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ND's Diaco working on bolstering defense

9/24/2010
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is intense, but his confidence in facing a challenge rubs off on his players. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Warning: Conversations with Bob Diaco can result in motion sickness, headaches, shortness of breath, increased sweating and fatigue.

Notre Dame's first-year defensive coordinator, who might begin an interview at the 20-yard line but often wrap things up at 30, is intense, articulate, intelligent, energetic and just as charismatic as head coach Brian Kelly.

The New Jersey native uses hand gestures in conjunction with his torso, legs and feet to drive a point home -- jabbering a mile a minute while sometimes meandering along the scenic route to get there. Then Diaco will pull the emergency brake, pausing to refocus as he grinds his fingertips into his chin while staring holes in the ground.

Meeting the media demands unique to Notre Dame is often a challenge for new coaches. It's one Diaco, one of the youngest coordinators in college football who obviously enjoys a good challenge, is still mastering.

"He willingly entered a difficult situation last year when I asked him to join me at Cincinnati and guide a defense that had to replace 10 starters," Kelly said when 37-year-old Diaco was hired in January. "Bob implemented an entirely new defense and was a major factor in us winning every game during the regular season."

A co-defensive coordinator post under Kelly at Central Michigan in 2005 gave Diaco, a former linebacker at Iowa, his first play-calling experience and initial exposure to one of the country's cutting-edge head coaches.

The Bearcats defense did just enough in Diaco's only season on board as a Kelly-driven offense shouldered the load. But there were tangible signs of improvement despite giving up 374 yards and just over 23 points per game. Cincinnati finished 2009 among the top 10 in the nation in tackles for a loss (110) and sacks (37) -- a direct reflection of Diaco's personality.

"I would say that I love the work, I love teaching young men," Diaco said. "I love and really own as a mission taking a young man ... from young man to man through football. I take that charge very seriously. It's a real energizer for me.

"It helps to stay grounded when things are going well, and it helps to stay positive when things are going poorly. "I'm probably a type-A guy," Diaco said. "I get mad and angry and pretty aggressive, and at the same time try to be tactful and professional in all communications."

Things aren't going so good right now in South Bend. It's clear in Week 4 that rerouting the Irish defense, which allowed a school-record 397.8 yards per game last year, carries a higher degree of difficulty for Diaco, who insists Notre Dame's 1-2 start this season is the ultimate teaching tool.

"It's really a great lesson early here ... a great way to come out of the box as it relates to very visual examples of how mistakes, whether they be physical or mental, produce points and create points," he said.

While Irish fans massage their temples with offensive juggernaut Stanford next in line, a high-strung Diaco remains as calm as possible.

"I like that approach," junior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "With the good, there's always some bad. I thought we did make some good plays lately. Obviously we got to correct our mistakes. A coach that does that, I feel like that gives confidence to the defense, because it lets us know that we're a couple of plays away from doing this right or that right."

Notre Dame, in a return to a 3-4 alignment, has surrendered over 1,000 yards in its last two losses against Michigan and Michigan State and currently ranks 102nd in the country in total defense. What Kelly continues to stress is that the Irish are a handful of plays away from being undefeated, and that he's not all that concerned with statistical analysis. Nor is Diaco.

"All we need to do is show the tape," Diaco said. "No. 1, clearly, we're interested in having one more point than the opponent. That's the objective. As you watch the games unfold and how the games are conducted and played, that's what we're trying to get done.

"We're trying to have one more point than the opponent. To do that, we gotta try to keep the points down, you know, so at the end of the game it doesn't come down to one last play, one last drive. We don't have to fill the space with a lot of words, they can see it."