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DC Brian VanGorder fired, Greg Hudson to assume duties

| Monday, September 26, 2016

On Saturday night, following Notre Dame’s 38-35 home loss against Duke, Irish head coach Brian Kelly backed defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s staff in his post-game press conference.

On Sunday afternoon, just 18 hours later, Kelly announced VanGorder’s exit.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a press release announcing the change. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”

Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, green hat, watches his defense while head coach Brian Kelly Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, green hat, walks along the sideline while head coach Brian Kelly looks on during Notre Dame’s 38-35 loss to Duke on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

VanGorder will be replaced by Greg Hudson, who joined the Irish staff as a defensive analyst over the offseason following a three-year stint as defensive coordinator at Purdue. Kelly said Hudson, a former Irish linebacker, will be expected to get the struggling defense playing to its potential.

“He’s got great spirit on the defensive side of the ball and bringing him here, [we were] looking for some more experience and brain power and we got that,” Kelly said. “And 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 that I know they are capable of.”

VanGorder’s firing comes after a string of games where his defense struggled mightily: in Notre Dame’s last five games against Power Five schools — all losses — it surrendered 38, 44, 37, 36 and 38 regulation points.

“Brian is as fine a defensive coach as there is out there,” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “He knows the game. He loves Notre Dame. He wanted to succeed as much as anybody here, but it wasn’t working. … The fact remains that at the end of the day, I’ve got to find a way to get our defense to play at a higher level, and they certainly weren’t.”

After Saturday’s loss, Kelly said he felt better about the defensive coaching. But Sunday, he said he wasn’t going to discuss his coaches’ job security at the post-game presser.

“Certainly that’s not the time or the place to get into debates about your coaching staff,” Kelly said. “I make those decisions. Clearly, when I have the opportunity to evaluate it and had time last night to evaluate our current situation, and you know, [I] made what I felt to be the best decision for the program.”

Kelly said Hudson, who also had stints as the defensive coordinator at Minnesota and East Carolina, was promoted over full-time members of the Irish coaching staff because he fit the bill for what the Irish need right now.

“Each situation, you evaluate it at face value, and what I was looking for, I thought Greg was the perfect fit to bring that energy level up to where I want to see it,” Kelly said. “Guys played hard, but we lacked some of the energy and enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you need to have when you’re playing on defense.”

While Kelly didn’t use the “interim” tag to describe Hudson’s position, he indicated the appointment isn’t necessarily a long-term one — though no coach on the staff is assured of his position for 2017.

“As I told Greg, you know, everybody’s interviewing,” Kelly said. “Everybody on our staff … is on a very public interview. So everybody’s got a chance to continue in their roles, and we’ll all have that very public interview as we play each and every week.”

That public interview includes offensive coaches and the head man himself.

“I’m under review, as well,” Kelly said. “I mean, we’re all in this together: all the players, coaches, everybody.”

Despite the Irish closing last season with high-scoring losses to Stanford and Ohio State, Kelly said he didn’t consider a change at defensive coordinator in January.

“No, there was no consideration,” Kelly said. “We won 10 games and we were close to being in the playoffs. You know, we were a play away, maybe two plays away from being in the playoffs last year. There was no thought of this occurring. This was not part of where I thought we’d be. So I’m reacting to a place where I did not expect us to be.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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