Notre Dame Football: Former NFL Players Back As Irish Coaches
As the 2015 season takes shape for the Fighting Irish, Brian Kelly pulled a page out of the past by adding two former players and NFL stars as assistants to his staff.
Former star's Autry Denson and Todd Lyght will be the home run hires that should lead the Irish in a new direction, both on and off the field-along with providing immediate recognition as former stars in the NFL in recent memory for future recruits.
Former Notre Dame players Ron Powlus (1994-97) and Maurice Crum Jr. (2005-08) return as director of player development and defensive graduate assistant, respectively. Donovan Raiola has been added as an offensive graduate assistant
Former all-time Irish rushing leader Autry Denson was hired to replace jettisoned recruiting guru and former backs coach Tony Alford-who left for Ohio State.
After three seasons as an assistant at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona, Fla., Denson served as the running backs coach for 2010-13 Irish assistant Chuck Martin at Miami (Ohio) year before accepting the same position this January at the University of South Florida.
During is career at Notre Dame, Denson racked up 4,448 yards on the ground and 46 total touchdowns.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted the Irish back in 1999- the 233rd player selected overall.
Denson on his new role at his former college:
“I can’t stop smiling because you really don’t get this opportunity, it really does not come,So I understand how blessed I am and just ready to get in here and work and do everything I can to help the university and help our team get to a national championship.”
Denson on the chance to work with Folston and Bryant:
“They could make me look like I’m a pretty good coach pretty fast,” Denson said. “… I think Tony did a great job recruiting, got some guys in the room and it’s up to me now to continue that development and let them go out and play football.”
Coach Kelly on the hire of the former Irish star:
“His philosophy matched mine in terms of development of the student‑athlete both on and off the field,” Kelly said. “Then as we talked about recruiting, how he was going to go about that challenge of recruiting. We had a long list of guys that we had ready to interview. We called them up and said that we found our running back coach in Autry Denson.”
Perhaps the most celebrated of the two players in both college and the NFL is Todd Lyght.
The fifth overall pick in the 19991 draft, Lyght played in the NFL for 12 seasons, finishing with 37 interceptions and 4 touchdowns. His best year as a pro came during the 99' season with the champion Rams, with whom he intercepted six passes for 112 yards and 1 touchdown and was named to the 99' All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams.
Lyght on the return to South Bend:
“I’m here to get my Master’s in coaching,I love it. I’m going to bring a lot of things to this program. My energy and passion for this program is unparalleled. This place is so special for me. It’s helped me develop as a young man, I’m back as a coach and it’s going to help me develop again.”
Coach Kelly on what Lyght brings to the Irish:
“I think that goes to his long experience in the NFL, the confidence that he has in his own ability to communicate,So I think a long career, a lot of success — he's not used to not being successful. You can tell when he walks into the room that immediately he has that. It makes up for any shortness that he may have in a résumé.”
On advice from former coach Holtz and who Lyght became:
“It kind of reminded me of when coach Holtz was like, you have to go the defensive side of the ball for you to really succeed. Obviously coach Holtz was looking at the big picture for me, saying that you can be a really good wide receiver or a great defensive back. He was like, you can be the Tim Brown or you can be the first Todd Lyght. I chose to be the first Todd Lyght.”
Notre Dame heads to spring break this week.
Upon their return, spring ball begins and as is the case with most seasons- expectations are again running high with the new hires as additions to an already proven roster.