Among the plenty of feel-good stories about Notre Dame's championship run is one that hasn't been covered too heavily: All those coaching shifts and additions that happened last winter wound up paying off for the undefeated Irish.
After last season, offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, offensive line coach Ed Warinner and running backs coach Tim Hinton left the program. Chuck Martin was moved from safeties coach to offensive coordinator while Tony Alford shifted from wide receivers to running backs, filling those two holes internally. Veteran position coaches Harry Hiestand and Bob Elliott were brought on to coach Notre Dame's offensive line and safeties, respectively, to round out the staff.
Specifically, the addition of Elliott has been key in guiding the growth of Notre Dame's safeties. That's not to say the other coaching shifts haven't been beneficial -- Zack Martin said a key reason for his 2013 return was getting to play another year under Hiestand, while Everett Golson has been appreciative of his offensive coordinator's tough love.
And Matthias Farley, a greenhorn safety, credited Elliott for steering him through a sharp learning curve.
"It's been monumental in my growth, because coach Elliott has taken time out his days, after practice, his down time in between coaching meetings he'll sit and watch practice film with me after each and every practice he'll critique it and see areas I need to improve on, on and off the field," Farley said. "It's been a huge asset to have him in my corner."
Farley was a player Elliott figured would fit in on special teams when he first evaluated him in the spring. But when Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season in Week 3, Farley had to step in, and he's done a solid job alongside Zeke Motta since.
Elliott wasn't some unfamiliar face, though. He coached defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks during each's playing days at Iowa, and brought to Notre Dame 33 seasons of coaching knowledge.
"He's somebody that has a great deal of experience as a coordinator on the BCS level, incredible amount of experience, and he doesn't have an ego," coach Brian Kelly said. "He wants to just fit into the staff dynamics. For us, that's one of our key ingredients to success is to have a staff that puts their egos aside and really works on the development of their players. He's done an incredible job."
While Notre Dame's secondary looked like a major weakness heading into the season, it's grown into a solid group -- even if three of its four starters didn't play much of their current positions in high school. Farley, who was recruited to Notre Dame as a wide receiver, and Bennett Jackson, a high school receiver as well, gave plenty of credit to Elliott and Cooks for their development in 2012.
"A lot of credit needs to go to the coaches and how they've developed us," Farley said. " I have confidence in the fact we can do the roles that are asked of us. Bennett, KeiVarae (Russell) are very athletic, very talented but to also have great coaching behind them is a great combination."
"We would not be where we are without those coaches developing those players to the level they are today," Kelly added.