Entering his fourth season as Notre Dame's assistant head coach for offense as well as the offensive line coach, John Latina has worked with seasoned veterans as well as talented but inexperienced players.
He has molded offensive lineman into solid players who then were drafted into the NFL. Over the past three seasons, four Irish offensive linemen have been selected in the NFL draft, more than any other position group on the team.
In his first two years, Latina had an offensive line of juniors, seniors and fifth-year seniors who had all played together. The successes experienced by the offense in 2005 and 2006 can be partially credited to the play of the offensive line those years. In 2007, Latina was forced to quickly develop three new starters and a sophomore who surrounded fifth-year senior starter John Sullivan. The progress made by the offensive line in '07 was a microcosm of the progress attained by the rest of the offense. Over the last four games last year, the Irish offense averaged 157.5 rushing yards per game while converting 41.5 percent on third down en route to averaging 29.3 points per game during that stretch. Two of the three best rushing totals of the season came during the last two games of '07 when the starting offensive line consisted of three sophomores and two juniors. Left tackle Sam Young and left guard Mike Turkovich started every game last year and lined up next to each other for the final 10 contests. Right tackle Paul Duncan started all 12 contests as well and returns in '08 as does right guard Eric Olsen who started the final six games. Dan Wenger opened the '07 campaign as the starting right guard before an injury sidelined him. Wenger returned to start the final two contests at center, his natural position, and enters training camp as the starting center.
The 2006 season was Latina's 25th as an assistant coach. He coached an offensive line that started four seniors and a freshman in every game and helped open holes for Darius Walker who gained over 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. Walker's 1,310 yards were the fourth most in school history and he became just the fourth Irish running back to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in consecutive seasons. The offensive line also helped protect quarterback Brady Quinn as he surpassed 3,000 passing yards for the second-straight season en route to receiving the Maxwell Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The line was led by left tackle Ryan Harris who started the final 45 games of his career along with guards Bob Morton and Dan Santucci. Sullivan was named to the Rimington Award Watch List last year and Young earned first-team freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News and Rivals.com.
A key figure in Notre Dame's offensive explosion in 2005, Latina assisted head coach Charlie Weis as the Irish attack shattered numerous records. Meanwhile, his work with the Irish offensive line was a key component in yielding those impressive results. The 2005 Irish offense averaged 36.7 points per game. Notre Dame scored 58 touchdowns (just one shy of the Notre Dame single-season mark) and 440 points (a Notre Dame single-season record) and was the nation's most improved offensive unit, in terms of yardage per game. The 2005 Irish offense produced two 1,000-yard receivers (Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall), a 1,000-yard rusher (Walker) and a 3,000-yard passer (Quinn) - one of only two schools to do that in `05 (along with Miami of Ohio).
Latina joined the Irish in '05 after spending six seasons at the University of Mississippi as offensive line coach and coordinated the Rebels' highly successful offense for five years. He directed the most prolific attack in Ole Miss history in 2003, as the Rebels set school records for points scored (442) and total offense (5,631) on the way to a final ranking of 13th in the Associated Press poll. Ole Miss led the Southeastern Conference that season in passing offense (286.0), scoring (34.0) and total offense (433.2). Quarterback Eli Manning was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and was the number-one overall pick in the NFL draft.
In addition, receiver Chris Collins and offensive guard Doug Buckles earned first-team all-SEC honors (Buckles added second-team all-league honors in 2004 and guard Marcus Johnson also was a 2004 second-team pick). Three other Ole Miss players from that squad signed NFL contracts. There were two seasons during Latina's stay at Ole Miss that the Rebel offensive line allowed the fewest quarterback sacks in the SEC. Latina helped groom some of the best offensive linemen ever to play at Ole Miss. Center Ben Claxton was all-SEC and was a fifth-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 2003. He also developed tackle Terrence Metcalf into an All-America selection chosen the SEC's Most Valuable Offensive Lineman in 2001 and picked in the third round of the 2002 NFL draft.
His first season at Ole Miss (1999) produced a trio of all-SEC picks and All-America accolades for tackle Todd Wade and Metcalf, while Claxton was chosen Freshman All-America. The Rebels finished 22nd in the final AP poll that season. During his tenure at Ole Miss, Latina coached 11 offensive linemen who went on to sign NFL contracts, including first and second-round selections in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Prior to joining the Ole Miss staff, Latina was an assistant coach at Clemson for five years (1994-98), working with the offensive line and helping teams to three bowl appearances. During his time with the Tigers, Latina coached six all-ACC offensive linemen and helped Clemson rank among the top two in the ACC in rushing from 1995-97.
A 1981 graduate of Virginia Tech (earning a bachelor of science degree in education, with a major in therapeutic recreation), Latina lettered four years as an offensive lineman for the Hokies. He joined the Virginia Tech coaching staff as a graduate assistant and helped lead the Hokies to the 1981 Peach Bowl. After spending one season (1982) as an assistant at Pittsburgh (the Panthers finished 10th nationally that season) under head coach Foge Fazio (later defensive coordinator at Notre Dame), Latina became the offensive line coach at Temple (1983-88) under head coach Bruce Arians. His offensive line blocked for first-team All-America tailback Paul Palmer, who led the nation in rushing in 1986. At Temple, Latina coached three players who were drafted by the NFL and four others who signed free-agent contracts.
Latina joined the Kansas State staff in 1989 as offensive line coach and running game coordinator. He spent five seasons with the Wildcats, where he coached two future NFL draft picks and five others who inked free-agent contracts. His 1993 Kansas State team won the Copper Bowl and finished 9-2-1 and 20th in the final AP poll.
Born Sept. 18, 1957, John Joseph Latina is a native of New Castle, Pa. He is married to the former Michele Veltre (also of New Castle). They are parents of two sons, John and Michael.