The winds of upheaval continue to swirl outside the Gug at Notre Dame this off-season. According to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, Mike Denbrock is reportedly leaving Notre Dame to be the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati. Denbrock was most recently associate head coach and wide receivers coach for the Irish.
UPDATE: Since publishing this post earlier this morning, conflicting reports have emerged on Mike Denbrock’s status with Notre Dame. The post below contains analysis of the impact of the potential loss of Denbrock while our update linked above contains the latest on Denbrock’s status.
UPDATE #2: Multiple sources have now reported that Mike Denbrock will indeed leave Notre Dame to be the OC at Cincinnati.
Of all of the coaching changes that have taken place since season’s end, this one is by far the most curious.
For the past two seasons Denbrock has reportedly been the playcaller for the Irish despite recently departed Mike Sanford being the official offensive coordinator. Sanford left Notre Dame earlier this month to be the head coach at Western Kentucky. Denbrock joins him in leaving the Notre Dame staff, but his move can be classified as lateral at best. For all intents and purposes, Denbrock was like a co-offensive coordinator at Notre Dame with all of his duties. To leave for a coordinator position at Cincinnati is curious to say the least and should be cause for concern with Notre Dame fans.
Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock have a long history dating back to when they were roommates as graduate assistants at Grand Valley State. Denbrock has been one of just two assistants – along with Mike Elston – to remain with Kelly through all seven years at Notre Dame. Elston reportedly stands alone in that category now.
Notre Dame is not only losing one of its best assistants in a while, it’s losing one of their very best recruiters. Denbrock has been one of Kelly’s strongest recruiters since day one at Notre Dame. His loss will not be easy to overcome – especially in the short term with Signing Day just over five weeks away.
Recruiting Impact of Loss of Mike Denbrock
Mike Denbrock was the primary recruiter for six of Notre Dame’s current verbal commitments for the class of 2017:
- Avery Davis – 4star QB
- Cole Kemet – 4-star TE
- Michael Young – 3-star WR
- Jordan Pouncey – 3-star WR
- Isaiah Robertson – 4-star DB
- Elijah Hicks – 3-star CB
Over the past seven years, Denbrock is credited with commitments from 19 4-star players and 1 5-star (Max Redfield). The likes of Will Fuller, Keivarae Russell, Equanimeous St. Brown, Javon McKinely, Brandon Wimbush, Ronnie Stanley, Chase Claypool, Torii Hunter Jr, and James Onwualu are just of a few of the 4-star prospects who have gone on to be stars or are expected to become stars among Denbrock’s greatest hits.
Denbrock has also been instrumental in Notre Dame identifying low ranked prospects who have gone on to become stars for the Irish. Most recently, Julian Love and Kevin Stepherson were recruited by Denbrock. Both rising sophomores figure to be key cogs for Notre Dame in 2017.
Notre Dame Offensive Staff Turnover
Denbrock is the fourth assistant coach to leave the Notre Dame coaching staff – either by choice or by dismissal – since the start of the season. Denbrock is the third on the offensive side of the ball alone joining Sanford and tight ends/special teams coach Scott Booker who was let go at the end of the season. The fourth, of course, is former defensive coordinator Brian Vangorder who was relieved of his duties following the loss to Duke.
In addition to four assistant coaches, Paul Longo will reportedly be replaced as the strength and conditioning coordinator for football at Notre Dame as well. Additional changes could be in store as well once Mike Elko joins the staff and interviews all assistants. Kelly has said since Vangorder was let go that the next defensive coordinator will have a chance to build his own staff. That said, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and linebackers coach Mike Elston are reportedly safe. The future of defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, however, has been wildly speculated about for the last few weeks.
Will Brain Kelly Look From Within?
With three positions open on his offensive staff, Brian Kelly will almost certainly look to promoted offensive analyst and assistant strength coach Jeff Quinn to a position. Quinn served as Kelly’s offensive coordinator at Cincinnati but didn’t join him at Notre Dame originally after being offered the head coaching position at Buffalo. Quinn was let go by Buffalo after five seasons and has been at Notre Dame in various capacities since. He has not, however, been an full-time assistant coach on staff.
With all of the changes on his staff, a familiar voice makes a lot of sense. Kelly faces a make or break season in 2017 and it’s been reported that he is taking back control of the offense in the process. Having someone who knows him and what he wants to do on the staff would make sense. It can, however, be argued whether or not Kelly taking back over the offense makes sense or not. That’s a debate for another day though.
For now, this is a big loss for Notre Dame in the meeting rooms, on the field, and on the recruiting trail. Mike Denbrock has been arguably the best assistant coach under Kelly. It’s been rumored the last few off-seasons he would get a look at a head coaching gig. That didn’t happen and now Denbrock is reportedly leaving to be the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati.
Perhaps Denbrock felt he wouldn’t get a real chance to run a program until he stepped out of Kelly’s shadow. That didn’t stop Mike Sanford. Sanford was, however, seen as a rising start of the cusp of getting a program when he arrived at Notre Dame. Perhaps Denbrock wanted more control of the offense and realized he wouldn’t get it in 2017. Whatever the case, we probably won’t find out for certain even after both Denbrock and Kelly publicly speak on the matter given their long time friendship. What we do know, is Notre Dame now has to replace their two best recruiters while clinging to a top 10 class over the next five weeks.