Notre Dame Football: Denbrock takes on a big challenge as OC


On Thursday Notre Dame announced that Mike Denbrock would take over as offensive coordinator, filling the position left vacant when Chuck Martin left to coach Miami. It’s a smart move for the Irish. Denbrock has been with Notre Dame since 20101 and he’s been nationally recognized for his strength as both an assistant coach and a recruiter.

Denbrock has already shown he’s got the chops to lead Notre Dame’s offense. He was the interim coordinator during this year’s Pinstripe Bowl, a solid win over Rutgers where the Irish gained almost 500 yards on offense.

Add Denbrock to the long list of things that have changed at Notre Dame since Everett Golson withdrew from the school last May. In the time that Golson has been gone Notre Dame changed their uniforms, their arrangement with the ACC and they’ve even got plans to expand the stadium.

Golson’s position on this team will have to change, too. During the 2012 campaign, Golson worked with a kind of safety net in Tommy Rees. Head coach Brian Kelley could, and did, use Rees to spell Golson whenever games started to get out of hand. Rees was a step down from Golson in terms of skill but he managed to fill his role well enough to get the Irish through the regular season undefeated.

It was an arrangement few young quarterbacks get. But that’s all gone now. Rees is graduating, which means that, barring a jump in production from another QB, Golson will have the starting job all to himself next season.

There are a handful of reasons fans should be excited to see Golson in the driver’s seat. Denbrock is known for his ability to develop receivers and tight ends, so it’s reasonable to expect the Irish to field a pass-heavy attack next season. If Denbrock can squeeze 300 throwing yards out of Tommy Rees against Rutgers, just imagine what he might be able to do with Golson.

But all this good news is outweighed by the heavy losses the Irish have taken over the past month. Golson won’t be able to throw to Denbrock’s latest tight end success story, Troy Niklas.2 The offense will also lose George Atkinson III, though Cam McDaniel has already been playing like a starter this season. This offense will not be the same one Golson left last May, and unfortunately he’ll have to lead this squad without being able to turn the ball over to Rees when things aren’t clicking.

Perhaps bigger than the offensive losses, though, are the defensive losses. The Irish lost one of the best players in the country in Louis Nix. And let’s not forget that during their solid 2012 campaign it was defense more than anything that helped win games. That year Notre Dame was able to keep games close enough to mask any shoddy play on offense.

Golson and Denbrock won’t be able to count on the defense to keep them in games next year. In order for the team to succeed, Denbrock will have to figure out how to get Golson playing like a junior with two years of starting experience and not like someone who hasn’t touched a football in over a year.


  1. In addition to his current stint, Denbrock coached offensive linemen and tight ends from ’02-’04
  2. Ben Koyack, new #1 tight end, has shown strong play this year, but he won’t ever have Niklas’ size and will have trouble stepping in to the starter role.