In the latest portion of Q&A's regarding potential candidates, we asked Eric Murtaugh of One Foot Down about the suddenly very hot coaching prospect for the Badgers. Did you read my breakdown and wonder just who exactly this Diaco joker is?
This interview will answer a lot of your questions.
B5Q: Give people who don't know a little background information on Bob Diaco and where he came from?
Bob Diaco is the current defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, and assistant head coach for Notre Dame.
He was a two-time All-Big Ten linebacker at Iowa in 1994 & 1995 and was also co-MVP of the team during his final season. After working as a grad assistant in Iowa City for 2 years, he took his first job as the running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Western Illinois from 1999 to 2000.
He was then the linebacker and running back coach at Western Michigan for 3 seasons, before being hired by Brian Kelly at Central Michigan to be the teams' co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. After just one season with Kelly at Mount Pleasant, he was able to secure his first BCS coaching job when he joined Al Groh's staff at Virginia as the linebacker coach and special teams coordinator.
Diaco held that role at Virginia for 3 seasons before being hired by Brian Kelly once again to be the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in 2009. Bobby D came with Kelly to Notre Dame in 2010 to serve as the Irish defensive coordinator and linebacker coach. Before this past season Diaco was promoted and added the title of assistant head coach. Following a 2012 season in which his defense led the nation in scoring defense at 10.3 points per game and will be making an appearance in the BCS title game, Diaco was given the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant.
B5Q: How would you describe Diaco's defensive philosophy?
Our One Foot Down founder, Whiskey, wrote a great article on the philosophy and scheme behind Bob Diaco's ‘No-Crease' Defense that we featured in our preseason digital magazine. We made this available on our website and you can read it here.
I can give you a quick summary.
It's a 3-4 defense with a lot of flexibility to switch to 4-man fronts if the opposing offense dictates it. The standard 3-4 alignment is a nose guard in the A-gap flanked by two defensive ends. One outside linebacker typically plays with a hand on the ground on the line and is primarily an edge rusher but is also used to drop in coverage. The other outside linebacker stands up and is primarily used as a nickel-type of cover corner that has to cover tight ends, slot receivers, and tackle well in space.
The middle linebackers are the go-to guys in this defense. The linemen up front are responsible for controlling their gap and the middle linebackers are responsible for reading the play and coming down to make tackles.
In the secondary, he likes big physical corners that play good zone coverage and are able to come up and tackle well near the line of scrimmage. Unless the offense dictates otherwise, Diaco likes to have his safeties stay back in Cover-2.
The primary goal of this defense is to stop the run and prevent big plays. Everything the defense does revolves around these two principles. He wants to force teams to become one-dimensional, abandon the run, and try and string-together numerous long drives to put points on the board.
At times offenses have been able to move the ball but he stresses keeping everything in front of the defense and knowing that eventually the offense is going to make a costly mistake. His philosophy has worked phenomenally well this season at Notre Dame as the Irish have given up just 9 plays of 30+ yards, 5 plays of 40+ yards, 2 plays of 50+ yards, and no plays of 60+ yards.
B5Q: How much of Notre Dame's stifling defense had to do with the players, and how much of it had to do with Diaco's scheme?
This is a good question, but I think it's a healthy mix of both aspects.
Obviously, Diaco has a handful of elite players that he's coaching this season. Linebacker Manti Te'o doesn't need an introduction, but defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix are also some of the most talented and productive players at their positions throughout the entire country. All three have been named to All-American teams this year so you have to give credit to the talent at hand.
However, Diaco and the entire coaching staff have been able to work wonders with some of the lesser skilled players on the roster.
The secondary could have been a disaster this season as the Irish lost both starting corners to graduation and then lost presumptive starting corner Lo Wood to a season-ending injury and then the secondary's best player in safety Jamoris Slaughter to a season-ending injury as well. That left one part-time starter at safety, 3 new starters with little to no experience, and a bunch of young freshmen to work with.
They moved talented true freshman Keivarae Russell to corner in fall camp and he has played outstanding and could grab some freshman All-American honors. The other corner in Bennett Jackson was a converted receiver who has played very well too. They even got the part-time starter in safety Zeke Motta (a player with great skills but long considered the weak point of the defense in 2010-11) to come through with a great senior season and a possibility to get drafted. The other safety spot is held by a redshirt freshman converted from wide receiver and who has only been playing football for a few years.
That the defense only gave up 7 passing touchdowns on the season speaks volumes to the coaching Diaco and his staff have done.
They also should receive credit for getting the most out of a couple linebackers, particularly 248-pound Danny Spond who plays that drop linebacker position, and really molding a defense with no big weakness.
I think when you look to give Diaco credit you have to look at three areas: He's been very good at utilizing "athletes" who are recruited as such and then placed where the staff thinks they'll fit best. He's been a tremendous teacher in practice who brings a ton of energy to the field. And he's also been able to get player's to buy into his system and get them to understand their roles.
B5Q: Do you think he can make the step up to head coach and bring in talent to a program like Wisconsin?
I have been asked this question several times by other people and blogs and the answer I have given them is that I think Diaco will be able to do well as a recruiter.
However, I do think his reputation in this role as a recruiter is a little overestimated by many. What I mean by that is I've seen people call Diaco the "lead recruiter" or maybe the "best recruiter" on staff at Notre Dame and I don't think that's true.
If you want to include head coach Brian Kelly, I believe Diaco is probably the 4th best recruiter at Notre Dame behind Tony Alford and Chuck Martin. Now that does kind of speak to the talent Notre Dame currently has on staff and that's not necessarily a knock on Diaco. It's just both Alford (the recruiting coordinator) and Martin have been far more involved with more players, have greater responsibilities across the country in recruiting, and have been named by various places as some of the best in the business.
Diaco may not be far behind but he just doesn't have as large of a role at Notre Dame. He's responsible for the Northeast (he's from New Jersey so it fits him well) and has certainly been the main recruiter on a handful of great players, but it's just not an overwhelming resume where I could say without a doubt that Diaco would be a great recruiter somewhere else.
I do think he will do well because of his energy, enthusiasm, and his ability to relate to players. For all we know, he could be the best recruiter on the staff but largely works behind the scenes or doesn't get the opportunity to shine as much as Alford or Martin because he's stuck scouring the small pool of talent in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Diaco is well known for showing up at Brooklyn, New York's Ishaq Williams house at 4:30 AM to convince him to commit to Notre Dame as he was scheduled to visit Penn State later that morning. This story made Diaco a legend of sorts and he was also primarily involved in securing the verbal pledge from top linebacker recruit Alex Anzalone who was wavering in favor of Florida.
Add it all up and I think Diaco will do just fine as a recruiter. If he's given the resources and power that a school like Wisconsin could provide, I have no doubt he'd keep the fans happy with the talent he brought in.
B5Q: What other schools have been rumored as interested in interviewing Diaco for their head coaching position?
Honestly, there have only been a handful of schools and all very recently.
Before this season many believed Diaco would some day take over the job at Iowa whenever Kirk Ferentz retired or fired. That doesn't seem to be happening until after next year at the very earliest.
Beyond that it's just been the schools that have popped up over the past week or two: California, Purdue, Boston College, and now Wisconsin.
You could probably throw a couple more in there (USF, Temple, possibly Pitt) after yesterday's crazy shake-up of the coaching carousel, but the above four seem to be the only real possibilities.
It looked like Purdue was never really in the discussion and I'm not sure if Diaco was even involved there. There were reports that Diaco met with Cal officials in Chicago but there doesn't seem to be much going on there either.
The Boston College job looked very serious indeed. It was reported that Diaco would interview, then he became a top 3 choice, and then a top 2 choice, then Boston College hired someone else that wasn't in the rumors. Since all of this took place within 2.5 days and a lot of Irish fans had a hard time wrapping their head around Diaco leaving for a pretty "meh" job at Boston College, I'm pretty sure the talks between them really never got that far.
As it stands right now, Wisconsin is probably the only other player for Diaco barring some other huge shake-up somewhere else.
As I'm sure everyone at Wisconsin remembers the Badgers did pretty well hiring a hot-shot and young defensive coordinator from Notre Dame back in 1989.
B5Q: How likely do you think he is to bolt for a good head coaching gig?
This is the question many Irish fans, myself included, are trying to wrap our heads around.
Before this season started I don't think many people thought Diaco would be leaving in December. When he was hired there was plenty of criticism from the small but vocal part of the fan base that believed he wasn't experienced enough and too "small-timey" of a hire.
In the season before Diaco and Kelly showed up the Irish defense was probably as bad as it's ever been in school history. So when they brought Notre Dame's defensive statistics in to respectable areas for 2010 most people were happy. However, the defense laid a huge stink bomb and produced a terrible gameplan against Navy in 2010, and afterwards Diaco was quoted as saying "they had no backup plan" to stop the Middies and the adjustments they made. After that incident I think a lot of people believed Diaco wasn't long for the job at Notre Dame.
However, since that game the Irish defense has been on a steady rise and so has Diaco's stock as the next hot head coach. Over the past couple months his stock has soared through the roof. As such, I think the probability of him leaving shot up quite a bit, but I still think he's staying at Notre Dame.
After that Navy debacle Brian Kelly pretty much sheltered Diaco from the media. It's part of the reason why many Irish fans (now) love him, but Diaco is a really strange guy. He's introspective, takes his time when he speaks, and isn't afraid to bring up Greek philosophy, random novels, or make some truly strange analogy. He doesn't fit the mold of what you think a big-time defensive coordinator would be like---that's for sure.
The temperature among Irish fans was that Diaco was going to be around until 2014 or 2015 once he was "ready" to finally move on to a head coaching position. We believed he still needed a lot of seasoning and getting more comfortable handling the pressure from the media. Of course we didn't see a top-ranked defense and a national title appearance coming, so that does change things.
Despite the "scare" with Boston College in recent days, I still don't think Diaco is leaving. The BC fans made a big fuss about Diaco's stock and how it would "never get any higher" but he really doesn't have a ton of incentive to quickly find a head coaching position because his stock blew up over the past couple months. The only way that would have seemed to be the case was if Diaco was incredibly intent on becoming a head coach ASAP and from what the Notre Dame fan base has seen since 2010, that didn't seem to be the case.
With Diaco right now I've thought it's just too much popularity, too fast. It's kind of like watching someone do progressively better with their grades in high school and then score super high on the SAT. All of a sudden people are coming at him like, "You have to commit to Boston College now while your stock is high!" but I thought that would have been a pretty foolish move for Diaco to make.
He doesn't need to rush into a job and as people like Will Muschamp have proven, Diaco will be able to stay where he is, keep his stock very high, and monitor the landscape and give himself more choices on where he may want to start his head coaching career.
Now, the Wisconsin position is a little different.
This is definitely a position that if Diaco is going to leave, and leave now, that many Irish fans would be very proud and happy for him to take. Barry Alvarez did it back in the day and I'm sure everyone would think he'll be successful in Madison.
But like I said, I don't know if Diaco is emotionally ready to bolt over the next week or two. Yes, his stock is high but he's a major part of resurrecting Notre Dame and he still has unfinished business in South Bend. I don't see him as the type of guy to leave before a national title game (even if he does stay on for the game) nor turn his back on some of the elite recruits he'll be getting his hands on over the next year or two.
The Wisconsin job could be a great move for him, and I'm sure he may be intrigued by it, but the timing just doesn't seem to work. Maybe if Alvarez takes over as an interim coach for 2013 and we're right back where we are today and the Badgers are looking to hire again and Diaco has had a full 12 months to digest his new celebrity status---yeah then I think it could be a great fit.
I'd like to once again thank Mr. Murtaugh for taking the time out to answer our questions. This is definitely going to at the very least give the uninformed an opinion on the possibility of Diaco becoming coach.
I know, that if the Badgers are willing to put their eggs in Diaco's basket? I'm more than willing to support it. Are you?