Notre Dame Football: Irish Coordinator’s One of the Top Duo’s?


Our friends over at Bleacher Report (h/t Justin Ferguson) recently did a list of top coaching coordinator duo’s in college football. I was actually surprised to find the duo of Notre Dame’s Brian VanGorder and Mike Sanford on the list. Not on the basis I don’t think they can be, but on the fact that VanGorder is coming off of a rough (but injury plagued) defensive 2014, while Sanford will be in his first with the Irish. So will these two affirm their place on the list this season?

Following the shake-up of coaches this offseason, Sanford came into Notre Dame, while it was a question if VanGorder would be staying. Although the performance of the defense was subpar, it is of note that it was ravaged by injuries, as the Irish had to dig down four-deep at some positions last season. But VanGorder wasn’t on the block for poor performance. On the contrary, he was mentioned for several NFL positions, most notably the DC job in Oakland. VanGorder coached under new Raiders coach Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville in 2005.

The Irish were exposed against North Carolina when the Tarheels went up-tempo, and the sub-heavy Irish couldn’t get the right personnel on the field. The loss of Joe Schmidt can’t be overstated either, as the play of the defense began it’s decent after he was lost for the year. New coaches are on hand, but the defense lost only one starter from last year in Cody Riggs, so experience and familiarity are there. It’s time for VanGorder to show the second half of 2015 was an anomaly and not the norm.

The addition of Sanford is intriguing on many levels. He has had success at all levels at stops in his career, most recently his one-year stay in Boise State in which he had the No. 9 scoring offense in football. After Ohio State and Urban Meyer plucked Kelly’s third assistant away in four years with lead recruiter Tony Alford, Kelly got his victory in Sanford.

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The National Championship Buckeyes and Meyer were out to land Sanford, but he chose Notre Dame over Ohio State. And that says a lot, especially when it’s unknown how much of the play-calling power Sanford will have. Kelly has always been the key play-caller, but this could signal a shift in philosophy for Kelly. The change in style in the bowl victory over LSU is another. The normally pass-happy Irish ran the ball 51 times, compared to 26 passes. A new era of Notre Dame football may be ushering in.

The upside of both of these coaches is high, although I’m not sure they deserve to be on the list yet. What I do hope is that come the same list in 2016, both are still at Notre Dame, and are higher up on it.

Next: Brian Kelly on Notre Dame Academics