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A True Notre Dame Man: What to Expect from Mike Denbrock and the Offense

Written by Connor D'Aquila ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter/X: @ConnorDaquilaIT

Photo by The Irish Tribune


Notre Dame fans were overjoyed when Mike Denbrock was announced as the next offensive coordinator for the Irish back in December. Many were surprised to see him leave Brian Kelly and LSU, where he put together the most potent offense in the country and aided in Jayden Daniels’ Heisman season. He has proven himself to be one of the great offensive minds in college football and should bring a major change to the Notre Dame offense. This will be his third stint in South Bend, the most recent ending in 2016 when he left to take the offensive coordinator role at Cincinnati. It was at Cincinnati that he developed Desmond Ridder and brought the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff with over 400 offensive yards per game, Denbrock also coached alongside Marcus Freeman at Cinncinati, strengthing the relationship, which is one reason why Denbrock is back in blue and gold. Yesterday, we were able to hear Coach Denbrock speak publicly for the first time in his new role. After hearing what coach Denbrock had to say, Notre Dame fans should be estatic for the upcoming 2024 season.



From the Press Conference

First and foremost, the biggest takeaway from Denbrock’s time on the podium was his love for Notre Dame. The 60-year-old spoke about his love for the school and desire to work for Marcus Freeman. “This is a place that I’ve always felt my heart was. It’s where I’ve always wanted to be,” said Denbrock when discussing the decision to leave Baton Rouge. He reiterated that it was not an easy decision, but ultimately, it was “the right decision.” His words speak volumes to the potential he sees in Freeman and Notre Dame, especially when considering how desirable of a situation he had at LSU. This is also someone who has worked with Brian Kelly since the 1980s at Grand Valley State, a D2 football program. Leaving him is only more of a testament to the faith he has in the program being built in South Bend. He also mentioned the proximity to family, which certainly helped Notre Dame’s pitch, but this press conference made it clear that he believes a national championship is on the table for this program, something that seems to become more imaginable each day we get closer to kickoff in College Station.


The other major takeaway from yesterday was the numerous changes to the offense we should expect to see. While the Irish have had success, they have not had the flashiest or most exciting offense in recent years, and that should begin to change. Denbrock cited a shift to a more “spread” style offense. This means we can expect to see more shotgun formations with a fair amount of 11 personnel (1 running back and 1 tight end) as opposed to the multi-tight end sets we have seen frequently. With a slue of receivers joining through the transfer portal and the strong arm of Riley Leonard, this should lead to increased production on the outside. At the end of the day, he believes this change will “allow our athletes to get out in space and make some explosive plays.” So far, he has been happy with the installation process, referencing the intelligence of coaches and players at ND. The true execution of his system will not be perfected until the summer, but it appears they are off to a good start.



A Look Back at His Career

Combining Denbrock’s comments at the press conference with an analysis of his past offenses, a pretty clear picture emerges of what we should expect. Historically, he has tended toward big plays with a lot of shots down field in the passing game. At Notre Dame, this led to two-straight 1,000 yard seasons for Will Fuller, the second of which included over 20 yards per reception. Riley Leonard should be a perfect fit in the system given his balance of mobility and arm strength. Coach Denbrock emphasized that the RPO game will be a staple of next year’s offense, and we have seen running quarterbacks thrive in the system. Jayden Daniels, Desmond Ridder, and even DeShone Kizer all went for over 500 yards rushing in a season in under Denbrock. In the press conference, he also emphasized that he sees the spreading of the offense as a means to open up space for the running backs and allow for more explosive plays from them. With athletes like Jeremiyah Love and Jadarian Price in the backfield, this should allow for breakout seasons between the two. A long time disciple of Brian Kelly, expect some of the concepts from his tenure to return, but this is an opportunity for Denbrock to really take control and turn the Irish into an explosive team. 



Everything we heard yesterday should be viewed positively by ND fans and the commitment of the staff to this program is noticeable. New linebackers coach Max Bullough took the podium and made similar comments about how special this program and school is and how much it means for him to be here. Without seeing the on-field production, it seems that Freeman and the administration have made some great hires this offseason that should take the team to new heights. Denbrock is a proven veteran in the coaching space, who made it evident that he loves Notre Dame. By paying the big-time money for him and retaining Coach Golden, both sides of the ball will be led by some of the best minds in the game.


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