Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly did not have to look very far to find his next defensive coordinator. Linebackers coach Clark Lea has been promoted to the role of defensive coordinator in South Bend. Lea replaces Mike Elko, who was hired away for the same role by Texas A&M.
“I cannot express how grateful I am to Father Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly for their confidence in my ability to take on this new role,” Lea said in a released statement from the university. “I am indebted to them, and to the student-athletes that I have been blessed to work with over the past year — without their commitment and belief in me, I realize that none of this would be possible. Notre Dame represents everything I want to be a part of in my career as an educator, and I am deeply humbled to be able to continue my work here.”
“Clark has quickly established himself as a rising star in the coaching profession,” Kelly said. “He immediately commands the respect of those around him, whether that be in a meeting room, on a practice field or in a prospective student-athlete’s living room. Clark has demonstrated an ability to motivate, lead, teach and mentor through a positive teaching environment, while also developing the necessary traits of excellence in our players.”
Leas joined the Notre Dame coaching staff in 2017 after one season as a linebackers coach at Wake Forest. Lea has also coached at Syracuse and Bowling Green The Vanderbilt alum started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at UCLA.
Forget about all of the suggestions from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly about this year potentially being different for the Fighting Irish. A year after a number of close calls going against Notre Dame, Kelly promised this season will be different, but after a one-point loss at home to Georgia Saturday night, Kelly got flustered by a question from the media and walked out in a very familiar fashion.
The reporter not backing down from the bullish Kelly was Laken Litman of The Indianapolis Star. As Litman profiled in her story from the game, there was a familiar feeling for Irish fans watching Notre Dame come up short in a close battle. Here is the transcript of the exchange between Kelly and Litman before Kelly took an exit stage left.
Reporter: Obviously you made a ton of changes, changed the culture, everything. But obviously, you lost and at the very end, kind of like last year, seven of eight losses, how do you…
Kelly: What’s the question?
Reporter: I’m getting to it.
Kelly: Well, get to the question.
Reporter: How do you keep this from snowballing?
Kelly: It’s not going to snowball. Next question.
Reporter: Well, what exactly will be different, I guess?
Kelly: There’s nothing different. I go to work every day, and I coach my football team.
Kelly: Is that — is that good enough for you?
Reporter: Yeah, I was just asking about how it was different from last year’s losing by one possession.
Reporter: Tonight was also like that, so I was just wondering.
Kelly: Losing by one possession?
Kelly: No, it was one point.
Kelly was obviously flustered in the aftermath of a tough home loss dropping his team to 1-1. How else can you explain Kelly suggesting a one-point loss is not a one-possession game?
A summer of attempting to change the narrative and a week’s worth of Brian Kelly trying to tell media outlets this year is going to be different has paid off for at least one week. Notre Dame (1-0) opened the season at home with a 49-16 win against Temple (0-1), and has a few reasons to feel optimistic about this season after one game.
For starters, there is quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Wimbush got the Irish off on the right foot Saturday afternoon with a pair of touchdown passes and 106 rushing yards and a score. Brian Kelly has liked having dual threats run the offense, and Wimbush did just that against a Temple defense that was ripe for the picking.
Then there is running back Josh Adams, who tore up the Temple defense for 161 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Adams was a workhorse for the Irish running the football with an average of 8.5 yards per carry. As a team, Notre Dame piled up 353 rushing yards, which was more than the total yardage picked up by Temple on the afternoon.
Notre Dame may have room to improve on the defense, but the Irish did a sound job slowing down the running game for the Owls. It was expected there would be a transition period for Temple with a new head coach in Geoff Collins and a decent amount of roster turnover, an unproven quarterback situyation made running the football a key for Temple. The Irish held the Owls to fewer than 100 yards on the ground, with a trio of sacks helping out in the box score in that department. That is encouraging, but the next game poses a much more serious threat on the ground with Georgia coming in with Nick Chubb. Time will tell if this will hold up.
It wasn’t all bad for Temple, as Logan Marchi battled and passed for 245 yards and two touchdowns in a tough spot. Ryquell Armstead ran 19 times for 67 yards and the Owls spread the ball around in the passing game. It just was not nearly enough to battle Notre Dame in this setting at this time.
Notre Dame will stay home next week to host No. 15 Georgia. The game will be a primetime affair from Notre Dame Stadium with the Irish and Bulldogs squaring off at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC (check your local listings). Georgia opened the season against Appalachian State in a game that was ongoing at the time Notre Dame wrapped up the win. Temple will look to rebound next week with a home game against a local FCS threat from the Main Line, Villanova. Villanova is ranked in the FCS top 25 polls and is coming off a top 25 victory over Lehigh.
Last spring saw Jim Harbaugh pack the Michigan football equipment trucks and head to Bradenton, Florida to run spring football practices over Michigan’s spring break at IMG Academy. Inspired by the idea, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly reportedly contemplated doing the same, but that will no longer be in the works for the Fighting Irish.
Michigan is not taking the football program to any destinations over the school’s spring break this year, but the Wolverines are getting their passports ready for a trip to Rome at the end of the semester. There is no hint that Notre Dame will be heading to Italy or any other European vacation spot either.
Kelly, like Harbuagh, is paid big money to produce a winner in South Bend and looking for new and creative ways to expand the program’s reach can be critical to giving a boost in recruiting and interest in the program. Of course, some ideas can be quite costly, such as Michigan taking its football program to Rome. But if you want to travel with the program during scheduled time off during the semester, this will be the last opportunity to do so as the NCAA will shut down the practice later this year.
As Notre Dame closed the books on a dismal 4-8 season with a loss at USC, rumors started to swirl about the future of Brian Kelly as head coach. The rumblings were not that Notre Dame was preparing to push him out as head coach but instead that Kelly was checking all of his options for potential jobs elsewhere. A day later, perhaps to calm the nerves a little, Kelly has released a statement saying he wants to remain the head coach of the Fighting Irish.
“I felt that I was clear with the media following yesterday’s game at USC when I was asked about my desire to be back as the head football coach at Notre Dame, but in light of media reports that surfaced afterward, let me restate my position,” Kelly said in a statement released via Twitter at 3:37 AM. “I have not been, am not and will not be interested in options outside of Notre Dame. I’m fully committed to leading this program in the future.”
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports was first to report Kelly was reaching out to his representatives to evaluate potential coaching opportunities outside of Notre Dame. This report was then supported by a similar report from Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com. What jobs may have been evaluated is unknown, whether it was strictly college openings or potential vacancies to be filled in the NFL (or, just to get crazy, the Canadian Football League).
This is not the first time Kelly has had to bat away coaching rumors about his future, but the timing of these latest reports was worth noting. In the past week, Notre Dame was hit with a demand from the NCAA to vacate all wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which Kelly was not happy about at all following an investigation into academic fraud within the football program. coming off the first losing season under Kelly and the worst season since going 3-9 under Charlie Weis in 2007, the reports seemed to suggest Kelly could be looking to abandon ship. Yet, it is worth noting that neither report suggested Kelly was looking to leave as a result of the NCAA weighing in on the academic concerns in South Bend.
So, for now at least, Kelly is once again stating he is not looking to go anywhere else to coach.