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Building Champions: The Impact Assistant Coaches Have Had on Notre Dame's Success

Written by Liam Farrell|Senior Staff Writer|Twitter/X: @LiamFarrell_IT

Photo by Irish Tribune

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In December 2021, the Notre Dame football program was in a state of panic for the first time in several years. With Brian Kelly jetting off to the Louisiana Bayou, the Fighting Irish needed to find a new face of the program to direct Notre Dame into a new age of college football.

Notre Dame found their leader in the internal promotion of Marcus Freeman, who, in his two-year head coaching career, has flipped the national media's portrayal of the Fighting Irish. Yet, Freeman's success in producing a higher level of athletes can best be attributed to the assistant coaches he has brought and retained at the University.

Mike Mickens, Al Washington, and Deland McCullough are all assistant coaches that have pushed their position rooms to new heights.

The cornerback room, under the tutelage of Mickens, has become the backbone of the Notre Dame defense. For a young coach, Mickens already has an illustrious track record through his contributions with All-Pro corner, Sauce Gardner. He also fortified the development of one of the best cornerback tandems in college football last year, in Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart, who combined for 14 pass breakups and two interceptions.

Hart is projected to be a Day 2 pick in this year's NFL Draft, as Morrison must deal with lofty expectations as he navigates into his junior year.

Another coach who has developed extremely well is associate head coach and running backs coach, Deland McCullough.

McCullough, who has had success coaching both at the college level and NFL level, has displayed his ability to get the most out of his running backs. During his time as the Kansas City Chiefs running back coach, he developed stars Kareem Hunt and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and was recognized in 2020 as the NFL's running backs coach of the year.

At the college level, McCullough has been able to not only develop, but recruit at a high level, as well. Recently, he has brought in the likes of Kedren Young and Aneyas Williams, both 247Sports Top 25 running backs in the class of 2024. He also recruited Jeremiyah Love in 2023, who got significant touches during his freshman campaign totaling 385 yards and a touchdown on 73 carries.

McCullough's rival coach in the upcoming 2024 Spring Game is none other than defensive line coach Al Washington.

Washington, who left Ohio State to join Freeman's armada in South Bend, has found great success developing incoming players.

Most recently, Washington converted Javonte Jean-Baptiste from a rotational piece to an excellent NFL draft prospect in one season. Jean-Baptiste was not only a havoc in his pass rush, in which he led the team with five sacks, but also was a run stopper, as he totaled 49 tackles.

Washington also developed the internal duo of Rylie Mills and Howard Cross III. It is a testament to Washington's relationship within the defensive line room as well, to have Cross and Mills both return for the 2024 season amidst NFL draft rumors.

As Freeman leads the Irish into his third year as the team's head coach, his assistant coaches will continue to drive the on-field success of the Fighting Irish.


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