If Brian Kelly looks to promote from within for his next offensive coordinator as he did the last time he had to replace an offensive coordinator, he has two great candidates on his current staff in Mike Denbrock and Tony Alford. Both current Irish assistants would be great hires as the next OC for the Irish each for their own reasons.
Mike Denbrock has a long history with Brian Kelly dating back to their days coaching together at Grand Valley State where he served as Kelly’s offensive coordinator from 1992-1995. When Kelly put his initial staff together at Notre Dame, Denbrock was one of his first traditions. Now that Chuck Marin is head to Miami of Ohio, it’s Denbrock who Kelly has turned over control of the offense to while the Irish prepare for a bowl game that is yet to be determined.
“Mike Denbrock, who’s been with me now for 15 years, he’ll take the offensive coordinator role through the bowl game. I’ll coach the quarterbacks and then we’ll make a decision where we go from there,” Kelly told CSN Chicago on Tuesday.
In short, Kelly trusts Denbrock and as we’ve learned from Kelly over the last four years, trust goes a long way with him.
When Charley Molnar left Notre Dame following the 2011 season for the head coaching job at UMass, Brian Kelly had a couple of internal options for fulling the position – most notably Ed Warinner. Warinner served as the offensive line coach for the Irish under Kelly in 2010 and 2011 and had previously served as an offensive coordinator during his time at Kansas. Even though Warinner had more experience with a spread offense attack, Kelly tabbed then defensive backs coach Chuck Martin – a coach he groomed at Grand Valley State – as his offensive coordinator.
At the time, the move seemed like a head scratcher since Martin spent his firs two years at Notre Dame coaching the secondary and had actually served as a defensive coordinator under Kelly at Grand Valley. The move worked out pretty well, however, with the Irish reestablishing a run game in 2012 on their way to a perfect regular season. The main reason Kelly went with Martin at the time was the level of trust and comfort he had with him.
Kelly had so much trust in Martin in fact, that he picked Martin to be his offensive coordinator despite much previous offensive experience heading into a season where he knew the Irish would likely be ushering in a new starting quarterback.
If there is a coach on the current staff who most fits the profile of Martin prior to being named offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, it’s Denbrock, He knows Kelly and his offensive philosophy well, he knows the current players well, and he’s a dynamite recruiter for Notre Dame.
Just because Kelly placed Denbrock in charge of the offense for bowl preparations though, that doesn’t mean that he is a slam dunk for the gig full time or even that he is the leading candidate at this time. Kelly also has the luxury of an up and coming, rising star on his offensive coaching staff he could choose to promote for the role as well in Tony Alford.
The lone hold-over by Kelly from the Charlie Weis staff, Alford forever endeared himself with Notre Dame fans when he continued to work tirelessly on the recruiting trail following Weis’s dismissal securing a commitment from none other than Louis Nix at a time when Notre Dame didn’t have a head coach. Since then, Alford has done nothing but further cement his reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country for Notre Dame while helping the Irish stockpile offensive talent on his watch.
Either Alford or Denbrock would be great choices by Kelly as the next offensive coordinator of the Fighting Irish and if he looks to promote internally for the position they would be the two most likely candidates. Each would have some pros and cons, of course, and it would make sense for Kelly to hand the reigns of the offense over to each of them for different reasons.
Alford is the younger, up and coming coach, but he is also Notre Dame’s recruiting coordinator meaning Kelly would likely need to find a new recruiting coordinator if he promotes Alford for the position. Martin served as Notre Dame’s recruiting coordinator before stepping into the OC role in 2012 at which point he passed over the recruiting coordinator role to Alford. This is something that Kelly will likely take into consideration as he determines how he shapes his coaching staff for 2014.
As a rising star in the coaching ranks, it’s very possible that Kelly could be looking for another offensive coordinator again in the not too distant future if he tabbed Alford as his OC this time around. Given Alford’s recruiting prowess, how much players love him, and the work he’s done with the Notre Dame running backs over the years it would be naive to think that a head coaching gig is not eventually in the cards for Alford.
Denbrock understands Kelly’s offensive philosophy inside and out, excels on the recruiting trail, and has experience as an offensive coordinator already. Denbrock has a great reputation as being one of the best assistant coaches in college football as well. Just because he’s been placed in charge of the offense for the bowl game though, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s got a leg up on Alford right now. Alford duties as recruiting coordinator with the Irish about to enter the stretch run for the class of 2014, it makes sense to not throw even more responsibility on Aflord’s plate right now as the Irish look to lock up another top 10 class.
Kelly couldn’t be faulted for picking either Alford or Denbrock as the next commander of the Irish offense should he choose to stay in house. In fact, it could be argued that it makes the most sense for Kelly to look no further than his top two recruiters for the role. If he does, however, some further shuffling of the staff could follow just as it did in 2011.