Notre Dame football: Who Could be the next head coach?

Notre Dame football (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Notre Dame football (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Brian Kelly can’t be the head coach of the Notre Dame football team forever, and with that in mind, these are several coaches who may replace him.

Brian Kelly is the 5th longest-tenured coach in Notre Dame football history, and after next season, he’ll be tied for the 2nd longest-tenured coach in Irish history. He’s also 58 years old, and the reality is that he won’t be the Notre Dame football coach forever.

With that in mind, here are some coaches who may be in a position to succeed Brian Kelly a few seasons down the line.

Clark Lea

Promoting current defensive coordinator, Clark Lea, from within makes perfect sense for Brian Kelly’s replacement. Lea knows the program well and has had tons of success in South Bend. Last season, Notre Dame only let up 17.9 points per game, that’s 12th best in the country. They didn’t even need to pad their stats against an FCS school.

He knows the program well, especially what it takes to be successful at Notre Dame. Lea knows the best players to recruit, and how to get them to South Bend. By already knowing the administrative challenges, he’s a step ahead of any potential outside hire.

The issue is that he may already be a head coach somewhere else by the time Brian Kelly moves, and while he could still leave that job to be the Notre Dame football coach it’s less likely he would do so. So, if he sees himself as Kelly’s successor then there’s no issue. If he just wants a good opportunity, then he may already be a Power 5 coach by the time Kelly is out at Notre Dame.

Jeff Hafley

Hafley was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State last season, and before that he spent time in the NFL as a secondary coach. Now, he taking on the role of Boston College head coach.

Notre Dame football
Jeff Hafley (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

It’s interesting how similar the Notre Dame and Boston College jobs can be. They’re the only two Catholic universities who play FBS football. Neither one of them has a regional recruiting base, and both of them have smaller budgets than most Power 5 schools. Add the high academic standards both schools hold onto, and neither Boston College nor Notre Dame is an easy place to win.

Now, Boston College lacks history and national relevance that Notre Dame holds. This adds a layer of difficulty in recruiting there. If Hafley succeeds for a few seasons at Boston College, there’s no reason for Notre Dame not to look at him, once Brian Kelly moves on.

Jeff Scott

Another new head coach, Jeff Scott made his name as the longtime Clemson offensive coordinator. Now he’s the USF head coach. The AAC has become a stepping stone conference for coaches to get Power 5 jobs, and it’s not likely that Scott plans on being in Tampa longer than a few seasons.

Well, a few seasons from now Notre Dame football will likely need to replace a retired Brian Kelly. Scott is young, energetic, and an offensive innovator. He’s an excellent recruiter and understands how to use social media to promote his program. He’s the type of executive coach who could excel at Notre Dame.

Of course, it remains to be seen if he wins games as a head coach, but his success as an offensive coordinator suggests he will.

Graham Harrell

Graham Harrell is the current offensive coordinator at USC and comes from an Air Raid background. One of the trademarks of this offense has been doing more with less. Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen have always competed at a higher level than their recruited talent would suggest because of this offensive system. Harrell’s USC team was down to their third-string quarterback at times and still put up 32.4 points per game.

Harrell is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and if USC doesn’t replace Clay Helton with Harrell he’ll be a head coach somewhere else soon. His ties are primarily to Texas and don’t be surprised if he’s at a program like Houston before making the P5 jump.

Will Hall

A former star head coach in Division II, Will Hall is currently the offensive coordinator at Tulane. He took assistant jobs at the FBS level because it’s his goal to be a head coach at the FBS level, and he didn’t think that the jump to being a head coach in FBS from Division II was likely.

Hall is considered one of the top offensive coordinators in the country. His offense is a hurry-up, spread attack. It blends rushing and passing, with a slight preference for a modernized rushing attack.

He’s been a huge part of Tulane’s success on offense, and it’s only a plus that he’s already been a successful head coach.

Mike Elko

You may remember Mike Elko, he was the defensive coordinator in South Bend before Lea. That was only for one season, 2017. He had the unenviable job of fixing the defensive mess left by Brian VanGorder. To say he succeeded was an understatement. The 2017 Irish defense only let up 20.07 points per game, down from 28.03 the year before. That season of success set up Clark Lea’s tenure.

The pluses to Elko are that he already knows what the culture is like at Notre Dame. He also has been successful in a number of different programs, which have varied in size and academic restrictions.

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On the other hand, it’s concerning that he left Notre Dame after one season last time. There are unique challenges to coaching the Notre Dame football team, and if someone isn’t prepared to deal with them they shouldn’t be the head coach. You don’t want to deal with turnover every few seasons, you need stability.