Cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght will not return to Notre Dame next season

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Todd Lyght will leave Notre Dame with the first group of cornerbacks he recruited to the Irish.

Lyght, who was hired as Notre Dame’s defensive backs coach in 2015, won’t return to coach for the Irish in 2020, head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged with a statement Thursday.

“I’d like to thank Todd for his years of service to his alma mater,” said Kelly in a statement. “He has been a valuable part of our staff and his impact as both a player and coach here at Notre Dame will be lasting.

“As he leaves the university to pursue future endeavors, I’m grateful for everything Todd contributed, and we wish him, (his wife) Stefanie and their family nothing but the best.”

Lyght’s son, Logan, played on the freshman football team at football powerhouse Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana., Calif., this past fall. In an interview with Irish Sports Daily, Lyght said he plans to join his family in California when his contract expires soon.

“My kids are at the age now where I need to be around for their development and their growth,” Lyght told Irish Sports Daily. “I’m really excited about the future, not only for myself, but for my children, so it’s a really exciting time in my life.”

Lyght also told Irish Sports Daily he plans to pursue a coaching job on the West Coast.

Lyght’s first season as a full-time assistant coach at the college level came in 2015 after the Irish hired him. Around the same time, Lyght was tasked with recruiting his first crop of cornerbacks. In the 2016 class, cornerbacks Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr. and Donte Vaughn signed with the Irish.

Love left Notre Dame early to be selected by the New York Giants in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft. Both Pride and Vaughn exhausted their remaining NCAA eligibility as seniors at Notre Dame this season.

Lyght’s coaching career at Notre Dame didn’t quite meet the legacy he left as a player for the Irish, but that was a high standard to meet. Lyght started on Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team, earned unanimous All-American status in 1989 and consensus All-American honors in 1990, and was selected by the Los Angeles Rams with the No. 5 overall pick in the 1991 NFL Draft. Lyght went on to play 12 years in the NFL, received Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 1999 and won the Super Bowl XXXIV title with the St. Louis Rams.

But Lyght did help Notre Dame’s secondary develop into one of college football’s best statistically. The Irish finished the 2018 season ranked as the No. 6 passing efficiency defense in the FBS. Entering Thursday, Notre Dame ranked No. 5 in pass efficiency defense last season.

Lyght coached Love from a two-way player in high school with questionable size and speed into a Jim Thorpe Award finalist in 2018 as one of the country’s top defensive backs. 247Sports slated Love as a three-star recruit, the No. 51 cornerback and No. 549 overall in the 2016 class. Rivals rated Love as a four-star recruit and the No. 21 cornerback.

Lyght’s biggest shortcoming at Notre Dame may have been his inability to consistently recruit top-level cornerbacks. That hasn’t been any easy task for any coach with the Irish since Rivals started ranking recruits in the 2002 class. In that time, Notre Dame has signed only four cornerbacks ranked among the top 10 at the position and in the top 100 overall: Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil in 2006, Gary Gray in 2007 and Tee Shepard in 2012.

Lyght signed only four cornerbacks in five recruiting classes that were ranked among the top 20 cornerbacks on either Rivals or 247Sports: Vaughn and Pride in 2016, Houston Griffith in 2018 and Isaiah Rutherford in 2019. Failing to sign any cornerback recruits in the 2017 class after losing verbal commitments from Paulson Adebo (to Stanford) and Elijah Hicks (to California) left Notre Dame’s depth chart at cornerback rather thin in recent years.

Four cornerback recruits signed with Notre Dame during the early signing period for the 2020 class last month: Ramon Henderson, Clarence Lewis, Landon Bartleson and Caleb Offord. Only Henderson received a four-star rating from 247Sports. The other three are pegged as three-star recruits by both Rivals and 247Sports.

With assistant coach Terry Joseph working under the title of passing game coordinator, Kelly could opt to let Joseph coach both the safeties and cornerbacks rather than hiring a cornerbacks coach to replace Lyght. But recruiting analyst Tom Lemming sees Lyght’s departure as an opportunity for the Irish to hire a dynamic cornerbacks recruiter.

“It’s super important that the replacement has a great recruiting pedigree,” Lemming said. “Someone who knows how to recruit the five-star corners. That’s what makes Ohio State, Clemson, LSU and Alabama so good.”

Todd Lyght will not return as Notre Dame’s cornerbacks coach next season.