Bob Diaco exits after four years of success
by Ben Brockman
Coming off three consecutive disappointing seasons under former head coach Charlie Weis, where the Irish appeared in only one bowl game, Notre Dame looked for a change in leadership at the end of the 2009 season.
Brian Kelly, on the heels of an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl with the University of Cincinnati, was hired as the new head coach following the 2009 regular season. Kelly brought a new coaching philosophy and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in tow.
While Kelly was known throughout the country for his offensive prowess at Cincinnati, Diaco, before taking the head coaching job at the University of Connecticut following the 2013 season, built one of the most dominant defenses in the country upon his arrival at Notre Dame. In the three seasons prior to Diaco taking over, the Irish defense had been giving up an average of 25.5 points per game. Since Diaco was instituted as defensive coordinator four years ago, the team has yielded an average of only 19 points per game, nearly a touchdown and an extra point per game better than his predecessor. During the 2012 season, the defense allowed only 12.8 points per game, ranking it second best nationally in total scoring defense. That same season, Diaco was awarded the Frank Broyles Trophy, given to the top assistant coach in college football.
The Irish have won at least eight games in every season since Kelly has taken over the team, and Diaco’s role in keeping opposing offenses from scoring was a key factor in the team’s success. In every season that Diaco was at the helm, the Irish ranked in the top 30 in total scoring defense, making Notre Dame one of only eight teams in the country, alongside Alabama, Stanford, LSU and Florida State, that has been able to remain in the top 30 every year during that span.
The ability to keep the opposing side from putting points on the board is vitally important to the success of a team. The three previous national champions have ranked first in the country in total scoring defense, and Auburn in 2010 was the only team in the last six years to win a National Championship without a scoring defense ranked in the top five.
“Bob was arguably the top coordinator in the country as demonstrated by our defense over the last few years,” Kelly said of Diaco in an official statement given on Dec. 12. “He played an immense role that ultimately helped our program reach four consecutive bowl games, including the 2013 BCS National Championship game.”
Diaco’s role in the success of the Irish over the previous four seasons did not go unnoticed, and his name was mentioned in contention for many of the head coaching vacancies around the country. On Dec. 12, Diaco accepted the head coaching position at the University of Connecticut, just after offensive coordinator Chuck Martin took the top job at Miami (OH), leaving Notre Dame without two of its most important assistants.
“Connecticut hired the perfect man to lead their football program into the future,” Kelly said. “Bob Diaco possesses every characteristic necessary to be successful. He’s a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of young men and brilliant coach.”
The Irish have brought in 2013 New York Jets linebacker coach Brian VanGorder to replace Diaco as defensive coordinator, but, with Diaco’s prior success and high expectations for the Irish defense, VanGorder has a tough test ahead of him.
VanGorder worked as Kelly’s defensive coordinator in 1991 when Kelly took over as head coach of Grand Valley State. Since then, VanGorder has led the defenses of premier Southeastern Conference programs Georgia and Auburn and the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League. VanGorder saw a great deal of success in his four years at Georgia. His squad ranked in the top ten nationally in scoring defense for three consecutive seasons (2002-2004) before he left for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While VanGorder does bring a wealth of experience to his new position, it could be a tough transition for the Irish defense, as the team will have to adjust to an entirely new defensive scheme. Diaco and the Irish defense ran a 3-4 scheme during the past four seasons, while VanGorder primarily used a 4-3 scheme during his most recent stint as defensive coordinator of Auburn.
While the transition to a new style of play could be difficult, the Irish will look to build on the impressive base that Diaco created in his four years as defensive coordinator of the Irish. Diaco’s numbers will be hard to replicate, and the Irish will have to move forward in a new system in order to continue the success that Diaco fostered in his four seasons leading the defense.
This article appeared in print in the Jan. 23, 2014 issue of Scholastic. Pick up a copy around campus or subscribe today!