Tuesday, January 26, 2010
BY AL LESAR
January 20, 2010
Football years, like dog years, are a complicated calibration of time.
According to calendars, Bob Diaco will turn 37 next month. Just a pup, in some regards.
In football years, Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator is a grizzled mutt. Eight stops in 14 years, enough to form a qualified opinion on rating moving companies. An Iowa playing pedigree touched by the thumbprint of Hayden Fry. In his first year with Cincinnati, retooling a 2009 defense that lost 10 starters and making it through the regular season without a loss.
Diaco doesn't command a room with his "presence." He's an "energy" guy. He's the opposite of crusty 52-year-old Jon Tenuta, who occupied Diaco's office during last year's miserable season.
Diaco's not the sort of defensive coordinator that will get hung up with an approach. The Irish will play a 3-4 alignment next season, but the foundation will take precedence over the scheme.
"Genuinely, there are some core principles to playing great defense," Diaco said. "Effort. Hustle. Tackling. Maintaining the top of the defense. That won't change. The bulk of the work and preparation is built into that."
Diaco thought he had a challenge in Cincinnati last year. Wait 'til he gets on the practice field in March and gets a first-hand look at a Notre Dame defensive unit that had its heart ripped from its chest in each of its last four games.
He's charged with putting the pieces back together from a unit that ranked 86th (out of 120) in the country in total defense (398 yards a game) and was 89th against the run (170).
The Irish were gashed by Navy's Vince Murray (158 rushing yards) and Ricky Dobbs (102); Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis (152); Connecticut's Jordan Todman (130) and Andre Dixon (114), and Stanford's Toby Gerhart (205) during a painful November.
The Irish lost more than games that month. They lost confidence.
"Confidence comes from the preparation," Diaco said. "We like to believe that how the information is going to be communicated to the player is top tier. The fundamentals that we're going to work every day; the nuts and bolts things that need to be done, will be done - we won't miss a day.
"We'll have a clear focus on those nuts and bolts - blocking and tackling; block destruction; ball security. At particular points in the season, where you're so focused on a particular formation, or player, or system, you lose some of those core fundamentals. (Head) Coach (Brian) Kelly, our philosophy, that never happens. The nuts and bolts things are addressed each day and worked each day."
Everything that went into the week's preparation, comes to a head on Saturday.
"At the end, Thursday night, Friday, as we transition into the real prep for game day, (the players) are gonna feel well-prepared," Diaco said. "They're gonna be well-prepared. There won't be a situation where we're trying to con them into feeling well-prepared with some kind of fabricated, ‘Hey, you've gotta have a swagger; some kind of pep talk.'
"Never happens. Coach Kelly doesn't do it. They're not gonna play great because of some speech. It's in the preparation."
The passion burst in Diaco's eyes.
"When (the ND defenders) grab the opponent," he said, both hands clenched, trembling, in a blocking motion, "they got 'em. There's confidence there."
Sounds good. Why not believe a coach who is man enough to quote a saint?
"I read a quote ... from St. Augustine, and I thought it was just awesome," Diaco said. "'With love and diligence, anything is possible.' That's present in the coaching and teaching every single day.
"I love teaching young men to become productive young men through football. That's really it."
So is a defense that doesn't resemble a sieve.