While Notre Dame fans reveled in the Irish's best season in 24 years, there was a man hard at work, putting in the grueling hours that allowed for that joyous celebration.
That man was defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, a bright, young coach, who, five short years ago, was a little-known linebackers and special teams coach at the University of Virginia.
Prior to his time at Virginia, Diaco had coached under current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly at Central Michigan for one season in 2005, before reuniting with Kelly at Cincinnati as the Bearcats' defensive coordinator.
Fast forward to now and the 39-year-old Diaco is, perhaps, the hottest commodity on the college football coaching market.
The recipient of the 2012 Broyles Award—given annually to college football's top assistant coach—Diaco is now likely on the short list of every athletic director in the country.
In fact, Diaco was a candidate for a number of vacant head coaching positions during the past hiring cycle, including Wisconsin, Boston College and Temple.
It's no surprise that Diaco is being pursued so intently, especially considering the product he put on the field last season.
The Irish defense finished the season ranked seventh nationally in total defense, 11th in rushing defense and second in scoring defense. With defense becoming an increasingly vital aspect of success in college football, Diaco will be the golden goose desired by schools searching for head coaches.
The only guarantee in the present moment is that Diaco will be the Irish's defensive coordinator once again.
Whether he chooses to leave, which is a very real possibility, will depend on a combination of factors.
First and foremost, as has been a point of discussion ever since Brian Kelly interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles job, will be a pay raise.
Undoubtedly, Diaco deserves a heftier paycheck after the phenomenal defense he constructed in 2012, and Kelly went so far as to make it a point that his assistants be taken care of.
If athletic director Jack Swarbrick and the university administration are able to work out a lucrative deal for Diaco, the odds that he would leave would decrease, though the lure of a head coaching salary would still be tempting to the now fourth-year defensive coordinator.
The other factor to consider is how strong Diaco's desire to be a head coach continues to be.
If that's an itch that won't be eradicated unless scratched, Diaco will surely pursue a head coaching job regardless of how comfortable he feels in his current position.
And the third factor to consider is how the Irish defense performs next season.
If the unit is once again as impenetrable as it was a season ago, Diaco will no longer be with Notre Dame after the 2013 season, in this writer's humble opinion.
After considering those three factors, it's wise to consider that no individual knows how Diaco is thinking and feeling aside from Diaco himself.
If he feels in his heart that leaving Notre Dame to pursue other interests is the right choice, then more power to him. I believe that all people, regardless of what arena they may be in, follow their hearts.
Ultimately, that decision will be Diaco's to make.
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