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Notre Dame offensive coordinator candidate: Mike Denbrock

Rather unexpectedly, at least by those that watched Notre Dame’s offense up close in 2023, Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker has taken the head coach job at Troy.

Him doing so leaves a vacancy for Notre Dame at offensive coordinator yet again as the Irish will spend part of the off-season searching for a new play caller.  This is the third time in four off-seasons that Notre Dame has had to conduct such a search.

Here at Fighting Irish Wire we will be researching any and all of the names that get rumored or linked to the opening to arm you with the best information on each candidate.

Mike Denbrock is a name Notre Dame fans are familiar with.  Denbrock has had two stints with the Fighting Irish: 2002-2004 when he coached the offensive tackles and tight ends under Tyrone Willingham, and from 2010-2016 when he held a number of different roles on the offensive side.

Denbrock is currently LSU‘s offensive coordinator and is fresh off a season that he helped Jayden Daniels win a Heisman Trophy.  Could the long time Brian Kelly-assistant possibly be in play for Notre Dame?

Let’s examine the well-traveled and highly regarded offensive mind.

Massive Success at LSU

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Over the last two years there have been very few offenses nationally that can even start to sniff what LSU has been able to accomplish.  Mike Denbrock was hired as Brian Kelly’s offensive coordinator when Kelly left Notre Dame and along with quarterback Jayden Daniels, the Tigers offense has flourished.

We all know about how prolific Daniels was in 2023 but his 2022 was incredibly impressive as well.  His 3,798 total yards of offense in 2022 were the second-most in LSU program history, which trailed only Joe Burrow’s incredible 2019.  That is, until Daniels put up even better numbers in 2023.

Great Success at Cincinnati

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Denbrock spent five seasons at Cincinnati (2017-2021) before landing at LSU.  As you likely recall, Cincinnati turned into quite the power during that time which led to Marcus Freeman’s quick rise in the coaching world as well as Luke Fickell’s and many others.

Denbrock called that offense where Desmond Ridder became a household name and Cincinnati became a College Football Playoff program.  Ridder totaled over 12,000 career yards as a starting quarterback and his 44 wins rank in third all-time by a starting quarterback in FBS college football.  All 44 of which came with Denbrock calling plays.

Second Notre Dame stint

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Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Denbrock was among the first assistant coaches hired by Brian Kelly upon being hired at Notre Dame in December of 2009.  Denbrock had a variety of roles with the Fighting Irish:

Tight ends coach (2010-11), passing game coordinator (2012-13), offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach (2014), and associate head coach and wide receivers coach (2015-16).

In his two seasons being the primary playcaller at Notre Dame, the Irish averaged 443 yards per game and nearly 7 yards per play.

2005-2009: Washington and Indiana State

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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Not every line on even the most impressive resume’s are great.  Denbrock has longtime connections to Tyrone Willingham, something we’ll touch on more as we go.  After being fired at Notre Dame, Willingham brought Denbrock with him to Washington from 2005-2008 and coached the offensive line.

In that time Washington went just 11-37, including 0-12 in 2008.  Denbrock then spent 2009 at Indiana State where he was an associate head coach.

First Notre Dame Stint

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Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Remember way back in 2002 when Tyrone Willingham had Notre Dame “Return to Glory”?  Well, for a couple months, anyway?

Denbrock coached Notre Dame’s offensive tackles and tight ends during that time.  Although he didn’t recruit them to South Bend he did help in getting  Julius Jones and Ryan Grant to be 1,000 yard rushers in different years at Notre Dame.

We all know how that run ended however – as everything began to come crashing down after the upset win at Florida State in late-October of 2002.

First Link with Willingham

Jeff Gross /Allsport
Jeff Gross /Allsport

Denbrock’s first link to Tyrone Willingham came in 2001 when he was hired by the then Stanford coach to oversee the offensive tackles and tight ends for the Cardinal.  He spent just one season at Stanford before leaving for Notre Dame with Willingham.

Stanford went 9-2 that regular season and finished the regular season ranked No. 12 nationally.

Coaching Start

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Denbrock played at Grand Valley State University from 1982-1985 and stuck around to be a graduate assistant for a couple of years after.  He then spent two seasons at Michigan State as a graduate assistant before getting hired to coach offensive tackles and tight ends at Illinois State for two years.

He then returned to Grand Valley State as an assistant coach from 1992-1998 where he stayed until spending 1999 and 2000 on the Buffalo staff of the Arena Football Leauge.

The Verdict

Five keys for Notre Dame football to defeat Clemson
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Denbrock is a football lifer and with that comes good and bad on his resume.

What you can’t argue against is his success of late.  What he did at Cincinnati and has done at LSU in two short years is nothing short of remarkable.

Denrbock’s success has come in recent years clearly with a certain type at quarterback (consider it a significantly improved version of Everett Golson).  Not that Riley Leonard is exactly that type but he’s sure a lot closer to being it than Sam Hartman was.  Would that factor in at all in Notre Dame’s pursuit?

Denbrock has had two stints previously at Notre Dame – would he even be interested in a third?

What I feel safe in assuming is that he’d be interested in at least hearing from Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame if nothing else.  I’d be thrilled if he were to be hired as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator but I’m not holding my breath on it happening.  I’d certainly be surprised if he didn’t at least use the opportunity as leverage to get an even greater pay-raise than he’s already earned at LSU, though.

Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire