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Notre Dame Football

Potential Candidates for Notre Dame Offensive Line Coach

January 11, 2018
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It wasn’t a surprise that Harry Hiestand was offered an opportunity to go back to the NFL although it came as a surprise that he is leaving now. He was someone that many could have pictured finishing his career at Notre Dame. Now we know his last stop will be back in the pros.

There is no debating that he is one of the elite offensive line coaches in the country. That makes him tough to replace. However, partly because of what he did to reassert a standard at the position that was mentioned by some of his former players, he has left an attractive opportunity for other coaches to look at. The job of offensive line coach at Notre Dame is even better now than when he arrived and that is a credit to the work he put in with All-Americans, 1st round draft picks, and the Joe Moore Award his group earned this season.

He is leaving a program that regularly attracts blue-chip prospects at the position and has four players returning with plenty of starting experience. This is a job that many offensive line coaches will covet and because of that, Brian Kelly should be able to be able to attract plenty of interest from several coaches that have established themselves as great coaches already.

Let’s get to the list.

Joe Wickline - West Virginia Offensive Line

Why he’s a fit:

Considered one of the top O-line coaches in the country, he’s been known to be old school much like Hiestand with how hard he coaches. He had a rough couple of seasons at Texas, but reemerged at West Virginia this past season and before that had a long track record of great lines at Oklahoma State in almost a decade there. He has also had stops at Florida, Baylor, and Tennessee.

Last season West Virginia finished 37th in rushing S&P+. Several of his lines paved the way for prolific rushing offenses at Oklahoma State where they averaged over 200 yards per game and 5 yards per carry in the often pass-happy Big 12.

Why he might not be a fit:

After a not so pleasant experience leaving his comfort zone and going to Texas to work with someone new, he went back to work with his old offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, WVU head coach Dana Holgerson. I’m not sure if he’d want to leave that comfort zone again after how things went down at Texas.

It may be that Kelly may want to have someone that doesn’t have the same style as Hiestand as well. Wickline is not the same, but he is definitely someone who is close to Hiestand in terms of his style of coaching.

Rick Trickett - Former Florida State Offensive Line

Why he’s a fit:

Ironically, he's a former West Virginia O-line coach who did a great job under Rich Rodriguez, Trickett has been at Florida State the past eleven seasons and was there for their recent national championship run. From 2012-2016, a player from his line won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top offensive lineman in the ACC and he has coached several All-Americans while with the Seminoles.

A lot of those players were former blue-chip recruits and he was a huge part of those players choosing FSU. He’s been a part of several top rushing offenses both at West Virginia and FSU and has coached 35 players who went on to the NFL during his career. He has developed a lot of talent and with that has come a lot of loyalty from his ex-players.

Why he might not be a fit:

Maybe it’s just that Jimbo Fisher wanted to start fresh in a lot ways at Texas A&M, but he decided not take Trickett with him on his staff. It might be that Trickett is getting up there in age (he is in 45th season of coaching) or that his line’s performance has slipped in recent years.

They had a horrendous time protecting the quarterback this season finishing 108th in Adjusted Sack Rate and they gave up 32 total on the year. Some of that is on a true freshman quarterback and the scheme Fisher runs doesn’t help, but it is a bit concerning.

He’s also another old school coach who coaches his kids very hard.

Brian Ferentz - Iowa Offensive Coordinator

Why he’s a fit:

Ferentz was the O-line coach at Iowa from 2012-2016. In '16 he was in charge of the Joe Moore Award winner as the best line in the nation.

A former NFL offensive lineman and the son of an old line coach in Kirk Ferentz, he knows how to develop lineman and often takes 3 star prospects in need of serious development and makes them outstanding blockers.

He’s a rising star in the profession and if he’s not the next in line to follow his father at Iowa, this would give him an opportunity to branch out on his own to establish himself for other opportunities.

It would likely take offering him a chance to be at least a Co-OC with Chip Long, but if they could work together then it would be a coup to make him a part of the staff. He’s a great mix of old school fundamentals and development, but is only 34 years old.

Why he might not be a fit:

Does he want to leave his Dad and would he be interested if he is not in full control of the offense? It would also take a significant offer to make it worth it for him.

Tom Manning - Iowa State Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line

Why he’s a fit:

Mount Union sure knows how to produce coaches. Like Matt Campbell, Manning is also a former player and coach from there.

He coached with Campbell at Toledo and then moved on to Iowa State where he was promoted to OC in addition to his O-line duties. People have seen the resurgence of the program under Campbell and Manning has been integral in that.

The 2015 Football Scoop Offensive Line coach of the year at Toledo, he took over an undermanned unit and helped the offense be the best Iowa State has seen in the Big 12 era. He doesn’t have the material to work with there, but he’s got the most out of his players. Despite having the 20th most pass attempts in the nation this past season, the Iowa State line only gave up 19 sacks (they were 22nd in Adjusted Sack Rate). He’s known as a good recruiter as well.

Why he might not be a fit:

He’s spent his whole career with Campbell was actually coached by Campbell at Mount Union. There has to be a lot of loyalty there so it would take a serious offer to spark his interest. He’s the play-caller for Iowa State as well and if he wasn’t given that responsibility at Notre Dame, it may be a non-starter for him.

Ryan Silverfield - Memphis Offensive Line/Run Game Coordinator

Why he’s a fit:

Silverfield has coached with Long before at Memphis and Arizona State so the familiarity is already. That’s nice, but not enough to get him the job.

What makes him an enticing candidate is the job he has done with Memphis’ offensive line in only two years. He took over a bad unit in 2016 and transformed them into a competent one by the end of the season. This season they were flat out good and the rushing offense drastically improved because of it.

They averaged 5.66 yards per carry (12th) and opened holes for a lot of big gains on the ground. And in case you were thinking he is simply a spread/RPO coach and that doesn’t fit what Notre Dame was last season, he also has a background coaching in the NFL with Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.

Why he might not be a fit:

I couldn’t come up with a good reason other than he hasn’t recruited nationally at the college level. (He has recruited well in the AAC) I guess you could say he hasn’t been on-field coach at the Power 5 level (he was an analyst at ASU), but he has coached at the highest level of football. It’s tough to say he won’t be ready to coach at Notre Dame after knowing that.

There may be a fear that he is looking to advance to an NFL job again and Kelly might not be comfortable with that after losing Hiestand.

Chris Strausser - Denver Broncos Offensive Line-Tackles

Why he’s a fit:

The current offensive tackles coach for the Broncos was the former O-line coach for Chris Petersen at Boise State and Washington. The common perception of those Boise State offenses is that they relied on the passing game, but those offensive lines were very physical.

Strausser was responsible for developing those lines that were composed of two and three star players. Twice he had lines that helped pave the way for top-10 rushing offenses. One can only imagine what he can do with the talent Notre Dame signs in most classes.

He may want to stay in the NFL, but there is a lot of uncertainty with the current Broncos coaching staff. This could be a great option for him to find stability and he would have control over the entire line.

Why he might not be a fit:

He might just be content to stick in the NFL and take his chances in finding another opportunity after being there since 2015.

Garin Justice - Arizona Offensive Line

Why he might be a fit:

An up and comer on this list as opposed to some of the more veteran options, Justice is a Rick Trickett disciple that played for him and then worked for him as GA at WVU and FSU. He was just hired at Arizona after two years at Florida Atlantic.

This last season he worked for Lane Kiffin and their offense was prolific. Justice’s line helped FAU’s offense rank 6th in S&P+ and they were ranked 3rd in Power Success Rate (converting runs on 3rd or 4th down of two yards or less). The running game averaged over 6 yards per carry and almost 300 yards per game. The line also only gave up 16 sacks the entire season.

Right now he is a bit in limbo until they hire a new coach at Arizona as Rich Rodriguez was let go after Justice was hired.

Why he might not be a fit:

He’s likely a long shot to even be considered and is more of name to watch in the future at the position. I still decided to include him because any line that does that well deserves recognition.

Bob Bostad - Wisconsin Inside Linebackers

Why he’s a fit:

I’m sure you read Inside Linebackers and are wondering what I’ve been smoking. Bostad is coaching linebackers now, but is a long time offensive line coach. He was the Wisconsin Running Game Coordinator from 2006-2011 and has coached offensive line at the college and pro level for 21 years.

After a combined four years with Tampa Bay Bucs and Tennessee Titans, he returned to college football and coached tight ends/fullbacks for a season at Northern Illinois and now one year of linebackers back at Wisconsin. Those ILBs for the Badgers were pretty good so the guy can obviously coach anywhere that is asked of him.

At Wisconsin he helped develop future All-Pro center Travis Frederick as well as many other NFL players. Development is the biggest thing and they turned a lot of lower rated recruits and even walk-ons into studs. In his last two seasons there they finished in the top-10 in rushing offense.

Why he might not be a fit:

He would probably love an opportunity to get back into coaching what he knows best, but things didn’t go so well for him after he left Paul Chryst and Wisconsin. I don’t know if I would say the fact that no other program was jumping at the chance to hire him as their O-line coach is a red flag or not, but it does make me wonder a bit.

Mark Staten - Michigan State Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line

Why he’s a fit:

Every year Michigan State recruits a bunch of guys on the offensive line that Notre Dame never offers and every year they have a really physical and technically sound offensive line. That’s largely due to Staten who has coached the line for Sparty the last seven seasons.

He’s produced All-Americans out of former walk-ons and has had 23 players be recognized as All-Big Ten in his seven years. He has definitely got the most out of the group he has had during his time in East Lansing.

Why he might not be a fit:

He’s been at Michigan State for 11 seasons and I’m sure has had chances to leave in the past. He may just be happy to be there for as long as Mark Dantonio is there. MSU has not been very efficient in terms of yards per carry while Staten has coached the line.

Even when they had Le’veon Bell in the backfield, they gained a lot of yards because of volume. That is definitely something that stood out to me when looking at them statistically.

Jeff Quinn - Notre Dame Offensive Analyst

Why he’s a fit:

He coached the offensive line under Kelly for years all the way back to Grand Valley State up until Kelly came to Notre Dame when Quinn became the head coach at Buffalo. They experienced a lot of success on offense during those years.

The offensive line coaching position was never open after Quinn was let go by Buffalo. Now it is.

Why he might not be a fit:

Kelly had numerous chances to hire Quinn on as a full-time coach at another position, but never did in the last three seasons. That is definitely not a sign of confidence regarding Quinn’s fit on the field or as a recruiter.

I think it’s also a bit strange that no other program has come in and gave Quinn a chance to coach the offensive line despite his previous experience. It would seem like it is more of a fallback option than hiring the best person for the job based on how he has been viewed outside the program and by Kelly himself.

Added: Justin Frye - Boston College Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line

Why he's a fit:

Bruce Feldman just reported that he would is a potential candidate so he needs to be included on the list. Honestly, I probably should have included him before. BC's line had a bunch of injuries last year and weren't that good in the beginning of the year and got much better as the season wore on. 

By the end of the year, they helped pave the way for star freshman running back AJ Dillon to have a monster year and BC as a whole finished 25th in rushing S&P+ and 16th in Adjusted Sack Rate. 

The offense as a whole was not successful in 2015 and 2016, but the other three season Frye's line has been the catalyst for huge production in the running game where they finished in the top-25 in yards per carry twice. 

Why he might not be a fit:

There would be nothing holding him back from taking the job as it would clearly be a step up in salary and career advancement. It would be more about finding out if th 34 year old is enough of a presence to step into the shoes of Hiestand who is over 20 years older and is more experienced. 

(Bonus Not on the List Candidate)

Andy Heck - Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Line

Why he’s not a fit:

Someone mentioned him and I understand why. He’s an alum and has been a good offensive line coach in the NFL. He has a great gig working for Andy Reid right now, though. He’s also coached in the NFL for 14 years and hasn’t coached in college football in a long time.

Heck was at Virginia when Heath Miller was there. Miller had a long and successful NFL career and is now retired. That’s how long ago Heck coached in college football.

Unless he has a burning desire to get back to Notre Dame or Reid went in another direction with the Chiefs (not a chance), then there is no way Heck is a candidate for this job.

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