Now that some poor Notre Dame assistant is saddled with the task of hauling a half-dozen stone and metal trophies back to South Bend – courtesy of Manti Te’o's award-winning week – Te’o can take a short break from the barrage of accolades before the Heisman Trophy presentation tomorrow.
With no new honors to report today and no media access to Notre Dame players until tonight’s team award banquet, I’ve decided to embrace the spirit of the holidays with the 12 Days of Notre Dame, sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
For the next 12 days, I’ll list a dozen “gifts” that have helped the Irish spark a run at the national championship game. First up:
…One Bob Diaco
Signs your assistant coach is one of the best in the business:
1. He helms the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation.
2. He’s the first-ever coach in your program’s history to win the Broyles Award, which honors the nation’s top assistant.
3. Other schools are clamoring for him as a head coach.
4. His current school needs him badly enough that they’ll pay more money to keep him on staff.
Plus, you can’t beat the hair.
Diaco, Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, has put together college football’s premiere defense in the course of three seasons. With players like Manti Te’o, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Kapron Lewis-Moore in his arsenal, the Irish allow an average of 10.3 points per game (allowed 20.7 in 2011), average 2.8 sacks per game (1.9 in 2011) and allow 92.4 yards rushing per game (138.9 in 2011).
And this is all without defensive end Aaron Lynch, last year’s freshman prodigy who departed in April. Notre Dame lost Lynch’s talents but developed several other players in his stead (namely Tuitt, Nix and freshman Sheldon Day).
Then the injury bug plagued a secondary that had already graduated three of four starters from 2011. Jamoris Slaughter went down early in Week 3 against Michigan State. Lo Wood and Austin Collinsworth were out before the season even started. Diaco was suddenly tasked with turning a bunch of former receivers into an elite secondary.
True freshman KeiVarae Russell was thrust into the spotlight and came out the guy Diaco counted on to shut down USC’s most lethal receiver, Marquis Lee. Russell, alongside former receivers Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley became indispensable backfield talent as the season progressed. Things will only get better for this young secondary in the next couple of years.
This is a defense that had every reason to fold early. Diaco took the excuses and turned his guys into the best defense in the country.
Back in September – one of two times assistant coaches have been made available to the media this season – Diaco noted that there wasn’t any room on his defense for back-patting.
“We’re interested in building a unit that loves each other, loves being with their teammates and coaches, and coaches with their players. We’re interested in building a player that understands that the minute he decelerates and takes a second to pat himself on the back, somebody is going to pass him by. We’re interested in creating players and developing players that love hard work. They bring the same energy to every task. If they’re sweeping the floor, they’re attacking that job just as they would attack an opponent at 7:30 p.m. on national TV against an arch-rival.”
Better get out my broom. That just inspired me to do some cleaning.