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Brian Kelly talks timeline, traits for next Notre Dame defensive coordinator

Brian Kelly's primary focus is preparing his fourth-ranked Notre Dame team for its Rose Bowl berth opposite No. 1 Alabama in Friday's College Football Playoffs.

Not too far behind that task for Kelly is the need to replenish his Fighting Irish football staff while also dealing with what's becoming an almost annual rite of passage: the possibility that additional Notre Dame staffers might be poached by other programs.

Earlier this month, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea was tabbed as the next head coach at Vanderbilt, Lea's alma mater.

Additionally, sources have told FootballScoop that current Notre Dame defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Terry Joseph has emerged as a candidate to join LSU's staff as they remake their entire defensive staff. Joseph is a New Orleans, Louisiana, native with deep ties to the state and has a cousin, Mickey Joseph, already on the Tigers' staff as the wide receivers coach.

In his Rose Bowl press conference Thursday, Kelly said the Irish don't have the luxury to wait around on seeking Lea's replacement.

“We'll get moving on it pretty quickly,” Kelly said. “Obviously there's some competitiveness involved in this. There are other openings for coordinators positions, so we can't be sitting on our hands as we look around the country or even internally.

“We have to be able to look at this from a perspective of there's candidates out there that are being looked at by other schools as well. So I've got to have that in mind. So relative to the process, we've got to be on top of it.”

Kelly intends to conduct initial interviews long-distance – via Zoom and FaceTime, he said – due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but will then move to bring in finalists for on-campus interviews.

Sources indicated to FootballScoop that Kelly already has been tentatively working to set up potential interviews with one or more Southeastern Conference coaches, and other external candidates in the mix, per sources, include North Carolina's Jay Bateman and Cincinnati's Marcus Freeman, among others.

Freeman has emerged as perhaps the hottest defensive coordinator name in this year's cycle, building off his superlative 2019 work with the Bearcats in producing one of the country's top all-around stop-units in 2020. Freeman also has a direct connection to the current Notre Dame staff; his close friend and former colleague, Mike Mickens, is finishing his first season as Notre Dame's cornerbacks coach.

In-house candidates for the Irish include Joseph and defensive line coach/associate head coach Mike Elston.

But Kelly said the Irish, who have based out of a four-man front, will be open-minded in the interview process.

“As it relates to scheme itself, we've recruited to a base four down (linemen),” Kelly said. “That doesn't mean that we can't play three down, because we do. As you know in our nickel and dime package, we're primarily in a three-down package.

“So as long as the system can marry with our recruiting, that's the most important thing. As long as it marries with the recruiting we've been doing over the last three and four years, I'm open to what the system looks like. It doesn't necessarily have to be always four down. We can be in some three down and some four down. But it can't be -- we're not going to a 3-4 defense. And that's not going to happen. We will be a team that is continuously looking at our personnel that we've been recruiting to match the scheme.”

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.