Notre Dame fires defensive coordinator after 1-3 start
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Sunday, hours after an embarrassing 38-35 home loss to Duke dropped the Fighting Irish who started the season ranked No. 10 to 1-3.
“I had time last night to evaluate our current situation and made what I felt to be the best decision for the program,” Kelly said.
Greg Hudson, a former Irish linebacker under Lou Holtz who was hired as a defensive analyst over the summer, was named VanGorder’s replacement. Hudson previously served as defensive coordinator at Purdue, East Carolina and Minnesota, as well as assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Florida State.
Kelly said he hired Hudson to bring experience and brain power to the program.
“Now as the defensive coordinator he’ll assume the responsibilities of the coordinator to get some energy into the group, some passion and get that unit playing the kind of football I know they’re capable of,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he also plans to spend a lot more time with the defense, a process that began last week. He wants to see the Irish playing “fast and free and loose.”
“I need to see guys playing the game like kids, and not so mechanical and robotic,” he said.
Kelly said there was plenty of room to make changes in the defense without overwhelming players, saying there was “a vast library that is easily tapped into from a different perspective.” He also wants to see the Irish use more players.
The Irish’s defense is giving up 33.5 points a game through four games, which is on pace to be the most points in school history. The record is 29.2 points a game, set in 2014, VanGorder’s first year as defensive coordinator. The previous school record was 28.9, set in 1956 when the Irish finished 2-8.
The Irish have lost five of their last six dating back to last season, with the sole victory coming against Nevada. Notre Dame also has surrendered 30 or more points in seven of its last nine games against Power Five foes. Duke, which managed a combined 27 points in losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern, scored 28 points in the first half Saturday, leading students to chant for VanGorder to be fired.
The loss to Duke, 20-point underdogs, was among the most embarrassing in seven seasons under Kelly.
The Irish were 9.5-point favorites in a 28-27 loss to Tulsa in 2010, Kelly’s first season, and 11-point favorites the next season in a 21-20 loss to South Florida. Other embarrassing losses under Kelly include a 49-14 defeat to rival USC in 2014 and a 42-14 loss to Alabama in the national championship game four years ago.
The last time the Irish lost to a team as big an underdog as Duke was in 2008 under Charlie Weis, when Notre Dame was a 20-point favorite over Syracuse and lost 24-23. The Irish face the Orange (2-2) on Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Asked whether the hiring of Hudson was an interim move or a full-time move, Kelly said he told Hudson “that everybody is interviewing. Everybody on our staff for the rest of the year is on a very public interview.”
Kelly said that includes him and players.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
Kelly said he didn’t consider firing VanGorder after last season, when the Irish finished 45th in the nation in total defense.
“There was no thought of this occurring. This was not part of where I thought we’d be,” he said. “So I’m reacting to a place where I did not expect us to be.”