Notre Dame Football: Tim Hinton

Ex-ND assistant Sheridan to OSU

January, 30, 2012
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Add one more former Notre Dame assistant to Urban Meyer's Ohio State staff.

Bill Sheridan, who coached the Irish defensive backs in 2001, has rounded out the Buckeyes' staff and will be their new secondary coach, according to multiple reports.

The 53-year-old Sheridan has also coached at Michigan, Michigan State, the New York Giants (2005-09) and the Miami Dolphins (2010-11).

Former Irish assistants Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running game coordinator) were hired away from Notre Dame by Meyer this offseason. They will coach the tight ends/fullbacks and the offensive line, respectively.
Harry Hiestand is Notre Dame's new offensive line coach/run game coordinator, the school announced Wednesday.

Hiestand, a 29-year coaching veteran, comes from Tennessee, where he coached the offensive line for the past two seasons. His recent stops include the Chicago Bears (2005-09), Illinois (1997-04) and Missouri (1994-96).

"I've spent most of my coaching career in the Midwest and I'm happy to be back in the area," Hiestand, a Malvern, Pa., native, said in a statement. "I've always had great respect for Notre Dame and what it stands for. As you look at the college football landscape, Notre Dame is truly a unique place and I'm happy to be part of it. I'm excited about working with Coach [Brian] Kelly and our offensive linemen this year."

Hiestand replaces Ed Warinner, who joined Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State to become the Buckeyes' co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.

Hiestand should be the final piece to Notre Dame's staff for the 2012 season. The Irish lost former offensive coordinator Charley Molnar (now head coach at Massachusetts), former running backs coach Tim Hinton (tight ends/fullbacks coach at Ohio State) and Warinner after 2011. In addition to Booker, Notre Dame hired Bob Elliott to coach safeties and promoted offensive intern Scott Booker to a to be determined full-time position.

"Harry is one of the best offensive line coaches in college football, and we are fortunate to have him on our staff," Kelly said in a statement. "When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend and Harry's name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him."

Elliott named Irish safeties coach

January, 21, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Bob Elliott is Notre Dame's new safeties coach, the school announced Saturday.

Elliott, a 33-year coaching veteran, comes from Iowa State, where he served as the Cyclones' secondary coach the past two seasons.

“My family and I are excited to be part of this great university,” Elliott said in a statement. “I grew up in the Midwest and have spent much of my life in this region and always wondered what it would be like to coach at Notre Dame. This was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up and am happy to be associated with this great place.”

Elliott also has a combined 11 seasons of experience as a defensive coordinator, at San Diego State, Kansas State, Iowa and Ball State.

The position was open because former Irish safeties coach Chuck Martin moved to offensive coordinator this offseason, where he replaces Charley Molnar, who took over as head coach at Massachusetts.

Elliott is familiar with members of the current Irish staff, as he coached current co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks at Iowa in 1997, when Elliott was the Hawkeyes' defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Current Irish assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was a graduate assistant under Elliott from 1996-97.

“I couldn’t be more excited about bringing Bob Elliott to Notre Dame,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “At his core, Bob is an outstanding teacher and tactician. He has had great success developing top-tier defensive backs and his experience as a defensive coordinator will complement our coaching staff. Bobby has a long-standing relationship with Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks so the transition to our staff should be extremely smooth. I know our safeties will love playing for him.”

The Irish staff has shuffled this offseason, with Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running game coordinator) leaving for jobs under Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

Former offensive intern Scott Booker was promoted to a full-time staff member at a position yet to be determined.

Decker de-commits from ND for OSU

January, 15, 2012
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Urban Meyer probably doesn't have too many fans in South Bend, Ind.

Three-star offensive tackle Taylor Decker (Vandalia, Ohio/Butler) de-committed from Notre Dame on Sunday and pledged to Meyer and Ohio State, joining former Irish assistants Tim Hinton and Ed Warinner in leaving for the scarlet and gray.

Warinner, who will coordinate the running game as Ohio State's co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, will be Decker's position coach. Warinner had previously served as the Irish's offensive line coach and running game coordinator.

Decker's de-commitment drops the Irish's recruiting class to 16 members. The 6-foot-8, 310-pounder originally committed to Notre Dame in March.

Ohio State now has 20 commitments for the class of 2012, and four since Meyer took over the Buckeyes.

Notre Dame suffered a de-commitment just a week ago when four-star athlete Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac) re-opened his recruitment.
Former Notre Dame assistant coaches Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton officially joined head coach Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State on Thursday, the Buckeyes announced.

Warinner will coordinate the running game as the team's co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. Hinton will be the tight ends and fullbacks coach.

"I was very pleased with the coaches already in place on this staff," Meyer said in a statement, "and now we’ve gotten even better with the additions of Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton. Both are excellent coaches who bring a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge to our staff."

Warinner had served as the Irish's offensive line coach and running game coordinator. Hinton was the team's running backs coach.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had promoted former safeties coach Chuck Martin, not Warinner, to offensive coordinator when Charley Molnar left the post to become head coach at Massachusetts. Warinner had served as Kansas' offensive coordinator for three seasons before joining the Irish.

"I really wanted to hire a coach with coordinator experience," Meyer said. "That was very important to me. Ed has that experience. His offenses at Kansas were not only impressive, but they were some of the top offenses in the country."

Hinton had served as a graduate assistant with Meyer under former Buckeyes coach Earl Bruce in 1986, and his named had been linked to Meyer's staff the minute Meyer was hired by the Buckeyes, though he had previously denied any interest.

"Tim is an awesome coach," Meyer said. "He and I worked together on the Ohio State staff in 1986, but what I am most impressed with is his time spent as a high school coach in Ohio. He had some outstanding teams at Harding, and his extensive experiences coaching in the state were crucial in my desire to want him on our staff."

"I have always felt it would be an honor to have an opportunity to coach for and to represent Ohio State," Hinton said in a statement. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to work with great people and great coaches at such a wonderful place."

Both assistants are Ohio natives -- Warinner from Strasburg; Hinton from Amanda.

"I’ve always strived to coach in positions where I have a lot of responsibility," Warinner said in a statement. "Serving as a coordinator goes beyond just coaching what my guys are doing. It is a thought process of attacking and moving the ball, and strategies and reading plays. There is a big picture as a coordinator that I am into and really enjoy, and it’s a position from where I think I can make a significant contribution to the success of a team."
Notre Dame's 2011 season has been over for nearly two full weeks, but things haven't exactly been quiet in South Bend, Ind. Here's what has gone down in the young offseason.

1. Tyler Eifert is back. This is the best news for Notre Dame in the wake of its 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. Eifert was the Irish's second-leading receiver in 2011, will be the key to the passing attack next season and joins linebacker Manti Te'o in passing on a potentially high NFL draft selection to return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

2. There are still staff uncertainties. Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running gamer coordinator) are gone, not long after Charley Molnar took over head-coaching duties at Massachusetts. Offensive intern Scott Booker is now a full-time staff member, though his position has yet to be announced. Chuck Martin has moved from safeties coach to offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is now an assistant head coach. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks is now a co-defensive coordinator. Everyone has received a contract extension as well, as Brian Kelly received a two-year bump through 2016 on Tuesday. There are still two open positions on staff, however.

3. New face in the backfield. Former USC running back Amir Carlisle is transferring to Notre Dame. The freshman will have to sit out the 2012 season under NCAA rules after a first year with the Trojans that saw him tally 118 rushing yards on 19 carries and 41 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven catches.

Kelly receives two-year extension

January, 10, 2012
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Notre Dame extended Brian Kelly's contract two years Tuesday, keeping the head coach under contract through the 2016 season.

"While Coach Kelly and I are focused on the additional work that must be done to reach our goals, I am very pleased with the progress we have made during the past two years," Notre Dame vice president and athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. "Our football team's performance on the field, in the classroom, and in the community reflect Coach Kelly's commitment to building a program that will be able to sustain success in the long run, and to doing so in a manner consistent with Notre Dame's values and tradition."

The Irish have gone 8-5 in each of Kelly's first two seasons at Notre Dame. They finished this season with an 18-14 loss to Florida State on Dec. 29 in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Notre Dame announced contract extensions Jan. 2 for its six returning assistant coaches.

"I want to thank [school president] Father [John] Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick for their unwavering support of me the last two years," Kelly said in a statement. "My family and I are truly blessed to be at Notre Dame and we are excited about what the future holds for the Fighting Irish football team. I also want to thank Father John and Jack for the commitment they made to the football program last week by renewing the contracts of our assistant coaches. I think we have one of the finest coaching staffs in the country at Notre Dame, and the confidence our administration has shown in us is truly appreciated."

Assistants Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running game coordinator) left the program last week. Scott Booker was promoted from offensive intern to full-time assistant, though his duties have not yet been announced.

Notre Dame has yet to announce any new hires.

"The quality of the assistant coaches that Coach Kelly has brought to Notre Dame is evident both in their performance and the interest that other schools have shown in them since the end of the regular season" Swarbrick said in a statement. "Building on the foundation we have now created and maintaining continuity is critical to the future success of our football program, and that is why we have secured the continued service of our football staff."

Kelly's extension should momentarily quell whatever premature concerns there might be about his job security two years in and help form an image of stability moving forward. Of course, Kelly's predecessor, Charlie Weis, received a 10-year extension just seven games into his Notre Dame career and was let go after season five.

Notre Dame chat wrap: Jan 2

January, 2, 2012
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Thanks to those of you who took time out of the holiday to stop by the Notre Dame chat. As always, the transcript can be found here.

The highlights:
  • Francis (Warsaw): Another 8-5 year...the turnovers were obviously the catalyst of those 5 losses but who do you put that on? The players that just can't make smart decisions (Tommy Rees) or coaches for not preparing the players to be disciplined with the football?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:07 PM): Francis, I think there is plenty of blame to go around. I don't want to discredit some of the defenses they faced this year because there were several elite units, but the red-zone decision making was very questionable at times throughout the year. The trick with turnovers mid-season is to not have players thinking about them and second-guessing themselves in practice. I don't think 10 or 11-2 would have been too much to expect from this team, in retrospect. (Never really in the Stanford game, were lucky to be there with a USC team that was clearly better.)
  • Aaron (Chicago): Matt put yourself in the shoes of an irrational, stubborn and impatient Notre Dame football fan(I know its hard to do since there are so few) and ask yourself....after seeing tommy rees play less than good the last couple of games and Hendrix being completely shut down, who do you want to see take the first snap next season, do we just let Golson go like Clausen and work out the bugs and gain the knowledge while playing? Or do we create a two maybe three headed monster for next year?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:09 PM): Aaron, you're asking a lot of me there (I kid, I kid). I'm a strong believer that if you have two quarterbacks you have none (and unless you plays INCREDIBLE special teams and defense like LSU, that won't fly). Many will be calling for Golson as people think he can't be worse than what was on display this year, but we really won't know for sure until we see how he handles an actual game situation.
  • Chris P (P'cola FL): According to the USC blogger, Tee Sheperd (and by association, Deontay Greenberry) are no longer early enrolling at ND, but keeping their options open. Is this correct or just speculation because I believe I read somewhere on this site not long ago that both were "100% committed to ND." Do you have an update for them or is it just nonsense from USC?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:15 PM): Chris, according to our Greg Biggins, Shepard said he is no longer a rock-solid verbal to Notre Dame and will wait until Feb. 1 to decided between the Irish and USC.
  • Auntie Em (Kansas): Matt - with news of Warinner and Hinton leaving rather abruptly it appears the sky is falling to ND fans again. Let me know when it's safe to come out of my bunker.
  • Matt Fortuna (2:25 PM): Looks like you're writing from Kansas. I'd suggest stopping by Lawrence and taking solace in whatever success Charlie Weis and Dayne Crist can manage together next season.

Irish announce staff changes

January, 2, 2012
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Notre Dame will have some familiar faces in new places next season.

Bob Diaco has been named assistant head coach, Chuck Martin has been named offensive coordinator, Kerry Cooks has been named co-defensive coordinator and Scott Booker has been promoted to full-time assistant, the Irish announced Monday, four days after their season ended with a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State and five days after head coach Brian Kelly said he was excited to be able to keep his staff in place for 2012.

Former running backs coach Tim Hinton and former offensive line coach and running game coordinator Ed Warinner have left to pursue other opportunities.

Diaco, Martin, Cooks, Booker, Tony Alford (receivers), Mike Denbrock (tight ends) and Mike Elston (defensive line/special teams) have all received contract extensions as well.

Diaco is promoted after two seasons as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, duties he will still be responsible for. Martin, who coached safeties and served a recruiting coordinator, replaces Charley Molnar, who took the head coaching job at Massachusetts last month.

Martin succeeded Brian Kelly as head coach at Grand Valley State for six seasons and directed the offense, continuing the same system Kelly had installed.

“Chuck is a very talented coach that will make our offense better in the future due to his knowledge of our offensive system as well as how defenses like to attack it,” Kelly said in a statement. “I wanted someone that knew the system I’m familiar with and our experience coaching together will make for an easy transition. Chuck did a great job directing the Grand Valley State offense after I left and led the program to unprecedented heights. I look forward to witnessing the impact he’ll have on our offense.”

Cooks coached cornerbacks last season and outside linebackers the year before. Booker has been an offensive intern the past two seasons and will be assigned a specific position in the future.

Hinton has long been rumored to be joining Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State, though neither school had an immediate announcement and Hinton deflected those rumors Dec. 19, saying:

"Here's what I know: I am coaching at the University of Notre Dame. That's all for everything else, and that's all for everybody else. I've got one thing to do: I'm gonna coach Cierre Wood, I'm gonna coach Theo Riddick, which kind of got you guys last week, didn't it? And I'm gonna coach George [Atkinson III] and Cam [McDaniel] and that's the only thing we can do. And that's the bottom line: We're coaching the heck out of them. And do I want to be at Notre Dame? Absolutely."

The loss of Warinner comes as a bigger surprise, though it is unclear where his next stop will be.

Kelly aims for new hire by Jan. 4

December, 19, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's newest addition for 2012 will actually come before the Feb. 1 national signing day. Almost one month earlier, actually. And, for all intents and purposes, the addition will come Jan. 4 to make national signing day more enjoyable for the Irish.

Former offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, hired as Massachusetts' head coach Dec. 8, will not be with Notre Dame for its Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl matchup against Florida State. Molnar initially intended to finish out the season with the Irish, but head coach Brian Kelly said Monday that would no longer be the case.

"Charley's gonna focus strictly on the job that he has at UMass, and we're really excited for Charley and his family, Meg, and their kids. They all had their UMass gear on and they're focused on their next challenge," Kelly said. "It's difficult sometimes, you wanna try to do both. I've been in that situation. It's not easy. But we've had a conversation, Charley and I, and he's gonna focus strictly on his work for UMass."

Kelly will coach the quarterbacks in the lead-up to the bowl game, and assistants Ed Warinner (offensive line), Tim Hinton (running backs), Mike Denbrock (tight ends) and Tony Alford (receivers) will all shoulder a heavier workload until a new hire is made.

Monday began the dead period for recruiting, running through Jan. 3. Thus, Jan. 4 is when Notre Dame would like a new assistant coach.

"We don't wanna be short in the recruiting end of things," Kelly said. "We'll have it all sorted out. We'll have somebody on-board so when we hit the road recruiting, we're not short a coach. We're not gonna put ourselves in that position."

Warinner would appear to be the favorite to assume the offensive coordinator role should Notre Dame choose to promote someone from within, as the offensive line coach and running game coordinator served as Kansas' offensive coordinator from 2007-09.

Kelly will keep his options open when evaluating thew open position.

“My background is that I like to keep things in-house if I can,” Kelly said. “If I can I'll bring somebody that I have a relationship with. And I'm not different than most coaches, if you look at a lot of coaches. I think we've got talented coaches in the program that are capable of more, being in leadership positions.

"If that’s the route I go I feel very comfortable with that, but I’m not closing off any doors as to how I go about doing that.”

Hinton deflects OSU rumors

December, 19, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Facing a media contingent Monday that had not had a chance to speak with him since Urban Meyer took over as Ohio State's head coach, Notre Dame running backs coach Tim Hinton was asked if he will remain with the Irish if Brian Kelly wants him around next year.

His response:

"Here's what I know: I am coaching at the University of Notre Dame. That's all for everything else, and that's all for everybody else. I've got one thing to do: I'm gonna coach Cierre Wood, I'm gonna coach Theo Riddick, which kind of got you guys last week, didn't it? And I'm gonna coach George [Atkinson III] and Cam [McDaniel] and that's the only thing we can do. And that's the bottom line: We're coaching the heck out of them. And do I want to be at Notre Dame? Absolutely."

The Buckeyes hired Meyer as their head coach Nov. 28. Meyer and Hinton have both been graduate assistants under former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce.

Steve Hinton, Tim's brother, told the Lancaster Eagle Gazette on Nov. 29 that he would not be surprised if Meyer offered Tim Hinton a job.
"Whenever Urban has gone to be a head coach, he has offered Tim jobs," Steve Hinton said. "(Tim) had young kids and didn't want to move for that reason. I know Tim and Urban talk throughout the year, and that they had a really good working relationship."

Steve Hinton was unsure whether his younger brother would accept an Ohio State position under Meyer if he was pursued.

"It would be a tough decision to stay or to come home, especially because he loves Notre Dame and the atmosphere that's there," Steve Hinton said. "As a brother, I would love for him to come home, but I would understand if he stayed at Notre Dame."

On Monday, Tim Hinton said there are no offers on the table.

"Don't read anything behind the scenes," Hinton said. "I'm telling you, there's nothing behind the scenes. And obviously I am in a great place with Coach Kelly, I love where I'm at. And the bottom line is this is a very special place."

Hinton said he was not surprised Meyer got back into coaching after a one-year hiatus, saying there are few who leave the game without immediately missing it.

"No, not really," Hinton said. "It's the funniest thing, and I tell people this all the time, because I'm very diverse — I was a high school coach for a long period of time and then college football. You name the guy that got out that didn't want back in. You name it. Because who knows who that guy is? You know what I mean? Every one, and I keep thinking as I get grayer and older I keep thinking: my time's coming.

"But every one of my buddies have all gotten back in, wanting to do something. None of them want to sit on a couch and relax, I can tell you that. So in that part of it, no it doesn't surprise me in that fashion. God bless him. I wish him a lot of luck at Ohio State. He's obviously proven to be a great football coach. The bottom line is I don't want him touching any of my recruits, you know? That's how it goes and works, right?"

Brian Kelly radio show recap

December, 13, 2011
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Brian Kelly welcomed a special guest for his final radio show of the 2011 season — Manti Te'o.

The junior linebacker earned applause from the crowd after announcing his intention to return to Notre Dame two days ago; Kelly said it's impossible to quantify what a player like Te'o means to the program.

"He's a six-star, maybe even a nine-star," Kelly said of the kind of recruit Te'o is.

In his first public appearance since Charley Molnar took the Massachusetts head-coaching job, Kelly said he was pleased for his former offensive coordinator.

"We're really happy for Charley and excited for him and his family; he’s got a beautiful family," Kelly said. "I'll take some more leadership on the offensive side of the ball, and we're all gonna pitch in — Ed Warinner, Tim Hinton, Mike Denbrock."

Speaking of family, Kelly's parents, Paul and Regina, were also in attendance.

Kelly was also asked about the punt-return game, which averaged a nation-worst 0.3 yards per return.

"We've actually begun to study on a lot of these things and it really has a lot to do with the punters in college football," Kelly said. "They're scholarship players; they're not walk-ons. They understand their impact in the game is immense. BC, their punter controlled the flow of the game with our starting position.

"And secondly, if there's a kick that has 4.2 seconds of hangtime and you have an average coverage scheme, you're gonna put that return guy in a position where he's gonna have to be like Tyrann Mathieu of LSU. He's gonna have to make three or four or five guys miss. So your punt-return guy has to be a gamebreaker."

When recapping the regular season, Kelly deemed it a "woulda, coulda, shoulda" campaign that will require some tightening up across the board.
The warning signs were there from the beginning.

Persistent thunder and lightning rocked South Bend, Ind., throughout halftime of Notre Dame's season opener against South Florida, culminating in a game that ended five hours, 59 minutes after it started. The final tally was Bulls 23, Irish 20, with a quarterback switch and nighttime falling somewhere in between.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Michael Floyd
Charles LeClaire/USPRESSWIREEven with Notre Dame's unsettled quarterback situation, receiver Michael Floyd rewrote the Irish record books this season.
The lights came on one week later in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Irish faced Michigan in the Big House's first-ever night game. But a 17-point lead entering the fourth quarter was not enough for Notre Dame, which surrendered 28 points to Denard Robinson and Co. in the game's final 15 minutes, with a pair of fumbles taking wrong turns, to add to the pain.

An 0-2 start rendered any preseason BCS-bowl expectations meaningless, and the manner in which those defeats took place were as sure a sign as any that this would be one strange season.

Consider:

  • Notre Dame then routed Michigan State 31-13 in Week 3, one of only two regular-season losses for a Spartans team that ended up falling a few plays shy of the Rose Bowl.
  • The Irish faced a third-and-goal from the 1, down seven, in the third quarter in Week 8 against USC before a fumbled snap resulted in an 80-yard touchdown the other way, effectively killing any chance of a win. It was the second fumble returned for a touchdown against the Irish when facing third-and-goal from the 1 during the season. (USF did it on Notre Dame's first drive of the season.)
  • Five days later, Brian Kelly made controversial comments about the difference between the players he recruited and those he inherited, leading to player backlash on Twitter and an apology to the team the next day.

The Irish won eight of their final 10 games to finish 8-4 and clinch a berth in the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State, another 8-4 team that saw lofty preseason expectations take a hit early. Tommy Rees will start for Notre Dame, the sophomore's 12th consecutive start after replacing Dayne Crist to start the second half against the Bulls in Week 1. Fellow sophomore Andrew Hendrix, who replaced Rees to start the second half at Stanford in the regular-season finale, is slated to see plenty of action against the Seminoles as well.

The status of Crist, meanwhile, is up in the air after the senior was granted his release to explore options outside of Notre Dame for next season, his final year of eligibility after graduating later this month.

Also leaving the Irish is senior receiver Michael Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books and hauled in 95 catches for 1,106 yards this season. Floyd, a projected first-round draft pick, could be joined by junior linebacker Manti Te'o, who is also projected as a first-round pick after leading the Irish defensively for the second consecutive season.

Personnel questions will be answered later. For now, let's take a look back at this campaign and hand out some hardware:

Offensive MVP: Wide receiver Michael Floyd

Floyd took full advantage of one last chance after a third alcohol-related offense last March put this season in jeopardy. The senior's 95 catches this season are an Irish record, as are the 266 for his career. His 3,645 career receiving yards are the most in school history. So, too, are his 36 career receiving touchdowns. Floyd was lined up virtually everywhere this season and dealt with three different quarterbacks. His downfield blocking improved greatly. And, big statistical performance or not, he remained a threat in every game and always required the full attention of opposing defenses. The Irish will certainly miss him next season.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Manti Te'o

Following his 133-tackle output from a year ago, the junior has racked up 115 more tackles through 12 games this season, by far the most on the team. He has become more familiar in the backfield, too, notching 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, both good for team highs. Add in the fact he dealt with an ankle injury midseason, and Te'o had himself quite a junior campaign. A big decision awaits him this offseason, as Te'o is projected as a first-round NFL pick should he choose to forego his final year of eligibility.

Newcomer of the Year: Defensive end Aaron Lynch

The freshman burst onto the scene with a giant Week 3 performance against Michigan State, recording one sack, forcing a fumble and notching six quarterback hurries. To put that into proper context, no Notre Dame player recored that many throughout all of the 2010 season. Lynch enters the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State — a school he once committed to — with 5.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 13 hurries on the season. He was forced into extended playing time because of injury along the line, and he did not disappoint.

Coach of the Year: Running backs coach Tim Hinton

Hinton helped the rushing game exceed everyone's expectations but its own. Cierre Wood rushed for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns, and Jonas Gray may have joined him in the 1,000-yard mark if not for an ACL tear Nov. 19. Gray, a senior, scored 12 touchdowns this season, including at least one in eight consecutive games, finishing his final campaign with 791 yards and a 6.9-yards-per-carry average. Hinton could draw interest from Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but for now the Irish are thankful for the work he put in this season.

Biggest surprise: Running back Jonas Gray

Speaking of Gray … Kelly said before the Irish's game against Boston College that he had never in his career seen a senior renaissance like Gray's. Gray overcame a potentially devastating Week 1 fumble against USF — one that resulted in a game-changing touchdown the other way — and ended up getting game captain honors against Air Force and starting four games. He spent much of the season in pursuit of George Gipp's single-season yards per carry record of 8.11, finishing with a 6.9 average. He had never scored a touchdown before notching 12 this season. Sadly, the campaign ended prematurely on Senior Day. Here's hoping Gray makes a speedy recovery and left enough of an impression on NFL scouts, as he was playing his way onto their radars before going down Nov. 19.

Biggest disappointment: Punt-return game

The Irish finished the season with a punt-return average of 0.30 yards per return, the worst among FBS teams. The Theo Riddick experiment backfired, as the junior fumbled one away in Week 1, and even the normally sure-handed John Goodman let one get away deep in his own territory Week 3 against Michigan State. Floyd voluntarily went back there to try to make something happen, but he never got a chance to return one this season. The Irish have plenty of work to do in this area in the offseason.

Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireThe first night game at Michigan Stadium featured a classic final quarter-- but one that didn't go Notre Dame's way in a 35-31 loss Sept. 10.
Game of the Year: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

The Sept. 10 contest had everything a college football fan could ask for: The first night game in the history of the Big House. Two of the three winningest programs in college football history. College GameDay on campus. The biggest crowd in college football history.

Then the game actually started, and it somehow surpassed the hype.

Michigan came back from a 24-7 deficit after three quarters, scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter and two in the final 1 minute, 12 seconds to shock the Irish. Vincent Smith's 21-yard touchdown catch made it 28-24 Michigan, Tommy Rees responded 42 seconds later with a 29-yard scoring strike to Riddick and Robinson closed things out with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds to play, capping off Michigan's third consecutive thrilling win over Notre Dame and a night for the ages. The Big House might as well quit while it's ahead; no night game there will ever surpass the first one.

Why Week 12 matters to Jonas Gray

November, 16, 2011
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Whenever Tim Hinton is asked about Jonas Gray's breakout senior season, the running backs coach explains that he got into coaching for stories like this:

A senior facing his final chance to make his mark. An awful start to said senior season. A head coach publicly challenging that senior on how we will want to be remembered.

And now, of course, redemption.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame's Jonas Gray isn't letting a some early-season adversity stop him from accomplishing statistical records.
Gray entered 2011 with just 75 carries for 309 yards and no touchdowns. He had fumbled the ball four times. He then added to that total when, facing a third-and-goal from the 1 on Notre Dame's first drive of the season, he had the ball jarred loose from him in front of the goal line, resulting in a game-changing — and perhaps season-changing — 96-yard touchdown the other way.

The heavily-favored Irish lost their season opener to South Florida, quarterback Dayne Crist lost his job and Brian Kelly publicly issued an edict three days later:

You can be remembered as the guy who coughed up his last chance, or you can be remembered as the guy who overcame that awful start.

Flash forward to today, Nov. 16, 2011, three days before Gray takes the Notre Dame Stadium field for the final time.

Gray has 703 rushing yards on just 103 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per carry. That puts him within striking distance of George Gipp's single-season record of 8.1 yards per carry. He has started the last three games.

In Week 4 at Pitt, Gray broke off a 79-yard touchdown run, the first of his career. He has had a touchdown in every game since, 11 in all, becoming the first Irish running back to score touchdowns in seven straight games since 1998, when Autrey Denson scored in 10 straight games.

This past Saturday against Maryland, Gray scored twice and recorded the first 100-yard game of his career, finishing with 136 yards on the ground. Afterward, he was critical of himself in blocking and consistency, saying he has yet to play a complete game.

"I think it speaks to the mindset that we want our players to have, and that is each and every week your focus is on execution, preparation and execution," Kelly said Tuesday. "He was asked at the time when it came to execution, he didn't execute some of the things he needed to. And that's the way we're getting our guys to think on a day-to-day basis.

"And preparation, doing the right things during the week both on and off the field and then when it's Saturday, it's your job to execute, and there were some things he didn't do well and there were some things he did very, very well. And those are the things that we want our players to be most focused on."

No one has demonstrated that focus better than Gray, who has given new meaning to the phrase "last hurrah," taking advantage of a second chance and putting himself in position for a career at the next level.

No one will appreciate walking through that tunnel one last time Saturday more than the senior from Pontiac, Mich., who has said over and over again he would not change his up-and-down career in South Bend, Ind., for anything.

"It's easy to coach the one who does it naturally," Hinton said Nov. 1. "Everybody can do that one, right? Why do [they] need us? It's getting the other guys to get to the level they need to be. That's what coaching's all about. That's what you try to do."

Q&A with Cierre Wood

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
5:00
PM ET
Cierre Wood began the season as Notre Dame's starting running back. Jonas Gray has started the Irish's last two games. No, there isn't an injury or dip in performance. The two have just been seemingly interchangeable in the backfield this season.

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
AP Photo/AJ MastNotre Dame's Cierre Wood is 42nd in the nation in rush yards per game at 89.8.
Wood is 42nd in the nation with 89.8 rushing yards per game. Gray, who averages 66 rushing yards per game, ranks 83rd. Notre Dame is one of just eights teams with multiple players among the top 100 in rushing yards per game.

Here, Wood, a junior, talks about the dynamic with Gray, the improved short-yardage game and the running backs' blocking efforts.

It may not have registered until everyone looked up the stats the next day, but Saturday was your first-ever second-half comeback win under Brian Kelly. Do you look at that as maybe a step or a sign? Is that something that's talked about on the team?

CW: Not really. It's just fighting back, really just that will to not give up and keep going, which we base everything we do off of, which is the next man in. A lot of guys were playing injured that game, but everybody just kept going in because we knew what the task was to come back and win. And we got the job done.

Jonas said after [Wake Forest] missed that field goal late, his first thought on the sideline was, Give me and Cierre the ball, we're gonna run this clock out, we're gonna win. And he said that's a mentality that's kind of had to foster over the course of the year. How have you seen the confidence in the run game grow and know that's your situation right there?

CW: The run game has been a huge factor this whole year. It started off good in the beginning and it's still going strong. Now we base everything off of our run game. We have to have a physical presence in the run game in order for everything else to fall into place and stuff like that. So in order to get our jobs done at all times, we always need to start running the ball.

How much easier is your life when you have a back who can step in and do the things you do?

CW: It's extremely easy, to be honest with you. While he's in there, he's doing his thing. While I'm in there I'm doing my thing. We both go in there, we're both gonna produce. So somebody's gonna get the job done.

Is it particularly fulfilling to see the light kind of click on for him during his last chance, to overcome the fumbles in the past and really have a strong senior season?

CW: Yeah. Since the beginning of the summer I told him we're gonna have to run the tables. We're gonna have to start everything and put the team on our backs and stuff like that. And that's what we did. I told him we're gonna start the run game and it was gonna come from us too, as far as starting it off and getting everything rolling, and that's exactly what we did. I'm happy to see Jonas doing great. I'm his No. 1 fan. Every time he scores I'm always the first one out there to give him a high-five and stuff like that. Coming here, Jonas wasn't playing that much and I'm very very happy to see him making it.

It didn't seem like you guys really missed a step when Braxston [Cave] went out, but when you do see a member of the offensive line go down, particularly at such a big spot like the center, what's the running backs' philosophy there? Obviously you're not on the line with them, but what are you thinking?

CW: I wasn't worried about anything. As soon as Mike [Golic Jr.] came in there I told him, "Let's go. The ball is dropped. We're rolling with or without you, really." But he knew that coming in. Just like you said, we didn't miss a beat.

One of the things you guys have talked about throughout the year — and that doesn't really get a lot of attention — is the blocking by the running backs. It's one of those things [running backs coach Tim] Hinton was saying earlier: People won't know you're doing a good job until you do a bad job and there's a sack or something that was your responsibility. How much pride do you guys take in that, and how much have you learned to embrace that?

CW: We take a huge amount of pride in that. That's very very important to us as running backs and to our team as a whole. We haven't allowed a sack, as far as from the backs, this whole season. We wanna go the whole season without allowing any sacks as far as from our end. Our coach always says to be a Notre Dame running back you have to play physical and you have to pass-protect. And that's one of our code of conduct rules that we have. That's basically what we live by and we just get the job done.

It seems like the short-yardage game, that was something at Michigan that wasn't there for you guys late in the game but obviously was this past week at Wake Forest. Is that more of a mentality thing? Is it a physical thing? How has that kind of manifested itself over the course of seven or eight weeks?

CW: It's a mindset really. You've gotta get into that mindset where you just feel like, hey, nobody's stopping you, no one man can take you down. Coming into the season I put that on myself and that's been there this whole time. I told Jonas we both have to have that mentality at all times. And he jumped on-board with it. We just hit the ground running ever since.

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