Brian Kelly Should Look Within for Next OC

(Photos: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)
(Photos: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)

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.


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  1. There is a middle way, and Bob Stoops sort of initiated it with
    naming his brother Mike and Brent Venables being the co-defensive coordinators at OU. Meyer watched and learned and Charley Strong and Greg Mattison were the co-defensive coordinators.

    For 2014 name Denbrock and Alford the co-offensive coordinators. Kelly will have a more dominant role that he did in 2013 (that was influential enough) and bring both of them along, with one being designated as the play caller in 2015. One of them will probably migrate to head coaching eventually anyway.

    To drew’s apt comment, let Denbrock be the eye in the press box sky and Alford next to the red hats and commingling with the players.

    To Scott Discaino, I think the offense of the second half of 2012 was much better and more reliable than the first half of the year, and the numbers support that. Then came Golson’s incident. But the offensive depth chart is stocked. Playmakers abound at WR, TE, and RB, and Golson will now know how to be a triggerman. He took another leap forward last Spring and Kelly remarked that Golson had made so much progress in unsderstanding the full offensive repertoire, that he was almost too eager to deploy it all.

    And Scott, let’s just watch the 2014 offense. The parts are in place, and, this time, we have a driver worthy of the race car.

    1. Well said Duarnko. It was gut wrenching to watch the team play with a handicap all year. It felt like we were always 7 points down to start a game. I’m not Tommy bashing. He gave us all he could.

      1. Co-OCs could work. As far as if we’ll look different next year, with Golson and/or Zaire, we will look different regardless who’s the new OC. I’m not about to bash TR at this point either, but a mobile QB will spread the O’ in more than name only, and open up the running game; EG and/or MZ’s ability to extend plays, with those young receivers running better more disciplined patterns, will open the the passing lanes as well. A “new look” will be upon us next season because of what the new QBs are able to bring to the offense. And we’ll need every point while several new defenders adjust to
        their extended playing time and role.

  2. I like both guys but are we really happy with the ND offense the last couple of years? Are we a power run team or are we going to air it out more? With Denbrock and Alford would there really be much change? Do we want a change from what we have? I get the feeling that whoever the offensive coordinator is it will be Kelly making the calls regardless. Do you really think coach Kelly doesn’t make all the decisions for the team? We have been a very predictable offense the last couple of years and this year was very transparent because of the physical limitations of Tommy Rees. I really like watching ND rollover teams with the running game but it’s getting harder every year. I really like Denbrock and Alford but it’s about winning and for once I would enjoy the comfort of a few blowouts and stop with the nail biters against teams we have much superior talent than. I think that even if we brought in a guy like Chip Kelly to run the offense that we wouldn’t get Oregon’s version but Kelly’s. I guess what I am saying is that what’s the point of naming a new offensive coordinator when Kelly will be making all of the calls anyway? Are we a better team then we were five or six years ago, yes. Will we ever be a team that is known for a high powered offense, no. Having said all that I am very excited for next years team. At least the opposition will have to factor in our qb’s leg and keep them honest.

  3. Hopefully they both stay. Either would be a great selection and hopefully the other would be given more “power” and $$$, whoever gets the job probably won’t be here long!! GO IRISH LOW tidey

  4. Agree, either one would make a great fit for ND as OC. I would almost say BK would a fool to go outside the organization having Denbrock and Alford.

    Denbrock also was a coach for ND about 10 years ago under Willingham, so he has ties to ND also (one of the bright spots during an otherwise mediocre time in ND football, so don’t let his working for TW concern you).

  5. I don’t want alford upstairs on gameday.his interaction with the players during the game is important, you can see it.

    1. Great point! I read your first sentence and thought “why? is this guy on drugs? TA is wicked-successful.” But your second sentence is an awesome explanation. (your comment made me quickly revisited my bi-poolar disorder)

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