X

Notre Dame Football: New Additions to Offensive Staff Mean Big Changes

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2015

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly argues a call in the first half of the Music City Bowl NCAA college football game against LSU on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

What a difference a week makes. 

Last Wednesday, Notre Dame celebrated signing a 24-man recruiting class, culminating the hard work of a nine-man coaching staff.

This week, however, head coach Brian Kelly might need to pass out name tags just so people get to know each other. 

Monday, Oklahoma made official the addition of Kerry Cooks—a key defensive coach for Notre Dame the past few seasons—to Bob Stoops' staff. Ohio State announced the hiring of former Notre Dame assistant Tony Alford on Tuesday. The Atlanta Falcons did the same with former Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, who took the same position with the Falcons. 

So instead of catching his breath in the month between signing day and spring practice, Kelly has been out rebuilding his coaching staff. And on Wednesday, it looks like Kelly made a very big move for his offense. 

First reported by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Boise State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford is joining Kelly's staff. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reports he'll be the new offensive coordinator.

Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB

#BoiseState's Mike Sanford is expected to become the new OC at #NotreDame, a source told @FOXSports. 247 1st reported the move

Sanford was the architect behind Boise State's Fiesta Bowl-winning offense. The Broncos went 12-2, finishing ninth overall in scoring offense. 

At age 32, Sanford is viewed as one of the best young minds in college football. He also turned down a chance to be Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Ohio State just a month ago, per Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans. 

That Sanford was willing to come to Notre Dame after turning down Ohio State is a bit of good news for Irish fans still torn up over the departure of Alford. It's also key for Irish coaches looking to recruit the West Coast, where Sanford has established himself after coordinating Stanford's recruiting efforts for two seasons (2012 and 2013). 

Tyler James @TJamesNDI

Here's reported new #NotreDame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford from his time at Penn High School via SBT archives http://t.co/YTLRe30Arb

The move to hire Sanford all but confirms a grand reshuffling on Kelly's staff. Within the past week, news has broken on the three potential replacements on the Irish coaching staff. 

First is former Irish All-American and NFL Pro Bowler Todd Lyght. Though only recently hired by Derek Mason at Vanderbilt, all signs point to Lyght joining the Irish staff and replacing Kerry Cooks, per The Tennessean.

The next hire could reunite Kelly with former lieutenant Jeff Quinn, per Scout.com. Fired after seven games last season, Quinn spent the past five years as the head coach at Buffalo, winning eight games in 2013. 

Quinn coordinated Kelly's offense and coached the offensive line at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Where he fits on the staff with Harry Hiestand already in charge of the offensive line remains to be seen, especially with the recent news of Sanford being hired. 

Considering current offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock turned down the head coaching job at Central Michigan to stay in South Bend, there are now three established offensive coordinators on a staff where the head coach called the plays last season. Would Denbrock take a demotion after turning down a job promotion in the last month?

We'll have to wait for the dust to settle and the hires to become official before we know for sure. (Even with George O'Leary's hiring and firing over a decade old, Notre Dame's HR process remains notoriously thorough.)

But as we cobble together some pieces, it's worth doing some projecting to guess how the reworked staff will look come the first spring practice on March 2.  

JJ Stankevitz @JJStankevitz

Mike Sanford would be Brian Kelly's first OC he hadn't previously coached with. Jeff Quinn, Charley Molnar, Chuck Martin, Mike Denbrock.

Sanford is almost assuredly going to coach quarterbacks. Lyght will work in the secondary, though maybe only as cornerbacks coach.

In the past, Kelly has split up coaching duties for safeties and cornerbacks. That could happen again, likely moving Bob Elliott to work with the safeties, where he assisted last season.

From there, every move feels like speculation. A report by Irish247 has defensive line coach Mike Elston potentially shifting to coach linebackers. Or defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder could handle that assignment. 

Offseason Coaching Departures
CoachTitleNew TeamNew Job
Kerry CooksSecondary CoachOklahomaSame
Matt LaFleurQB CoachAtlanta FalconsSame
Tony AlfordRB Coach, Recruiting Coor.Ohio StateRB Coach, Asst. HC
Confirmed Media Reports

If Elston moves, that would leave a vacancy along the defensive line. Brady Hoke recently killed a rumor that had him heading to South Bend—could that spot be filled by Denbrock, who temporarily took over that position when Elston took a leave of absence because of serious illness two seasons ago?

At this point, it all starts to feel like a wild goose chase. 

Yet amidst all the chaos, one thing is certain: A year after a hot start was derailed and the Irish came apart at the seams before winning the Music City Bowl, Kelly isn't afraid of big changes. 

And with expectations sky-high in 2015, Kelly is now focused on building the perfect staff to coach his talented roster.