Notre Dame Coaching Staff Finally Takes Shape
The Notre Dame roster and coaching staff will have a much different look in 2020, but we finally have a more complete picture of what that’s going to look like.
Every season sees the roster changeover, as some players finish their Notre Dame careers and new players arrive. Notre Dame will have a different look on the sidelines as well, as a new offensive coordinator and two new coaches will be on the staff.
After an offseason of change, the final piece to the staff appears to be in place as Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported that Cincinnati cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens would be hired to replace Todd Lyght, who left the staff in early January.
PROMOTIONS FOR REES AND TAYLOR
Former offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long departed the staff in December. As was expected, Long’s coordinator and play-calling role was filled by quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees. Rees has just five years of coaching experience, but he impressed Brian Kelly enough for the Irish head coach to hand the reigns of the offense over to his 27-year old assistant.
Rees is a sharp young mind that certainly knows Kelly’s offense as well as anyone. He and quarterback Ian Book will also enter their third season working together, which should help make for a smooth transition for both.
It will be interesting to see what changes Rees and the staff make from an operational standpoint, from a schematic standpoint and from a teaching standpoint.
Running backs coach Lance Taylor was also promoted and is now the run game coordinator, and sources I’ve spoken with believe Rees and Taylor will work quite well together. Those same sources have said Rees and Taylor have quickly developed a strong relationship since Taylor was hired to coach running backs just over a year ago.
A key for Rees and Taylor will be creating an offense where the run game and pass game mesh better than they have the last two years.
JOHN McNULTY TO COACH TIGHT ENDS
It hasn’t been officially reported by Notre Dame, but Irish Breakdown was told on February 2nd that John McNulty being hired was already done. In fact, some recruits were already being told by then that it was happening. All we are waiting on at this point is for Notre Dame to make it official, but McNulty is already around the program and has been for some time.
McNulty will replace Long as the tight ends coach. The Irish tight ends put up impressive numbers under Long, and the unit combined for 63 catches, 755 yards and 11 touchdowns. With starter Cole Kmet off to the NFL and the roster being relatively young behind Brock Wright, it will be a positive for the unit to have a coach that can focus just on them and not also coordinating the offense.
McNulty has an impressive resume as a position coach, having worked for Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin, and having coached future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and 2016 NFL All-Rookie tight end Hunter Henry.
The 51-year old assistant coach has experience as an offensive coordinator, having held that role for parts of four seasons over two different stints at Rutgers. That experience should prove beneficial for Rees and Taylor, who have never been coordinators in their careers.
MIKE MICKENS TO COACH CORNERBACKS
Mickens will become the third different cornerbacks coach under Kelly, following Kerry Cooks and Lyght, who both had impressive runs in South Bend. Mickens is a talented young coach (32 years old) that is coming off back-to-back strong seasons with the Bearcats.
Cincinnati went 8-16 in the two seasons prior to Mickens arrival, but in the last two seasons the Bearcats have gone 22-5 on the back of an outstanding Group of 5 defense. The Bearcats ranked 24th in scoring defense and 15th in pass efficiency defense in 2019, which came a year after Cincinnati ranked 8th in scoring defense and 13th in pass efficiency defense in his first season.
Mickens has been a FBS position coach for six seasons, and in those six seasons he’s coached a pair of true freshman to All-Conference seasons. Mickens has also been part of a defense that ranked in the top-15 nationally in interceptions in three of those six seasons.
Cincinnati freshman cornerback Ahmad Gardner was named a first-team All-American Athletic Conference player by the league and Pro Football Focus after registering eight pass break ups and three interceptions to go with 31 tackles during the 2019 season. Gardner returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns.
Mickens set the Cincinnati career record with 14 interceptions as a player for the Bearcats. Kelly was the Cincinnati head coach during Mickens’ final two seasons, and his position coach with the Bearcats was Kerry Coombs.
With spring practice set to begin March 5, the Irish are now on pace to have the entire staff on campus for at least a couple of weeks before things kick off. It will give us our first glimpse of what the 2020 Notre Dame football team will look like.