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The Journal Gazette

January 31, 2017 1:02 AM

Kelly unveils new staff for Notre Dame

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – In one fell swoop Monday, Notre Dame introduced coach Brian Kelly’s new staff members.

All seven of them.

Yet amid the Irish’s rollout of the most sweeping changes to their staff in Kelly’s seven years as coach, it was Kelly’s withering self-assessment that became the quotable moment.

“Change always starts with the top,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t live up to expectations, and that starts with me first and foremost.”

Maybe you heard the Irish went 4-8 in 2016, their second-worst record of the last 53 years. As Kelly said, he will “always be reminded” of that.

“If I answer this question one last time, there are no bad teams, just poorly led teams,” he said. “I led this one poorly.”

The personal accountability contrasted somewhat to when Kelly last met with the media, on Nov. 26 after a 45-27 loss at Southern California, and got quoted as saying, “One side of you says, ‘Look, this is my 25th year; I know what I’m doing.’ ”

But back then, Kelly didn’t rule out making staff changes and said Monday the offseason brought a “full evaluation” of the program that included 96 exit interviews with players.

It also included a plethora of job interviews that resulted in the following hires: Chip Long as offensive coordinator, Mike Elko as defensive coordinator, Brian Polian as special-teams coordinator, Del Alexander as wide receivers coach, Clark Lea as linebackers coach, Tom Rees as quarterbacks coach and Matt Balis as director of strength and conditioning.

“In terms of the leadership positions, Mike Elko, Chip Long and Matt Balis, crucial positions,” Kelly said. “We didn’t settle in any of these three for anything but the best candidates in the country.”

Kelly gave an explanation as to why Paul Longo, Notre Dame’s head strength coach, was officially put on a leave of absence after seven seasons.

“They really, really liked Paul Longo, but it was clear he couldn’t function in the manner he could the first few years,” Kelly said. “He couldn’t get down in the trenches with them. He is currently under a long-term disability right now and cannot fulfill the duties.”

The firing of Scott Booker was perhaps least surprising of Notre Dame’s non-voluntary departures, considering Notre Dame’s epic woes on special teams this past season. They lost four games that included either blocked kicks returned for scores, kickoff-return scores or a botched punt return. Polian, though, is not only a veteran special-teams coach but also a guy Kelly expects to recruit well.

“He’s able to recruit from coast to coast,” Kelly said. “I believe we’ll feel his effects in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Long, Memphis’ offensive coordinator in 2016, promised a “pro-style offense that goes really fast,” and Elko, the former Wake Forest coordinator, said his defense would be versatile.

“Here’s the nutshell answer I’ll give: scheme is irrelevant,” Elko said. “At times it’s going to look 4-2-5-ish, at times 3-4-ish, at times 4-3-ish, but at the end of the day all that is trying to put kids in the best position for them to be successful.”

Notes: Notre Dame decided not spend part of spring practice in Florida at IMG Academy, Kelly said. … Kelly confirmed David Ballou, who worked at IMG, has been hired as an assistant on the Irish strength and conditioning staff and that Jeff Quinn will be a senior analyst for the offense.

cgoff@jg.net