If Brian Kelly Left Notre Dame, Who Would Replace Him?
The NFL itch will always be there.
But will Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly ever scratch it?
With that question even being on the table, the reality certainly exists that Kelly may one day bolt from Notre Dame to the NFL.
Should that scenario ever come to fruition, which coaches would Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick pursue to replace Kelly? (I'm sorry to disappoint the Irish's grumpy old fans, but Jon Gruden and fullback-loving coaches won't be on Swarbrick's short list).
Let's delve into the Irish's hypothetical coaching search.
Bob Diaco (Connecticut Head Coach)
If Brian Kelly left Notre Dame, Diaco would likely be the first coach Swarbrick would contact regarding the available position.
Diaco was hired by Connecticut as the Huskies' new head coach last week after spending the previous four seasons as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator. He was also a head coaching candidate last season after winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top coordinator.
The 40-year-old's familiarity with the roster would be a point of emphasis, as would his hiring aid the process of continuity; Diaco has coached with Kelly since 2005, when he was the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach under Kelly at Central Michigan.
And the amount of respect and admiration Kelly has for Diaco is no mystery given his comments following Diaco having accepted the Connecticut job, via Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com.
"Connecticut hired the perfect man to lead their football program into the future," Kelly said. "Bob Diaco possesses every characteristic necessary to be successful. He's a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of young men and brilliant coach."
Gary Patterson (TCU Head Coach)
Patterson would be a seamless replacement at Notre Dame should Kelly ever accept another job.
Now in his 13th season as head coach at TCU, Patterson has compiled a career record of 120-44. He led the program to unprecedented heights during a three-year stretch from 2009-11, when the Horned Frogs went 36-3 and made consecutive BCS bowl appearances (lost 2010 Fiesta Bowl and won 2011 Rose Bowl).
Patterson has achieved such incredible success while navigating the difficulties of a private school, which is an added bonus for any head coaching candidate the Irish would consider.
Also working in Patterson's favor is his part in TCU's transition from the Mountain West Conference to the Big 12 Conference prior to the 2012 season.
However, recent struggles encountered by his program—the Horned Frogs are a combined 11-14 during the past two seasons—would, perhaps, lessen Patterson's chances of being hired.
Urban Meyer (Ohio State Head Coach)
During Notre Dame's past two coaching searches, Meyer's name has been a popular one.
Meyer, who formerly coached at Florida and now at Ohio State, was Notre Dame's wide receivers coach from 1996-2000 before accepting the head coaching position at Bowling Green.
Since then, Meyer has won two national championships (2006 and 2008), both of which were during his time at Florida. That first championship with the Gators elevated Meyer into college football's elite coaching ranks. That success combined with his ties to Notre Dame made him a trendy candidate to replace Charlie Weis following the 2009 season, but he rebuffed the Irish both times.
His reluctance to accept the Notre Dame job was met with controversy and painted the 49-year-old head coach as a bit of a hypocrite, after he deemed the Notre Dame job his "dream job" on a South Florida radio show in 2008.
But is that interest still there? And would Meyer be willing to leave Ohio State?
James Franklin (Vanderbilt Head Coach)
With each passing season, Franklin becomes an increasingly popular head coaching candidate for seemingly each available job.
One job that would be a seamless transition for Franklin would be Notre Dame, as he has driven Vanderbilt—a stringent academic institution—to unparalleled levels of success; last season, Franklin guided the Commodores to their first finish in the top 25 since 1948.
However, recent off-field incidents involving Vanderbilt players would be a point of concern for Swarbrick and the other members of Notre Dame's coaching search committee.
Chuck Martin (Miami of Ohio Head Coach)
One week prior to Diaco's departure from Notre Dame, Martin, the Irish's now former offensive coordinator, accepted the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio).
Swarbrick and Notre Dame's administration would consider Martin for the same reasons it would consider Diaco: Martin's familiarity with the roster and coaching staff and his ability to promote continuity within the program.
Yet what makes Martin, perhaps, a more attractive candidate than Diaco is his number of years spent working with current head coach Brian Kelly.
Martin was Kelly's defensive coordinator at Grand Valley State University from 2000-03 before replacing Kelly as the Lakers' head coach from 2004-09. Then, when Kelly was hired at Notre Dame, he lured Martin away from Grand Valley State to coach the Irish's defensive backs before eventually being promoted to offensive coordinator after Charley Molnar departed for the Massachusetts head coaching job.
While Martin possesses all the necessary credentials, his performance as head coach at Miami (Ohio) would be the most significant factor in his potential consideration for the Notre Dame job.