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Denbrock Is Back - Is Notre Dame Too?

Written by Connor Regan|Writer|Twitter/X: @thatconnorregan

Photo by LSU Athletics


Current LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock is reportedly heading back to South Bend for the 3rd time in his career. This came as a shock to both sides, as LSU and Denbrock reached a verbal agreement to a contract extension with the Tigers that had yet to be finalized. Denbrock replaces recently departed offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, who left for Troy University’s head coach position just days ago. With this hire, head coach Marcus Freeman fills both the offensive coordinator and tight end coach vacancies. Thankfully, Denbrock has 14 years of direct tight-end coaching experience and 12 years of direct offensive coordinator experience. Denbrock’s arrival has enormous implications for the fighting Irish moving forward.


Early Years

Longtime friends and colleagues, Kelly and Denbrock had previously worked together at Grand Valley State in the late ’80s, where they first forged their relationship.

The two worked together again from 1992-1998 when Kelly was head coach at Grand Valley State. Denbrock was brought on as the offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, and quarterbacks coach.


1st Stop at Notre Dame - 2002-2004

in 2002, then head coach of Notre Dame Tyrone Willingham announced the hire of Mike Denbrock as an offensive tackle/tight ends coach.

In his time there, Denbrock coached 7 future NFL players between the two positions:

Offensive linemen: Ryan Harris, Jordan Black, Brennan Curtin, and Jim Molinaro.

Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, and Jerome Carlson.

Head coach Tyrone Willingham was terminated in 2004, and Denbrock was not extended a contract renewal by then-new head coach Charlie Weis.





2nd Stop at Notre Dame - 2010-2016

2010 saw Denbrock’s first return to Notre Dame when then-head coach Brian Kelly brought him on as the tight ends coach yet again.

Over the next two years, Denbrock was instrumental in developing two of Notre Dame’s best tight ends: Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert.

Rudolph went to the NFL in the 2nd round with the 43rd pick by the Minnesota Vikings, and Eifert was drafted in the 1st round pick with the 12th pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Both tight ends went on to have lengthy and successful NFL careers.

Denbrock then became the wide receiver’s coach in 2012, overseeing the development of notable receiver Will Fuller between 2013 and 2015. Fuller was drafted by the Houston Texans in the 1st round with the 21st pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

After 2 years as the wide receivers coach, Denbrock became the interim offensive coordinator for the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers and was then promoted to full-time offensive coordinator for the 2014 season while continuing as the tight ends coach.

In 2015, Kelly promoted Denbrock yet again to Assistant Head Coach, a position he held through the end of the 206 season.


Cincinnati - 2017-2021

Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell enticed Denbrock to Cincinnati for the 2017 season as the OC and QB coach.

It was during this time at Cincinnati that Denbrock first worked alongside numerous members of Notre Dame’s current coaching staff.


Marcus Freeman - Denbrock was the OC while Freeman was the DC for 4 seasons between 2017-2020. Freeman then left for the Notre Dame DC job in 2021.

Gino Guidugli - Guidugli worked even more closely with Denbrock on the offensive side of the ball. Guidugli was first brought in as the RB coach in 2017. In 2018, Guidugli was promoted to QB coach, and in 2020 was promoted again to passing game coordinator. When Denbrock left the Bearcats for LSU, Guidugli assumed the Cincinnati OC position before his eventual departure for Notre Dame for the 2023 season.

Mike Brown - In 2019, Luke Fickell brought Mike Brown on as the WR coach. Brown and then OC Mike Denbrock worked closely on the offense for 3 years until Denbrock’s departure for LSU in 2021.





Denbrock, Guidugli, and Brown were all a part of the 2021 Bearcats team that came to Notre Dame Stadium and stunned the Irish in a 24-12 upset in Marcus Freeman’s first season as Notre Dame’s DC. The Bearcats went undefeated in the 2021 regular season and made their first-ever CFP game, where they ultimately fell to Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Uniquely, Denbrock helped the Bearcat’s offense steadily improve each year he was there, ultimately leaving the program at arguably its highest point.


LSU - 2022-2023

Denbrock was again brought in by Brian Kelly as his OC/TE coach, this time at LSU.

During his two seasons with Kelly and the Tigers in Baton Rouge, Denbrock transformed their offense and underwhelming transfer quarterback, Jayden Daniels, into a Heisman trophy winner and the nation’s top offense in 2023.

The 2023 LSU Tigers led the FBS in points per game (46.4) and yards per game (547.8). Their passing offense ranked 3rd with 332.3 passing yards/game and 8th in rushing offense with 213.5 yards/game, making them the only team in the country to place in the top 10 in both. They also led the nation in explosive plays of 20+ yards with 201. 

Because of these wild numbers, Denbrock was a finalist for the 2023 Broyles Award, the highest honor for the nation’s top assistant coach.

Denbrock was approached by Texas A&M, whose new head coach is former Notre Dame DC Mike Elco. The Aggies offered Denbrock a contract that would make him the highest-paid assistant in the nation, but ultimately, Denbrock decided to stay put at LSU.

This is where the drama really begins.

On December 6th, Denbrock and Brian Kelly’s LSU verbally agreed to a contract extension, making him one of the highest-paid assistants in the nation and seemingly taking the country’s hottest OC off the market for the foreseeable future.

On December 8th, the LSU Board of Supervisors met, but apparently, the contract details had not yet been formally drafted to be presented to the board. Thus, the extension confirmation was put on hold until the next Board of Supervisors meeting, which was not scheduled until February 23rd.

Because of this, Denbrock was only bound to LSU by word.

Enter Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame.


The Future at Notre Dame

As of Friday, December 22nd, Christmas has come early for Notre Dame fans. Although not yet confirmed, it is almost guaranteed that Mike Denbrock will be back at Notre Dame for the 2024 season. No official announcement has come from Notre Dame, but LSU has already named Cortez Hankton and Joe Sloan as co-OCs for their matchup against Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl. Let’s take a look at what this means for the Irish.


59-year-old Denbrock brings decades of experience to a relatively young Notre Dame coaching staff and more than a decade of experience coming directly from Notre Dame experience. Marcus Freeman is only 37 years old, Gino Guidugli is 40, and Mike Brown is only 34. Denbrock’s experience combines well with Al Golden, who is 54 years old, on the defensive side of the ball. This much experience in coordinator positions and the surrounding coaching staff’s youth could be a recipe for success.





Denbrock is known for adapting to his talent, which he did while at Notre Dame previously, at Cincinnati, and most recently at LSU.

After Malik Zaire was injured in the 2015 Notre Dame season, Denbrock had to adapt and utilize DeShone Kizer in the starting role, ultimately leading the Irish to a 10-3 season.

At Cincinnati, Denbrock had to work with what he had and was able to grow the offense and their capabilities each season, eventually taking them to the CFP.

In the best example, Denbrock did just that with transfer QB Jayden Daniels. Daniels had a dismal time at Arizona State and, in just his second season with LSU, led the nation in offense alongside Denbrock’s coordination and went on to win the Heisman trophy.

Quite obviously, Denbrock has an excellent track record with mobile quarterbacks and is second to none when it comes to effectively incorporating the QB run game into an offense, and this should extend to incoming Notre Dame transfer Riley Leonard.

In his sophomore year with the Blue Devils, Leonard ran for nearly 700 yards and 13 touchdowns, showing that, when healthy, he is among the best in the country at posing a dual threat.

While Jayden Daniels is just a different kind of athlete, Leonard would, at best, be able to land between his previous numbers and Daniels’ stats of 1,134 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs.


On national signing day, Marcus Freeman said the Irish needed to fill both the OC position and the TE coach position, and in hiring Denbrock, they did just that. Notre Dame has historically had talent at the TE position, and with Denbrock coming in, this poses one of the best coaching situations at the position in years. Not only will the Irish be bragging about having the man who led the nation’s top offense, but they can also brag to QBs like Deuce Knight and 2026 prospects about having an OC that just helped his most recent QB win a Heisman, and a TE coach who has produced several all-pro NFL tight ends. 


Yes, skeptics will point out that this marks the 3rd Notre Dame OC in 3 years, but unlike both times before, it seems Freeman finally got his guy. The fit is perfect; Denbrock knows Notre Dame, has a history and a proven track record over decades, and has proven he can succeed at multiple programs and all levels of the game. With Notre Dame adding Denbrock and finally adding a strength and conditioning coach in Loren Landow, who coached the Denver Broncos for 5 seasons, the coaching staff is arguably the strongest it’s been in decades. With a top 10 recruiting class, arguably the most experienced and hand-picked staff we’ve seen in years, a relatively easy 2024 schedule, and the 12-team expanded playoff being introduced, this could spell a level of success that Freeman’s squad has not yet seen.


2 Comments


Guest
Dec 23, 2023

1. As far as Mike Denbrock, what are your thoughts on how his experience might impact the team?


2. Reading this article on Denbrock's coaching journey, do you think his track record with mobile quarterbacks will make a significant difference for Notre Dame, especially with the potential transfer QB Riley Leonard?


3. Interesting point about Notre Dame having their 3rd OC in 3 years, but it seems like Marcus Freeman finally got the right fit with Denbrock. How do you think this coaching change, along with other staff additions, will affect the team's success in the upcoming season?

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Connor Regan
Connor Regan
Dec 25, 2023
Replying to
  1. The experience factor is what I like most about the move. Not only is it decades of general coaching experience, but a decade of coaching experience at Notre Dame itself is an absolute game changer!

  2. Not to be hostile, but I just feel better about Denbrock handling the QBs over Parker. Regardless, he's done it multiple times and most recently made a Heisman winner out of a transfer QB in just 2 years. I'm really interested to see what that does for coaching, they could be showing Jayden Daniels.

  3. I think cohesion is finally here. Freeman seems to have everyone he wants on staff for the first time, and now we have arguably the most experience at the coordinator positions…

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