Brian Kelly's first LSU football coaching staff: 10 candidates we're watching

Adam Hunsucker
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

LSU football will introduce Brian Kelly as its new football coach on Wednesday. In the meantime, Kelly arrived in Baton Rouge on Tuesday and has a coaching staff to assemble.

Kelly has approached both of his Notre Dame coordinators about following him to Baton Rouge, per a report from The Athletic. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman could be a candidate to replace Kelly in South Bend.

Freeman, who was Cincinnati’s coordinator from 2017-20, was targeted by former LSU coach Ed Orgeron last year but opted for Notre Dame instead.

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At 29 years old, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is one of the youngest coaches with that title in college football. He played quarterback for the Fighting Irish from 2010-14.

Here are 10 candidates who could join Kelly’s first staff at LSU

Marcus Freeman

Notre Dame defensive coordinator

Freeman might benefit the most from Kelly’s move to LSU. He could join Kelly in Baton Rouge or stay at Notre Dame under a new coach, perhaps Luke Fickell, his former boss at Cincinnati. If Fickell becomes the next Notre Dame coach, Freeman will be a candidate to take his place with the Bearcats.  

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees watched the OSU defense against Baylor and was impressed with what he saw.

Tommy Rees

Notre Dame offensive coordinator

Rees also has the option of going to LSU or staying put, although that could change depending on who becomes Notre Dame’s next coach. He returned to his alma mater as quarterbacks coach in 2017. Kelly promoted Rees to offensive coordinator in 2020. Rees is expected to have NFL options as well. He was a quality control coach for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2016.

During his first spring practice with the Irish, new defensive coordinator Mike Elko (right) has put a focus on fundamentals. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)

Mike Elko

Texas A&M defensive coordinator

Kelly hired Elko from Wake Forest to fix Notre Dame’s defense in 2017. Elko only stayed one season, but the results were promising. Notre Dame improved in scoring defense (62nd to 31st), turnovers gained (104th to 50th) and sacks (117th to 82nd). Elko would be a solid option if Freeman isn’t available, and would take a solid coach away from an SEC West rival.

Corey Raymond

LSU cornerbacks coach/recruiting coordinator

Raymond has worked with five different defensive coordinators at LSU. He’ll transition just fine under Kelly, who needs a coach with Raymond’s ability to both develop and bond with players. Since Raymond joined the staff, LSU has produced 14 defensive backs that were selected in the NFL Draft and seven first-team All-Americans.

Offensive Line Coach Jeff Quinn during Notre Dame football practice Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 at the Irish Athletic Complex in South Bend.

Jeff Quinn

Notre Dame offensive line coach

Quinn has worked with Kelly longer than any Notre Dame assistant. He followed Kelly from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame following five years as Buffalo’s coach. Quinn has also done tremendous work at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish had two  offensive linemen taken in the top 10 of the 2018 NFL Draft and three more drafted in 2021.

Mickey Joseph

LSU wide receivers coach

Joseph has deep ties in New Orleans, his hometown. He coached the most productive group of receivers in LSU history during the 2019 season. J’Marr Chase, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall made a combined 241 catches for 3,991 yards and 51 touchdowns. Joseph is being courted by Nebraska, his alma mater, per Football Scoop.

Notre Dame running backs coach Lance Taylor took over offensive play-calling when offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was recovering from an emergency appendectomy.

Lance Taylor

Notre Dame running backs coach

Taylor joined Kelly’s staff in 2019 after two years with the Carolina Panthers. He coached Christian McCaffery at Stanford. Taylor also has deep ties to Alabama, where he was a walk-on wide receiver. His father, James Taylor, played for coach Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide.

Kevin Faulk

LSU running backs coach

Faulk, LSU’s all-time leading rusher, has coached the running backs since 2020. Tyrion Davis-Price has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. He was the LSU director of player development from 2018-19. Faulk would be an asset to Kelly in both recruiting and his pro connections as a liaison between LSU and the NFL.

Mike Sanford Jr., Western Kentucky

Mike Sanford Jr.

Former Notre Dame/Minnesota offensive coordinator

Sanford was the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2015-16. He left to be Western Kentucky’s coach despite the Irish finishing 4-8 in 2016. After WKU fired Sanford in 2018, he resurfaced as an OC at Utah State and Minnesota. He was let go at Minnesota on Monday. It’s unlikely Kelly would bring Sanford to LSU as a coordinator, but he could be an option as a position coach.

Notre Dame defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks helped seal a verbal commitment from 2014 defensive end Grant Blankenship. Cooks heads the Irish recruiting efforts in Texas.

Kerry Cooks

Notre Dame defensive assistant

Cooks coached cornerbacks at Notre Dame from 2010-14, spending one season as the co-defensive coordinator. He was the defensive backs coach at Oklahoma from 2015-18 and the safeties coach at Texas Tech in 2019. Kelly thought enough of Cooks to bring him back to Notre Dame in 2020.

Adam Hunsucker covers LSU for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @adam_hunsucker. Enjoy Adam’s work?  Consider a digital subscription for unlimited access.