Notre Dame assistant O'Leary joining Chargers: What's next for Irish?

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Notre Dame assistant O'Leary joining Chargers: What's next for Irish?

Notre Dame safeties coach Chris O’Leary is turning pro. O’Leary will be joining the Los Angeles Chargers staff under Jim Harbaugh, reuniting with defensive coordinator Jesse Minter. O’Leary and Minter coached together at Georgia State (2015-16) and O’Leary played at Indiana State during Minter’s time as an assistant in Terre Haute.

A program source told The Athletic that Notre Dame was willing to match the NFL offer, but O’Leary wanted a shot to coach at the professional level. 247Sports first reported the news of O’Leary’s departure.

O’Leary also drew interest from the Baltimore Ravens last offseason to join John Harbaugh’s staff.

The move may not be the last on Notre Dame’s staff as the NFL coaching carousel continues after the Super Bowl, but it’s one Marcus Freeman appears set to handle. Graduate assistant Max Bullough could be in line for a promotion to full-time linebackers coach, leaving Mike Mickens a greater role in coaching the secondary. That would allow defensive coordinator Al Golden to potentially float among positions.

Notre Dame’s defensive staff almost got a shakeup last week when Boston College interviewed defensive line coach Al Washington for its head coaching position, which went to Bill O’Brien. Bullough could have been a target to join O’Brien’s staff in Chestnut Hill after he played for him with the Houston Texans (2014-16). O’Brien and Bullough were also on staff together at Alabama (2021-22).

Losing O’Leary will still be a blow, even if Notre Dame has his replacement in-house.

A relative unknown when he was promoted from graduate assistant to full-time coach on Brian Kelly’s final staff at Notre Dame after two seasons as an analyst, O’Leary quickly established a rapport with All-American Kyle Hamilton. It’s not a coincidence the Ravens, who drafted Hamilton in the first round two years ago, expressed interest in O’Leary.

But O’Leary’s best work at Notre Dame wasn’t taking a future first-round pick and simply keeping him on the glide path. O’Leary was instrumental in taking Xavier Watts from former wide receiver to Nagurski Trophy winner. Watts led the nation in interceptions as Notre Dame finished with the top-ranked pass defense in the country. In his one season at graduate assistant (2020), he helped coach Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

O’Leary also helped develop DJ Brown into a reliable veteran safety while also recruiting well out of the transfer portal with Thomas Harper, Jordan Clark and Rod Heard II. The safety position he leaves behind will be better than the one he inherited, even if that was more a matter of player development than high-end recruiting.

O’Leary was his own developmental story in coaching, going from Florida Tech to the Los Angeles Chargers in seven seasons, with two College Football Playoff experiences at Notre Dame in between.

Regardless, it appears Notre Dame already has a plan in place to replace him.

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(Photo: Jim Dedmon / USA Today)