COMMENTARY | Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is looking for an encore.
Wonder if a head coaching position would work?
Diaco, the 2012 Broyles Award winner as the nation's top assistant coach, has work left ahead of him this year in turning around Notre Dame's defense. But after the Fighting Irish held Southern Cal to 10 points in Saturday's win, marking the first time since 2001 they beat the Trojans in Notre Dame Stadium, it was the second straight sign that a Diaco defense can be defining.
Last year, under Diaco, Notre Dame ranked second in the FBS in scoring defense (12.77 points) per game. The Irish held nine opponents to one or fewer offensive touchdowns, and prevented 10 opponents from scoring over 14 points. That was the first time in 91 years the Irish did that.
And, no, Diaco isn't just some one-year wonder. In 2011, Diaco was a semifinalist for the Broyles Award. That year, the Irish defense held five opponents to 14 points or fewer for the first time in nine years. This year, his team has held three teams to under 14 points with five games to go.
So now you're wondering where did Diaco dial up defenses that are capable of dictating the flow of the game? A 1995 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he played under Hayden Fry, he coached on Brian Kelly's staffs at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. He spent three years at Virginia after serving as the co-defensive coordinator at Central Michigan before reuniting with Kelly. He also coached at Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Western Illinois.
At Central Michigan, he coached Dan Bazuin, a second-round NFL draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 2007. He helped develop Manti Te'o into one of the most dominant defensive players the college game has seen in a while. Te'o won a starting linebacker job with the San Diego Chargers.
Diaco knows defense. His unit this year didn't suggest that, but the early-season difficulties in securing the tackle was bottled up in the second half of the win over USC on Saturday. In a game where Notre Dame's offense sputtered after quarterback Tommy Rees left the game with an injury, the Irish turned to their defense.
They didn't disappoint, holding the Trojans to a goose egg over the final 37:50 of the game. That's over 2 1/2 quarters.
If the Iowa job ever opened up, you better believe Diaco would be one of the top candidates. Had Kelly left for the NFL after the season, Notre Dame might have considered him entering this season. At least on a trial-by-fire basis after the job his defense did a year ago.
Diaco doesn't have the name, nor the reputation of Stanford's David Shaw or Louisville's Charlie Strong. But if you look at the names coaching in the Big Ten, there aren't too many there who exactly fit the "ready-for-the-next-jump" mold, either. Take away Urban Meyer, and the Big Ten is void of big names. Diaco could find a home in the Big Ten and produce results.
Mark it down.
Here's something else to consider: If the Fighting Irish pitch a couple shutouts down the stretch or even match the 2011 unit's efforts to hold five teams to two touchdowns or less, Diaco will be a head-coaching candidate in waiting.
There's no defending that.
Jim McCurdy covered Notre Dame football while living in the Michiana area. He has written for major publications around the country. Follow him on Twitter at @irishcurds.
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