Friday, July 23, 2010

Diaco good fit as ND defensive coordinator

July 22, 2010

By Wes Morgan

All eyes are trained on first-year coach Brian Kelly as the Notre Dame football team tries to pull out of a three-season dive, but the peripheral focus is certainly on Bob Diaco this fall.

The defensive coordinator is the true wild card on staff with only two years of experience in that capacity prior to following Kelly to South Bend – which included sharing duties at Central Michigan in 2005.

The former all-Big Ten linebacker at Iowa inherits eight returning starters at Notre Dame, which was particularly ineffective in stopping the run in a 4-3 base defense in 2009. The Irish, 89th in the nation in rushing defense, gave up just over 170 yards per game.

What should be encouraging for Fighting Irish fans, who will see a return to a 3-4 look, is that Diaco has a proven track record of developing talent the same as his boss. Perhaps the best example of that ability is from his brief stop in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2004.

In his only season at Western Michigan, Diaco, in charge of linebackers and special teams, converted redshirt freshman running back Amir Ismail into an unlikely star at linebacker. Ismail would serve as the Broncos’ backbone and his senior campaign netted 17 sacks, including six against Ball State that tied the NCAA single-game record.

“He’s a good teacher,” Ismail said of Diaco. “I wanted to give it a shot and it was a good opportunity to get on the field. He coached me up every week and put me in the right position. Everyone sees his intensity on the field and that passion rubs off. I think he's going to do a great job.”

Former Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta – with a resume far more impressive than Diaco’s – wasn’t lacking passion working alongside Corwin Brown last season. What appeared to be missing, however, was the dexterity to inspire a unit that was sluggish and often falling short in terms of basic fundamentals.

Last year Diaco oversaw a Cincinnati defense that replaced 10 starters and accomplished more than statistics suggest. The Bearcats, with seven fresh faces up front, finished the year among the top 10 in sacks and tackles for a loss.

“Coach Kelly is a developmental coach,” Diaco said when he was hired. “He, like [former Iowa coach Hayden] Fry, has built his resume and success story on taking a young man from whatever level he's at to way beyond the same way: spiritually, community, academically, physically. He's a great manager of men and a great energizer of men. He can mobilize a group of coaches or administrators or alumni and just make everyone feel so great about what they are about to do and have everyone buy in 100 percent. He's a real craftsman in that way. Those are a lot of the principles I have picked up from coach Kelly.”

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