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Notre Dame Football

Potential Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator Candidates

January 4, 2022
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Things are moving quickly with Notre Dame’s coaching staff now that the season is officially over. The biggest spot on the staff that has to be filled is at defensive coordinator and ISD’s John Brice has reported that there are five candidates to watch as of this moment.

There are other names that could emerge and that are sure to pop up as the process goes along, but this early group of candidates are who we’re focusing on right now.

Jon Heacock - Defensive Coordinator and safeties coach for Iowa State

Heacock’s name has been mentioned before when Notre Dame had a defensive coordinator opening and for good reason. He has done a great job at Iowa State and transformed the Cyclones defense into a consistently strong group.

They’ve finished in the top-30 in F+ (combined FEI and SP+ rankings) the last four years and they’ve done that without anywhere near top-30 recruited talent. Previously he played four down, but made the switch to a 3-3-5 in order to adapt to Big 12 offenses. What he did inspired plenty of defensive coordinators around the country including Clark Lea, while at Notre Dame, and Brent Venables.

He’s 61 so not exactly the youngest candidate they are looking at, but his over 30 years of experience coaching college football and over two decades of coordinator experience could be invaluable to a younger coaching staff.

He has an obvious connection to Marcus Freeman from his time working with Jim Tressel, Freeman’s college head coach, and both Heacock and Freeman were on staff together at Kent State and Purdue. He’s been a defensive backs coach for most of his career so how the staff would shake out if he was hired would be interesting to see, but Heacock has to be considered a strong candidate based on many factors.

Derek Mason - Defensive Coordinator at Auburn

Before Mason was the head coach at Vanderbilt, he was one of the top defensive coordinators in the country at Stanford. He had two top-10 defenses in F+ in 2012 and 2013 they led the nation in sacks in both of those seasons.

He didn’t have nearly the same kind of success on defense at Vanderbilt, but that had a lot to do with the talent he had compared to the rest of the conference teams he was competing against. When he got back to an even playing field this season at Auburn, their defense was ranked 18th in F+.

Originally a 3-4 guy at Stanford, he’s evolved like many coordinators to play more hybrid with his personnel and uses multiple fronts. He’s another coach who has a background mostly coaching defensive backs so how that fits is something to think about if he ends up being the guy.

Tim Banks - Defensive coordinator for Tennessee

Banks didn’t exactly run a lights out defense at Tennessee last season (56th in F+), but considering the circumstances, being average was better than anyone expected given the roster attrition.

He has previous experience as a coordinator at Illinois (2012-2015) and finished ranked in the top-30 in his final season there and he ran Central Michigan’s defense for three years while working for Butch Jones, but none of his defenses cracked the top-50 in F+ during that time.

He was the co-DC at Penn State for five seasons, but everyone knows that was Brent Pry’s show. If you’re searching for evidence that he has run an elite defense, you won’t find it. It’s not a hire that would make a ton of sense based on track record and he doesn’t have a clear connection to the staff.

Chris Ash - Safeties coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars

His stint as head coach at Rutgers is forgettable to say the least, but Ash certainly has the credentials as a strong candidate for the position. The one year he spent running the defense at Texas isn’t a knock against him as they improved from 58th to 34th in F+ during his lone season there and his defenses at Ohio State (15th and 4th) were great. They won the national championship in ‘14 and that ‘15 defense was even better the next season.

Ash is also one of the many successful coordinators who had a stint at Wisconsin, where he also coached a top-15 defense in his final year.

He’s not a hot name right now after jumping to the NFL and being part of a disastrous season in Jacksonville, but there aren’t many options who have had the success he’s had at the college level.

Al Golden - Linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals

This feels like a weird time for Golden to get back into the college game after being in the NFL for the past six years, but that could have been said about John McNulty and that has turned into a great hire for Notre Dame. Golden was a college teammate of McNulty’s at Penn State.

It’s been a while since Golden ran a defense as a coordinator, going all the way back to 2005 at Virginia, but he did a heck of a job at Temple as a head coach before being one of many who fizzled out at Miami.

They didn’t play great defense while he was there. They didn’t play great in any phase.

Not necessarily when it comes to his style, but if you look at his resumé there are some BVG vibes in terms of distance from the time he was a successful coordinator in college. That’s a pretty significant question mark attached to him that none of the other candidates have.

I don’t suspect that these will be the only candidates. We’ll see how it plays out with more names likely to pop on to the radar and when that happens, expect more from ISD when things get focused on the top choices.

 
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