Book grew this past offseason after Book finished Notre Dame’s 21-17 win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl with a 55-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Miles Boykin.

“He had a tremendous fall camp,” Long said of Book. “It was going to be hard to keep him off the field. That’s why we had that package for him on short yardage — that he was really good at — to keep him in the flow of the game. The way he handled that, and just the way he was producing in practice, we had to give him a shot.

“He was able to get everybody involved with his ability to locate the ball and his decision making. It wasn’t a surprise. Obviously, I was surprised how well he’s played, but I knew he could do it. There was no question about it.”

Book, a junior with two years of eligibility remaining, didn’t waste much time in making the move look smart. He accounted for five touchdowns in his first start of the season in a 56-27 win at Wake Forest. In the first three games of the season, which Wimbush started, Notre Dame averaged 23.3 points. In the nine games since, which includes one Wimbush start while Book was injured, the offense averaged 37.2 points.

“We just had so many guys that weren’t touching the ball,” Long said. “It got to the point where it was about the other 10 and not just one to keep the morale high. It’s early in the year, our defense is playing well, we’re winning, but it still felt like we were losing at times.

“To be able to get all of our young guys involved, it made them practice better. It helped their development, especially the wideout corps., and gave us a chance later in the year.”

Book took the offense to a different level with his efficiency. He finished the regular season completing 197 of his 280 passes (70.4 percent) for 2,468 yards and 19 touchdowns with six interceptions, which equated to a 162.5 passing efficiency rating. He ranks fourth nationally in completion percentage and eighth in passing efficiency.

But what impressed Long the most was Book’s ability to rebound in the middle of games. For instance, Book completed 13 of his final 14 passes in the 19-14 comeback win over Pittsburgh despite a sloppy start.

“If he’s struggling at some point, to be able to fix it in the game, which is really rare, and really have success after that, that’s one of his greatest attributes,” Long said.

Book, Long and the rest of the No. 3 Irish offense will likely need to be at their best in next Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against No. 2 Clemson (13-0). Only one FBS team (Mississippi State) has allowed fewer points this season than the Tigers.

The Irish will need quite the game plan against a defense allowing only 13.7 points per game. It will be another chance for Long to show his coaching acumen. Long will be matching up against Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who won the Broyles Award in 2016.

“I don’t want to give you my first impression, because they were awfully good,” Long said of Clemson’s defense. “But no, they’re extremely talented up front. Great inside guys. They’re deep. They play extremely hard, and they’re well-coached. They have a great scheme. You put all that together, there’s no surprise at how successful they’ve been.”

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said he wants to coach for the Irish as long as they let him.