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Irish coaches find rare continuity

It’s spring football season in America. That means position battles, new expectations and new faces. For most Div. I schools it also means new leadership.

Safeties coach Bobby Elliott, left, and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco help make up the Irish coaching chemisty that held thee staff together in its entirety in South Bend this winter despite a sucessful 2012 season.

Notre Dame is one of 18 programs in the country that will start its spring drills this year with the same coaching staff it had at the beginning of the 2012 season. More than 85 percent of Div. I teams have at least one new coach on its staff. Last year the turnover rate was even greater with only 15 schools retaining all 10 of their official coaches. Only two staffs, Minnesota and Northwestern, have stayed intact since the start of the 2011 season.

A year ago the Irish went through some major reconstruction. Three new coaches joined the staff and five others picked up new responsibilities. Those changes, at least in some part, helped turn the team into a national title contender.

Head coach Brian Kelly was able to keep his new group from being poached (and Notre Dame was able to keep Kelly around) this winter despite a 12-0 regular season and a trip to the BCS Championship game.That is a "remarkable" and uncommon feat, says coaching insider Pete Roussel.

“With the veteran coaches they have on that staff there is no question there are a number of guys that could have pursued other opportunities, maybe made a little bit more money,” said Roussel, who operates CoachingSearch.com.

Why didn’t they? Coaching salaries have soared in recent years. Some places, especially in S.E.C. country, still offer much bigger paychecks than the competition. But the money is big enough now where it’s no longer always a top selling point.

Kelly flirted with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in January. He said later that month that he pulled himself out of the running for their head job — one that would have added millions to what he makes at Notre Dame — because he preferred the college atmosphere. Running backs coach Tony Alford made the same decision a year ago after interviewing with the Green Bay Packers.

"I'm flattered they gave me an opportunity to go talk to them, but I love this place, and I'm a college football coach ...I'm a college guy,” Alford said last February.

All of Notre Dame’s coaches raved about the chemistry they have developed with one another during the past 12 months. When everyone is making enough money to be comfortable, it’s easier to sacrifice a little extra cash for a job you enjoy.

“Coaches are beginning to realize more than ever that the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else,” Roussel said. “With the hours and the stress that is involved in the profession, if you can buy yourself years where you’re happy and you’re having fun it’s the thing to do.”

Winning battles, both on the field and in recruiting, makes it more enjoyable to come to the office every day as well. Having the right amount of success may actually help keep some coaches on board longer.

Before Oregon coach Chip Kelly took the Eagles job that Brian Kelly turned down, his staff had remained in one piece for four consecutive seasons, a level of continuity unmatched in recent years. The Ducks won 46 games during that stretch and drove their program to new heights.

Their success helped keep coordinators from taking lower level head coaching jobs elsewhere, and the same effect appears to be playing out at Notre Dame. For example, after an 8-5 season in 2011, offensive coordinator Charley Molnar left the Irish for a head coaching job with new Mid-America Conference member UMass. After the 12-0 season this fall, Roussel said a MAC opening like the one at Western Michigan could be seen as a step in the wrong direction for current coordinator Chuck Martin.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco had one of the most popular names to throw into contention for head coaching jobs during the “silly season” in December. Diaco interviewed at Boston College and California, but ultimately decided to remain in South Bend. He told reporters he stuck around for two reasons.

“One, I really believe that I have the best job — best assistant coaching job in America. I love who I work for; I love where I work,” he said in December. “Number two, the commitment to the players and the daily process and the focus on that now shifts to Alabama.”

The ability to compete for a championship, an opportunity hard to come by in college football, is another trait the current Irish program has in common with the Oregon staff that stayed together under Chip Kelly.

Notre Dame and its 17 other compatriots of consistency aren’t out of the woods. The musical chairs search for vacant seats has yet to come to a close even though spring practices are underway throughout the country. Roussel said more than 30 new coaches were hired after March 1 last season.

For now, though, the Irish can enjoy the rare chance to start spring practice without making any introductions.

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