The overhaul of the Notre Dame football coaching staff continued this week, as Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock resigned to take the same position at Cincinnati, which was then followed by reports that Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long would replace Denbrock.
So for those keeping score at home, Notre Dame will have a new strength coach (Paul Longo was recently reassigned), a new quarterbacks coach (Mike Sanford left to take the head coaching job at Western Kentucky), a new special teams coach (Brian Polian was recently hired to replace the fired Scott Booker), and a new defensive coordinator (Mike Elko was brought in from Wake Forest), as well as Long overseeing the offense.
Veteran coach Brian Kelly said during this past season that everyone on his staff would be evaluated in the off-season, and he would look both internally and externally at candidates and both situations have occurred.
Long has experience at three different Power 5 programs (Arizona State, Illinois and Louisville), as well as serving as the offensive coordinator and tight ends coach this past season with the Tigers.
What kind of offense will Kelly seek to have Long implement? More than likely, one that resembles the Tigers’ offense, which is one of balance.
“To really be able to attack the multitude of defensive looks that you get from three down (defensive fronts) to four down,” Kelly said this past season when asked what he wanted out of an offensive philosophy. “And to be able to run the ball 60 times a game if you need to or throw it 60 times a game.”
Under Long’s guidance, Memphis ran the ball and passed it equally. The Tigers had 10 more rushing attempts (487) this past year, as compared to pass attempts (477), but Kelly’s vision of a balanced offense goes further than just mere numbers.
“I’ve always felt that balance is not 50-50. Balance is you have to be equally as good at running it as you are throwing it.”
The Irish will be breaking in a new quarterback (redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush), who is capable of doing both, and he and Long will have an array of weapons to utilize.
The Notre Dame offense returns all of its running backs, a number of receivers and virtually all of its offensive line.
Among those returning skilled players will be sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool, who if he stays with offense (he has the athleticism to play on either side of the ball), will take on a larger role on the 2017 squad.
“I think we have to refine and define with a number of players,” Kelly said this season when asked of Claypool’s future. “You know, we’re still lacking that big play when we need it on both sides of the ball.”
Claypool played in all 12 games this past year as a true freshman, and finished with five receptions. He also saw action on special teams. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and with speed, he has a unique combination of size, athleticism and skills.
“I think a lot of it in the off-season will be defining roles and refining some of those more athletic players that we think can help us close out games and be more effective in those pressure situations. I think (Claypool) is one of them.”
Claypool is one of the many true freshmen –on both sides of the ball – that got invaluable, albeit painful through losses, experience this past season. Kelly spoke at length about the positive of such experiences that will pay dividends next fall.
“It’s more about education and the educational process, for us, is about all the things that it takes to win at this level,” Kelly explained. “There are so many things. It’s not necessarily about more reps, as much as it is about getting them involved in situations in the game. Fighting for every inch, every blade of grass, just understanding how competitive it is play in and play out.”