With the departure of Kerry Cooks, Matt LaFleur and Tony Alford from Brian Kelly's coaching staff, the usual lull between signing day and the start of spring practice has been anything but slow. With high expectations for the Irish next season, Kelly has spent the past two weeks rebuilding his staff.
With two open spots on his offensive staff and a need to replace Cooks in the secondary, Kelly faces his biggest staff renovation since after the 2011 season. He knocked that change out of the park, with the Irish running the table in the regular season and finishing 12-1, their only loss to Alabama in the BCS title game.
While Notre Dame has made no change official, it appears that two moves are in stone, with both Mike Sanford and Todd Lyght confirmed by multiple sources. Per Irish 247, Lyght is already on the road recruiting defensive back prospects.
With just two weeks until spring practice begins, let's take our best guess as to how the 2015 coaching staff will look when Notre Dame takes the field next.
Projected Title: Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach
SI.com's Thayer Evans is the latest to confirm Sanford's move from Boise State to Notre Dame. After only one season as coordinator of the Boise State offense, Sanford will have a homecoming of sorts, returning to South Bend, where he played high school football.
Sanford's hire caught just about everybody off guard. He had no direct ties to Brian Kelly, and it didn't appear Notre Dame was in the market for a new offensive coordinator, with Mike Denbrock entering his second season.
But Kelly managed to do what Urban Meyer and Derek Mason couldn't do this offseason: land one of the hottest young offensive minds in college football. So while that means there'll likely be a reshuffling in the offensive meeting room, Sanford takes over the title of offensive coordinator.
Projected Title: Associate Head Coach, Passing Game Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach
After turning down an opportunity to be the head coach at Central Michigan, Denbrock's going to once again show his loyalty to Brian Kelly by being a good soldier and giving up the coordinator duties to Sanford. But that doesn't mean Denbrock won't have a large say in the trajectory of the Irish offense.
With an associate head coach title, Denbrock won't be a coordinator, but he will be second in command. So while he'll continue coaching the wide receivers, spring football will be our first clue as to how a three-headed monster (Kelly, Sanford and Denbrock) will work in running the offense.
Perhaps Denbrock's greatest skill will be serving as a middle man between the head coach and new coordinator. Having worked with Kelly for five seasons in South Bend and for an extended stint at Grand Valley at the beginning of their careers, Denbrock can be a sounding board for both men as they figure out how best to incorporate some of Sanford's playbook into Kelly's offense.
Projected Title: Offensive Line Coach
Nothing changes up front for the Irish with Hiestand remaining as the team's offensive line coach. While Irish Illustrated's Tim Prister reported that former Kelly lieutenant and Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn was coming on board as a full-time assistant, we get the feeling that if Quinn joins the program, it'll be in a non-coaching capacity.
With every starter but Christian Lombard returning, Hiestand has a ton of continuity to work with along the offensive line. Expect the best unit up front since the Lou Holtz era, with a starting lineup and complementary depth the best it's been in years.
Projected Title: Tight Ends Coach and Special Teams Coordinator
There have been rumors of Booker's flip to the defensive side of the ball, potentially coaching safeties—the position he played in college and coached earlier in his career. But ultimately Booker will stick with the same position group, tasked with getting a young and unproven depth chart ready to play.
After another up-and-down season in the special teams phase, Booker could lose that title, keeping his focus on developing Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Mike Heuerman and Alizé Jones. But for now, I'm keeping Booker in the same role until we hear otherwise.
Projected Title: Running Backs Coach
Ever since Tony Alford left for Ohio State, Denson's name has been in the mix. The move for the USF assistant makes perfect sense.
He's Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher. He played four seasons in the NFL. And he's a Florida native and former high school coach who could help keep the Irish connected with top prospects in Alford's primary recruiting region.
There have been no reports that make Denson's move to Notre Dame official. But you can tell from the video below that his love for his alma mater is certainly still intact.
Projected Title: Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach
There were rumors from Irish Illustrated that VanGorder was also on the way out the door this offseason, with Jack Del Rio having VanGorder among his finalists for the Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator position. But VanGorder stuck around in South Bend, back for a second season atop the Irish defense.
VanGorder will have to prove that the Irish's second-half collapse was a product of crippling injuries, not opponents getting a better read on his blitz-heavy scheme. He's added strong recruiting classes in both 2014 and 2015 to help build depth across the board.
Projected Title: Defensive Line Coach and Recruiting Coordinator
Elston will add the title of recruiting coordinator to his work load, per an Irish247 report. One of Kelly's two original assistants to still be at Notre Dame (Denbrock being the other), Elston will add an important title to his resume, while continuing to work with one of the youngest position groups on the roster.
While there were rumors of Elston coaching linebackers this season, there's a lot of work to be done on the defensive line. Elston welcomes back his entire starting lineup.
He also will have redshirt freshmen Jon Bonner and Jhonny Williams ready to go. Welcoming in early enrollees Micah Dew-Treadway and Jerry Tillery, Elston will have plenty on his hands this spring.
Projected Title: Safeties Coach
One of Kelly's most versatile assistants will move to the back line, shifting from outside linebackers coach to help Todd Lyght in the secondary. With both Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate in need of taking a big step forward in their games, Elliott will likely spend his time focusing on safety play while also adding another veteran set of eyes to the defensive meeting room.
Elliott has lost the connections that brought him to South Bend, with Bob Diaco now running the UConn program and Kerry Cooks at Iowa. But Elliott has found a home under Brian Kelly, and he'll continue to be an important teacher on the defense.
Projected Title: Secondary Coach
Lyght comes to Notre Dame after a brief pit stop at Vanderbilt, where head coach Derek Mason pulled him away from the Philadelphia Eagles. But once Cooks left for Oklahoma, Kelly quickly identified Lyght, and from the work Lyght's already doing on the recruiting trail, he seems to be a quick fit.
Lyght may be relatively new to the coaching profession, but his playing career will earn him immediate respect both in the locker room and with recruits. Lyght was a two-time All-American at Notre Dame and a first-round draft pick. He was a Super Bowl winner and a Pro Bowler as well.
Working with a young cornerback depth chart anchored by Cole Luke (and likely KeiVarae Russell come this summer), Lyght, one of the best to ever play the position at Notre Dame, will teach VanGorder's aggressive coverage schemes.