What can new Notre Dame defensive line coach Al Washington bring to Irish football?

Justin Frommer
ND Insider
Ohio State Buckeyes linebackers coach Al Washington watches the defense from the sideline during the fourth quarter of the NCAA football game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Ohio State won 41-20.

Tulsa At Ohio State Football

SOUTH BEND — When Drew Christ strolled the Ohio State sideline, he knew to keep his head on a swivel whenever there was big defensive play. That's because Al Washington was coming downhill like the linebackers he coached, with speed and aggression. 

It didn't matter if the play was right in front of Washington — soon-to-be Notre Dame's new defensive line coach — or if it was on the other side of the field. Washington seemed to always be the first Buckeyes coach there to celebrate with the players. 

That energy and intensity was something Christ, who was a defensive quality control coach in 2019, remembers Washington bringing every day during his time in Columbus. 

"The kids always played really, really hard for him," said Christ, who is now a special teams assistant at Boston College. "That's one of the things, when you look at it, when you are a good teacher and get kids to play hard for you, you are doing a good job as a position coach."

► More:Notre Dame looking to Ohio State's Al Washington to fill defensive line coach vacancy

► More:Meet the Notre Dame Football 2022 recruiting class

In some practices, Washington would strap on pads to go through a hitting drill with his players, taking shots to the shoulder that knocked him to the turf, popping right back up and acting like nothing happened to not show that one of his players "got him". 

Mike Cibene, a former Ohio State intern recalls much the same thing about Washington.

"His meetings were always fiery," Cibene said. "He would be just as intense in a meeting, a special teams meeting or anything. He is intense about everything."

For those that had been around Washington during the past three seasons as Ohio State's linebackers coach, they all describe a person with high character and is as knowledgeable of a coach as they come. 

Therefore, it's easy to see why first-year Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman plucked him from the Buckeyes to replace former defensive line coach Mike Elston, and take over a defensive line group a that could be amongst the best in college football next season. 

About Al Washington

During his time at Boston College from 2002-05, Washington was a three-year starter at defensive tackle, finishing with 74 tackles, six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. In all four years the Eagles won eight or more games and were undefeated in four bowl games.

Washington's meteoric rise from coaching Rensselaer Polytech Institute's (Division III) defensive line in 2007, to jumping from one historic college football program to another came on the heels of his ability to learn, adapt and build relationships.

Christ recalls Washington's desire to delve into schemes and study the game. When Ohio State's coaching staff would talk to different pro coaches, Washington seemed to have pages of notes, Christ said. 

At Ohio State, there wasn't one set way that Washington coached the Buckeyes' linebackers. Christ said he used the field and video, while also drawing out scenarios as means to educate his players.

Since beginning his coaching career wit RPI, Washington has gone from a grad assistant in 2008 with North Carolina State, defensive line coach at Slippery Rock (2009-10), coaching linebackers at Elon (2011), special teams, defensive line and running backs at Boston College (2012-16), defensive line at Cincinnati (2017) and linebackers at Michigan (2018) before joining the Buckeyes in 2019. 

Ohio State Buckeyes linebackers coach Al Washington runs his team through drills during football training camp at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.

Ohio State Football Training Camp

While at Cincinnati, Washington worked for Freeman who was the defensive coordinator at the time under head coach Luke Fickell.  

Washington was also offered the Tennessee defensive coordinator position, but turned the job down last March, saying the timing wasn't right. 

“It was the best decision for me right now," Washington told at that time. "To be where I’m at, I feel confident making that decision, and (it) will put me in position when that time comes.”

What awaits at Notre Dame?

The position he's in now is preparing the likes of seniors Justin Ademilola, Jayson Ademilola and Isaiah Foskey for success, as well as being an experienced voice for Freeman to bounce ideas off of throughout the season. 

"He's (Freeman) going to get a different perspective from Al, some things that worked and some things that didn’t work," Christ said. "He has gone through and kept pretty clear notes of things he has really liked throughout his career, and he is going to have that to draw back on. That is good for Marcus to have because you want some diversity."

Jan 1, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebackers coach Al Washington reacts from the sideline against the Utah Utes during the 2022 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Washington's recruiting profile also fits Freeman's goals at Notre Dame in competing for the best prospects, against the best programs. Two of Ohio State's three recruiting classes while Washington was on staff ranked top five in the nation, and in three season's Washington signed six four-star linebackers.

Transitioning to defensive line, Washington's collegiate position, could continue Notre Dame's recruiting momentum after signing four-stars Tyson Ford, Aiden Gobaira and three-star Donovan Hinish in its 2022 class. The Irish also have a commitment from five-star defensive end Keon Keeley in 2023. 

Keeping Keely's commitment to Notre Dame will be one of Washington's first challenges on the recruiting front. 

"He will be a guy that is creative," Cibene said. "He will find ways to personalize experiences. He will find ways to make Notre Dame feel like home to those kids. I think he is a great connector and will not only connect with the player, but also the family. I think that it's a slam-dunk hire."