Notre Dame officially hires Mike Elko as defensive coordinator

Notre Dame officially hires Mike Elko as defensive coordinator

Mike Elko is officially Notre Dame's defensive coordinator. 

Notre Dame announced on Tuesday the hiring of Elko, who previously was Wake Forest's defensive coordinator from 2014-2016, as the program's permanent defensive coordinator. Elko takes over for Greg Hudson, who steered the Irish defense for eight games last fall in an interim role after Brian VanGorder was fired four weeks into the season.

"Mike has consistently coordinated defenses that keep the points down, negate big plays, create negative plays, excel in the red zone and, quite simply, force opposing offensives to execute at an extremely high level to move the football,” coach Brian Kelly said. “This rare combination of consistent success in those facets of defense, along with a proven ability to develop talent and fit it into his system, really places Mike in a class by himself among defensive coordinators across the country.

“As importantly, Mike’s commitment to helping young men reach their full potential in the classroom and in the community make him a perfect fit for Notre Dame.”

Elko's defenses have had plenty of success despite a lack of recruiting star talent at Bowling Green and Wake Forest, and the 39-year-old has groomed a handful of NFL players over those two stops as Dave Clawson's defensive coordinator. Most notable among those players is cornerback Kevin Johnson, a former two-star recruit who spent a year under Elko and was the 16th overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Wake Forest did not field a former four- or five-star recruit on defense in 2016 but ranked 40th in yards per play (5.34) and 20th in points per game (21.8). Wake Forest's defenses ranked 37th, 60th and 28th in defensive S&P+ under Elko, and at Bowling Green he took a defense that ranked 82nd in S&P+ in 2009 to 38th in 2013.

"I’m excited to join a program with the prestige of Notre Dame that can recruit the nation’s highest caliber of student-athlete and compete for a national championship,” Elko said. “We hope to dictate the pace of the game with an attacking and aggressive style of defense, mix physicality and toughness with exceptional fundamentals and, lastly, play with great effort at all times. I can’t wait to dive in and help these players achieve the standard of success necessary to win at the highest level.

“It was extremely hard to walk away from everything we built at Wake Forest, especially with those players, and I’m so appreciative of everything that Dave (Clawson) and Ron (Wellman) did for me and my family.”

The Irish defense Elko inherits remains young, but features a few high ceiling freshmen who he'll be tasked with developing. Chief among those players are defensive end Daelin Hayes, cornerbacks Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. and safeties Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott. Elko, in addition to serving as Wake Forest's defensive coordinator, also coached the Demon Deacons' safeties. 

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame on Thursday announced the formal hiring of two new assistant coaches, one of which featured a somewhat surprising postscript. 

The program's new wide receivers coach will be DelVaughn Alexander, who joins the Irish from Arizona State. Alexander coached tight ends for the Sun Devils in 2016 and spent 2012-2015 as ASU's wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Prior to his stint in Tempe, Washington was Wisconsin's receivers coach from 2007-2011 and also spent time at UNLV, Oregon State and San Diego State. 

"I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country,” Alexander said. “Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” coach Brian Kelly said “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

In addition to Washington, Notre Dame announced the hiring of Matt Balis as strength and conditioning coach, with Balis replacing longtime Brian Kelly lieutenant Paul Longo in that position. Longo has "taken a leave of absence" from the Irish, according to the program's press release. 

Balis has served in strength coach roles at Houston (2001-2002), Utah (2004), (Florida 2005-2006), Virginia (2007-2008), Mississippi State (2009-2013) and UConn (2014-2016). At UConn, Balis worked under former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco; while at Utah and Florida, Balis worked with current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. 

Whatever changes Balis brings to Notre Dame strength and conditioning will be necessary, as the Irish frequently ran out of gas late in games in 2016. By S&P+, Notre Dame had the second-best first quarter offense in college football last year, but ranked 90th in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Notre Dame's defense had its lowest ranking (61st) in the fourth quarter. 

Granted, some of those struggles were due to poor playcalling and gameplanning, but far too often did Notre Dame's players hit a metaphorical brick wall in the final 15 minutes. Perhaps an infusion of new energy into the weight room will help reverse that trend. 

"It's an honor and dream come true to be part of the Notre Dame football program," Balis said. "I'm humbled by this opportunity and I'll work hard everyday to give our players and program my absolute best."

"Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh," Kelly said. "He's already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn't be more excited to have him in place moving forward."

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Mike Elko's first coaching staff as Notre Dame defensive coordinator is beginning to take shape, with the Irish announcing Thursday the hiring of Clark Lea as linebackers coach. 

Lea spent 2016 as Wake Forest's linebackers coach -- under Elko -- and previously held positions on coaching staffs at Bowling Green, Syracuse and UCLA. 

"Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system -- having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

In 2016, Lea coached Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee, who was the only FBS player with 100 or more tackles, 20 or more tackles for a loss and 7 1/2 or more sacks last fall. Nationally, Lee ranked 62nd in tackles (105), 10th in tackles for a loss (20) and 53rd in sacks (7 1/2).

Lea also worked with former All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers at UCLA. 

The Nashville native and Vanderbilt alum (he earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in political science) was also nominated by FootballScoop for its linebackers coach of the year award in 2012 while working with Elko at Bowling Green. 

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”