Among the reasons the Notre Dame offense has become prolific is associate coach Mike Denbrock, who has coached with Brian Kelly for many years.
Denbrock, a native of Homer, Michigan and a 1987 graduate of Grand Valley State University, played tight end for Grand Valley. After his playing days for the Lakers were over, he started his coaching career.
Denbrock was a graduate assistant for two years at Grand Valley. There he would meet another graduate assistant in Brian Kelly, who at that time was a defensive coach. In 1988, Denbrock left Grand Valley to be a graduate assistant at Michigan State for two years. Kelly went on to become the head coach of Grand Valley in 1991. After his two seasons at MSU, Denbrock was hired at Illinois State where he spent two years as well.
A key moment in Denbrock’s career occurred when Brian Kelly asked him to join his staff. iIn his first few years on Kelly’s staff Denbrock was the quarterback and wide receivers coach. In the last three years at Grand Valley, he showed his versatility by becoming the defensive coordinator.
In 1999, Denbrock left to coach Buffalo in the Arena Football League. Two years later he was hired by Tyrone Willingham, who at the time was coach at Stanford. He would then follow Willingham to Notre Dame where he coached the offensive line and tight ends from 2002-2004. After Willingham was fired by ND, Denbrock followed him to Washington to be the offensive line coach. Before returning to coach Notre Dame for a second time, Denbrock spent one year coaching at Indiana State.
In 2010, Brian Kelly hired Mike Denbrock to coach tight ends. Denbrock did that during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In 2012, he was promoted to wide receiver coach and passing game coordinator. He would hold those two positions for two years and then be promoted to offensive coordinator.
By this time, Denbrock had spent about 15 years coaching with Kelly. He did very well as offensive coordinator during the 2014 season working with Kelly in calling plays. After the season, Kelly told Denbrock he wanted to hire Mike Sanford. The 33-year old Sanford was an innovative offensive coordinator at Boise State. Kelly was willing to turn his twosome into a threesome for managing Notre Dame’s offense.
Denbrock could have really upset with the addition of Sanford. But, as a true professional, Denbrock put his own ego aside and agreed with Kelly’s move. The threesome of Kelly, Denbrock and Sanford produced a great offensive team in 2015 in spite of many player injuries.
What could have been a serious problem between the three coaches instead became a group of three individuals who worked together to produce a great offense. We should hope that Denbrock, with his great attitude, continues to contribute to the Fighting Irish offense. Hopefully, the results will someday be a national championship.