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Notre Dame announces coaching staff changes

| Tuesday, March 3, 2015

CoachesMike Monaco | The Observer

Notre Dame officially announced the hirings of new assistant coaches Mike Sanford, Autry Denson, Todd Lyght and Keith Gilmore on Thursday afternoon.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly unveiled nearly half of his new-look staff during a Monday press conference on campus.

“I consider it to be the most committed, cohesive, experienced and probably brightest coaching staff that I’ve put together in my career,” Kelly said.

The 32-year old Sanford, who just completed his first season as Boise State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, will be Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Sixth-year assistant coach Mike Denbrock, who was Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach in 2014, will hold the new title of associate head coach. Former quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur bolted from South Bend after one season, returning to the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.

Mike SanfordMike Monaco | The Observer
Mike Sanford

Kelly said the staff is still working through who will handle the play-calling duties, something that will likely be decided following spring practice. Denbrock will oversee the organization of the offense, and Sanford will coordinate the run and pass game.

“No egos, best idea wins is really the philosophy that we have really used as our mantra for the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “Everybody on this staff has made a commitment that the title that they want the most is a national title.”

Before returning to his alma mater in Idaho, Sanford spent three seasons at Stanford, first as the running backs coach (2011-12) and then as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach (2013). Sanford also served as Stanford’s recruiting coordinator in 2012 and 2013. Kelly said Sanford was “clearly a cut above” everyone else considered for the position.

Sanford’s father, also Mike, is entering his third season as the head coach at Indiana State and coached Notre Dame’s quarterbacks from 1997 to 1998. The younger Sanford attended nearby Penn High School while in the area.

“There was a comfort level with this area, with this community and with this program,” Sanford said. “I had a chance to live here and had probably some of my fondest memories of my insane childhood that consisted of about 11 moves.

“There’s just something that’s different about this program, about Notre Dame than any other place that I’ve been a part of.”

Denson, Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher, spent the 2014 season as the running backs coach at Miami (Ohio) and was hired in January for the same role at South Florida but left shortly after. From 2011 to 2013, Denson coached running backs at Bethune-Cookman.

“I really didn’t think I was going to hire him, quite honestly, until he interviewed,” Kelly said. “He blew me away in the interview.”

Former Irish running backs coach Tony Alford left Notre Dame in February for a position at Ohio State.

Autry DensonMike Monaco | The Observer
Autry Denson

Denson piled up an Irish record 4,318 rushing yards from 1995 to 1998, breaking the previous record set by former Irish running back Allen Pinkett. Denson’s 43 rushing touchdowns are second in Notre Dame history behind Pinkett’s 49.

“It is a dream come true,” Denson said of returning to his alma mater. “It happened a lot quicker than I thought. I’m definitely appreciative for it.

“At this point, it’s just about going out just like when I came to Notre Dame. I came in with the goal that I wanted to be the best that ever left here. And that’s the same process [in coaching].”

A two-time consensus All-American at Notre Dame in 1989 and 1990, Lyght will serve as Notre Dame’s defensive backs coach, replacing Kerry Cooks, who left in February to accept a job at Oklahoma.

“We love the skill set that he brings in particular,” Kelly said. “We were looking for somebody that was experienced in coaching man-to-man techniques.”

A first-round draft pick in 1991, Lyght enjoyed a 12-year NFL career. He began his coaching career in 2011 at Oregon, where he spent two seasons under then-Ducks head coach Chip Kelly. Lyght spent the past two seasons with Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles as an assistant defensive backs coach. Vanderbilt hired Lyght in mid-January as its cornerbacks coach.

Todd LyghtMike Monaco | The Observer
Todd Lyght

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Lyght said. “It’s been tough going to Vanderbilt for a couple of weeks and telling [head] coach [Derek] Mason I was going to leave was really tough. But he’s such a class act, and he made it extremely easy. And I thank him for that.

“I’m excited. This is a great opportunity.”

Gilmore spent the past two seasons as the defensive line coach at North Carolina. With Gilmore, a veteran defensive line coach, Kelly stuck to a recent trend of hiring assistants with whom he’s coached before.

Keith GilmoreMike Monaco | The Observer
Keith Gilmore

Gilmore was an assistant under Kelly from 1991 to 1993 at Grand Valley State, coaching linebackers, running backs and serving as the recruiting coordinator. Gilmore joined Kelly’s staff at Central Michigan in 2006 as the defensive line coach and followed Kelly to Cincinnati in 2007 and 2008 as an assistant head coach responsible for the defensive linemen.

“My background with Coach Kelly was very intriguing to have an opportunity to come back with him, and being involved with Notre Dame was really special to me,” Gilmore said. “I thought it’d be a great fit.”

Sixth-year Irish assistant coach Mike Elston will move from coaching the defensive line to coaching the linebackers, while also adding the title of recruiting coordinator. Linebackers coach Bob Elliott is now a special assistant to the head coach.

Former Irish linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. is a defensive graduate assistant, while former Wisconsin offensive lineman Donovan Raiola has been hired as an offensive graduate assistant.

Former Irish quarterback and staff member (2005-09) Ron Powlus returns to South Bend as the director of player development.

Notre Dame was originally scheduled to begin spring practice Monday. The Irish will now kick off camp March 18.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

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