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Notre Dame’s Mike Sanford reportedly to be hired as WKU head coach, leaving the Irish with more to fix

The Hilltoppers seem to have a new coach, and Brian Kelly needs to replace a lot of missing pieces.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is expected to be the next head coach at Western Kentucky, Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel reported Monday.

WKU’s former head coach, Jeff Brohm, left to take the same job at Purdue a week ago. Brohm has built the Hilltoppers into back-to-back Conference USA champions with excellent offenses. Brohm went 30-10 in three seasons in Bowling Green, and former USC and Washington defensive assistant Nick Holt has been serving as the interim coach.

Sanford brings a long track record of good work with quarterbacks. He’s been heavily involved in the development of Notre Dame QB and potential top NFL draft pick DeShone Kizer over the last two years. QB-whispering, as ESPN’s Wayne Drehs explains, is sort of Sanford’s thing:

The coaches and players who've been a part of Sanford's rise say there are no revolutionary schemes or never-before-seen trick plays. He has an innate talent for relating to his quarterbacks -- and calling the perfect play at the perfect time.

Sanford’s Notre Dame offense was good in 2015, his first year there, when it finished in the top 10 in S&P+ despite being 34th in scoring. It declined this year, finishing 38th in S&P+ and 55th in scoring: 31 points per game.

He has a WKU connection from his past, having spent 2010 as the Tops’ passing game coordinator and QBs coach under current Oregon coach Willie Taggart. Like Taggart, Sanford comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree.

He coached quarterbacks under Harbaugh at Stanford in 2007 and 2008, and later worked at Stanford in various roles under David Shaw. In Sanford’s second stint at Stanford he helped Kevin Hogan become one of the country’s most efficient passers.

At WKU, Sanford inherits an offense that doesn’t have any problem scoring. The Tops, who face Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 20, scored 44 points per game this year. Their prolific quarterback, Mike White, still has another year of eligibility, but WKU is certain to lose a couple of star receivers and running backs.

The trick here will be getting more out of a defense that hasn’t been good enough to get WKU to a New Year’s Six bowl as the Group of 5’s top champion.

Sanford’s departure adds to a pileup for Notre Dame.

Earlier on the same day, Kizer announced he’d leave South Bend early for the draft. Kizer’s talented backup, Malik Zaire, is on his way out as a graduate transfer. And while Notre Dame’s recruited quarterbacks exceptionally well under Brian Kelly, there’s no longer an experienced option for 2017. One former top recruit, Brandon Wimbush, is the likeliest starter out of the QBs on the roster.

Notre Dame went 4-8 this season. It was a weird 4-8, which could’ve been 7-5. Now Kelly — who already was in the hunt for a defensive coordinator — needs to find someone to run his offense.

Notre Dame is better than it looked this season, but getting the Irish back on course is a big job.