Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blitzing into the Bend | by Pat

As suddenly as one of his all-out blitzes, Jon Tenuta has officially been named an assistant coach at Notre Dame.

University of Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis announced today that 44-year coaching veteran Bill Lewis, Irish assistant head coach/defense the last three seasons, will leave the Irish football coaching staff and join the University's athletics community relations staff. Weis also announced that former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has been offered and accepted the role of assistant head coach/defense.

Lewis will remain at the University and will begin his role as manager of athletics community relations on Feb. 18. Tenuta's start date also is Feb. 18.
Instant reaction: This is an excellent hire, with the added bonus of Bill Lewis staying in the Notre Dame community. Lewis is a fantastic coach and a wonderful representative of Notre Dame. Keeping him around campus is a bonus for the University. But replacing him with one of the more respected defensive minds in the country is the real show-stopper.

After leaving Georgia Tech in the wake of the dismissal of head coach Chan Gailey, it was expected that Tenuta would either land his first head coaching gig or become the defensive coordinator for another high profile program. Instead, he's now at Notre Dame as a position coach (albeit likely with more responsibilities than your average position coach). Wow. Perhaps for his next trick, Charlie Weis will hire Frank Beamer as a new special teams coach.

In a way, the Tenuta hire mirrors the Lewis hire. When Charlie Weis hired Bill Lewis, he commented that the Dolphins pass defense under Lewis was the one that gave him the most fits with the Patriots. Likewise, Tenuta's defense at Georgia Tech didn't allow a single Irish passing touchdown the past two seasons. In fact, in 2006, Georgia Tech was the only team on the Irish schedule to keep Brady Quinn without a passing touchdown.

Now employed by the same program he had so much success against, Tenuta's duties haven't been explicitly laid out yet, but we can make a few guesses. For starters, Tenuta has a long history working with defensive backs. Then again, Corwin Brown also is experienced with dealing with the secondary, so perhaps Tenuta will take the linebacker job. There have been credible rumors to each effect. If Tenuta does coach the linebackers, where would this leave Coach Polian? These are all questions likely to be answered during the National Signing Day press conference.

We'll dig further into Tenuta's blitz-happy strategies and his accomplishments as a coach in a future post. If you want something to get you started, here is a look we did at his defense before the 2006 ND/GT game.

Getting back to the reason why the change was made in the first place, Bill Lewis explained.
"I should start by giving some background on this decision. During the bye week this year, I learned that I needed to have both my hips replaced. I've run six to eight miles a day almost every day for a long time and now I need to get a tune-up.

"The initial plan was to have surgery on one hip on Feb. 8 with the hopes of being back for the start of spring practice. Then I was going to have surgery on the other hip in the middle of May with hopes to be back for training camp. The more I thought about it, though, I thought this was a selfish plan.

"At this same time, Dr. Kevin White and Bill Scholl were having discussions about creating a position where someone could coordinate a variety of activities involving athletics community relations and represent the department at various events around the country. Dr. White approached me about retiring from the coaching staff and moving over to the community relations staff.

"I viewed this as another way to stay involved in athletics at Notre Dame and to possibly lengthen my career in athletics. I have been a lot of places and I absolutely love this place and my wife feels the same. We love this community and love being part of it.
While Lewis was figuring out his future, Charlie began to figure out his contingency plan.
"Early in December, I learned that Bill Lewis needed to have both his hips replaced and that he would have a four month recovery. He said there was a chance he may need to leave the coaching staff and that I should prepare a list of replacement names should this come to fruition.

"I spent time with (defensive coordinator) Corwin Brown in January discussing possible replacements for Bill in case this situation arose. Corwin and I talked to a few candidates and agreed that Jon was the best person for the job. Corwin and Jon had numerous conversations on how they would work together and they both agreed this would be a great fit.
Probably the best part of the above quote is the last sentence. It's fair to speculate how a seasoned veteran defensive coordinator would mesh working as an assistant to a defensive coordinator with a whole year of coordinating experience under his belt. That both are already working together is great news for Irish fans and bad news for opposing quarterbacks.

Coach Tenuta chimed in on the hire and said all the right things.
"It's a great opportunity for me to coach at Notre Dame and to work with Coach Weis. I'm truly thrilled about this and my family is excited, too.

"Two things attracted me to this job, Coach Weis and Notre Dame. It's an opportunity to coach at one of the greatest traditional powerhouse programs in college football and to work with one of the brightest minds in the game.

"I love coaching defense and Corwin is a very bright young coach who has a bright future ahead of him. He's a great guy who I'm looking forward to working closely with daily. My main goal is to do whatever I can to help the defense become the best in the country and help return Notre Dame to where it belongs."

There will be more to this story we're sure as ND pulled off one of the most surprising assistant coaching hires in recent memory. An immediate concern for many Irish fans will be the impact on recruiting with only a week until National Signing Day. We all won't have to wait long to find out, but you can already count on at least one defensive back who isn't going to change his commitment.

"I'm still 100 percent committed," [Robert] Blanton said. "Actually, I want to change that. I'm probably 12,000 percent committed right now."