Source confirms hiring of Marty Biagi as Notre Dame football's next special teams coach

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune
Ole Miss special teams coordinator Marty Biagi coaches at Ole Miss spring football practice on March 22, 2022.

SOUTH BEND — After adopting “chaos kills” as their mantra and riding that to a record-setting performance last season, Notre Dame’s special teams might be a bit more cautious under new coordinator Marty Biagi.

According to multiple reports this week — first by The Athletic — that were confirmed Thursday by a source with direct knowledge, the 37-year-old Biagi is leaving the University of Mississippi after one season to return to Notre Dame, where he worked as a special teams analyst in 2016. An official announcement has yet to be made.

A former Marshall University punter and backup kicker, Biagi replaces Brian Mason, the Broyles Award semifinalist and Zionsville native who made the jump to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts on March 4.

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Biagi, who was making $375,000 this season on a two-year deal at Ole Miss, also coordinated special teams at Purdue (2020-21), North Texas (2017-19) and Southern University (2012-14). Like Mason, who worked with Notre Dame’s defensive backs on nickel coverage last season, Biagi brings experience on the defensive side as well.

Biagi has coached outside linebackers (Purdue), cornerbacks (South Dakota) and defensive backs (Southern). He was co-defensive coordinator in 2011 at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and has extensive recruiting contacts in talent-rich Louisiana and Houston.

Purdue assistant coach Marty Biagi prior to the start of an NCAA football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and the Northwestern Wildcats, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 in Chicago.

While Mason’s rebranded “punt block” unit set a modern program record with seven blocked punts last season, including a streak of five straight games, Biagi’s approach might be characterized as more risk averse.

“The biggest thing is No. 1 we’re always going to make sure we get the ball back to the offense,” he said in August 2021 while at Purdue. “That’s our goal. Do we want to be aggressive? Yes, but not to the point that it could cost us a ball bouncing off one of our guys’ legs or roughing the punter.”

That’s not to say special teams under Biagi aren’t in search of game-changing plays. His three seasons at North Texas yielded 11 blocked kicks or punts — at least three each year — and the Mean Green scored six special teams touchdowns in that span.

“Not every single play is necessarily going to be an explosive kick return for a touchdown or a punt block,” Biagi said in November of 2021, “but there’s other ways you can affect the game.”

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In 2016, an otherwise disastrous 4-8 season at Notre Dame, C.J. Sanders returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns. Scott Booker, now coaching safeties for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, was the Irish special teams coordinator that year.

Chris Tyree (2021) has the program’s only kickoff return for touchdown over the past six seasons. An Irish punt returner hasn’t reached the end zone since Sanders in 2015.

According to Football Outsiders’ Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), Notre Dame ranked 13th in kickoff return at the FBS level in 2016. North Texas ranked 21st in that category in 2019, and Biagi’s punt return units finished fifth (2017) and 12th (2019).

Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree returns a kickoff for a touchdown as Wisconsin safety Travian Blaylock and Hunter Wohler pursue during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Chicago. Notre Dame won 41-13. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Analytics have not been as kind, however, to Biagi’s special teams over the past three seasons. At Purdue, their overall FEI rankings were 114th (2020) and 103rd (2021), and at Ole Miss that figure only climbed slightly to 99th out of 131 FBS programs.

Pro Football Focus graded Biagi’s groups more favorably: 35th at Ole Miss last season, 29th at Purdue in 2020. In 2021, however, the Boilermakers dropped to 66th in PFF special teams.

Notre Dame’s special teams under Mason ranked No. 6 nationally in FEI and No. 5 via PFF as the Irish successfully incorporated grad transfers at punter (Jon Sot) and placekicker (Blake Grupe) and used freshman Zac Yoakam on kickoffs.

Sixth-year long snapper Michael Vinson returns for a fourth year as the starter in 2023. Redshirt freshman Bryce McFerson will battle Penn grad transfer Ben Krimm at punter, but South Florida grad transfer Spencer Shrader is a proven placekicker.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Biagi joins offensive coordinator Gerad Parker (Louisa) and quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli (Fort Thomas) as Kentucky-born assistants on the Notre Dame coaching staff.

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A former all-state punter and kicker at Shelby County (Ky.) High School, Biagi drew widespread recruiting interest that included Air Force, Louisville, Illinois, Kentucky and Mississippi State. At Marshall, Biagi punted 78 times for a 38.0-yard average, with all but 17 of those punts coming as a redshirt freshman in 2005.

His background as a specialist gives him added insight into the psychological aspects of the discipline.

“The kicking game in general relates a lot to golf, more so than any other spot,” he said during the 2021 season at Purdue. “You’ve got to have that mental edge, that mental toughness.”

Purdue kicker Mitchell Fineran, who transferred from FCS-level Samford, made 83% of his field goal attempts in 2021, including a 2-for-2 showing in a 27-13 loss at Notre Dame.

“He knows when he’s stepped across the hash onto the field, he has certain phrases he’s going to lock into to train his brain, just like a golfer would,” Biagi said. “Our punters, our snappers do the same thing. … We have that make sure that thing can never get blocked.”

This will be Biagi’s first time working with Irish coach Marcus Freeman. Spring practice starts March 22 and the spring game is set for April 22.