The Village Voice(s)

Notre Dame's offensive staff looks to put ego and marriage to an idea or ideals aside in pursuit of the common good.

If many hands make light work, the brain trust that comprises Notre Dame's offensive coaching staff is well-positioned for a real (not perceived) schematic advantage in 2015.

Of course, if too many cooks spoil a broth, Brian Kelly's sixth-edition Irish offense appears poised for a less-than-flattering finish.

There's a new offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford. A former offensive coordinator, Mike Denbrock. An ex-offensive coordinator from the head coach's previous stop in the Queen City, Jeff Quinn. And of course, the architect of the offense itself, Brian Kelly.

Throw in new running backs coach Autry Denson and fourth-year tight ends tutor Scott Booker and all that's missing from current Irish offensive staff meetings this spring is the conch shell.

"It's all in an effort to make your football team as good as it can be," said associate head coach Mike Denbrock. "Good on offense is good. If we can get to great, we want to get to great. If we have an opportunity to expand ideas and continue to grow what we already do, maybe do it a little sounder here, a little sounder there -- maybe an idea comes from here, there or everywhere -- it's not just Mike (Sanford) and I exchanging ideas, it's everybody in the room."

Accepting the sport's reality that too many chiefs is at least better than not enough of them, Denbrock's optimistic view of the program's new coaching dynamic is refreshing. As the former offensive coordinator last fall, it was Denbrock that was asked this off-season to be open to change and accept a tweaked role alongside new OC Mike Sanford, the former Boise State coordinator and ex-Stanford assistant who's also tasked with tutoring the team's quarterbacks.

"If you have a chance to influx into your system the ideas, experience, and versatility that Mike in particular brings into the offensive staff room, it gives you an opportunity to grow as a program and improve where you feel you need to do so," said Denbrock whose Irish offense posted nearly 450 yards per game last season and produced 54 touchdowns, eight more than the previous high total of the Kelly era.

"Having another strong voice in the room while viewed by some as a negative, I think it's incredibly positive as it adds to the discussion and makes it better overall.

"It's an open dialogue and the best idea really does win. I just feel like it's mine all the time."

Denbrock's facetious finishing sentence underscores the reality that change was likely necessary to accommodate both a rarity and potential pitfall that awaits the Irish in 2015:

1.) Notre Dame didn't lose much in terms of key contributors, but
2.) They don't know who's best-equipped or fit to run the proceedings under center.

Whether the team's chosen triggerman is incumbent Everett Golson, challenger Malik Zaire, or a combination of the two, the bulging offensive brain trust has a challenge ahead. One's a potentially great passer. One's a potentially great runner. Both could create an unstoppable tandem if handled expertly by…Sanford? Kelly? Denbrock?

The latter will likely spend the least amount of time with the team's most important position players. And that's not a change from season's past, the last four of which have been spent as either passing game coordinator (2012-13) or OC (2014).

So what has changed?

"It's almost exactly the same as it was a year ago," Denbrock said when asked to describe his role. "It's my responsibility to kind of oversee the offensive staff, to construct the game plan with the help of the other offensive coaches. With the addition of Mike into the mix it's another voice in the room to help us try to get where we're all trying to get to, which is put the most productive offense on the field we possibly can. My role hasn't changed that much to be honest with you."

As for which member of the Kelly/Denbrock/Sanford coaching triumvirate will call plays on Saturdays next fall (Quinn's role is a "non-coaching" position), Denbrock deferred to the head offensive mind in charge.

"I'm not sure about that. I will defer to Coach Kelly on that one and let him make the decision where that's concerned," said Denbrock. "I've never known Coach Kelly to make a decision that he didn't feel like it was best for our football team. That and that alone will go into the process."

Whomever is tasked with the high-impact role will be blessed with an array of multi-talented, still-developing weaponry.

"I think there's a number of athletes versatile enough to play a number of spots. I think we can be multiple with moving different guys to different positions (roles)," said Denbrock. "There's a way deeper understanding of the base way that we do things across the offense as a whole which lends itself to that type of versatility with your personnel.

"I think there are a number of exciting avenues we're exploring. Some of it we're examining in the spring and some of it we'll get into over the summer and into fall camp."

Denbrock, who answered that he was involved in "some of the offensive play-calling" during Notre Dame's 31-28 Music City Bowl win over LSU (and added that it was not a change in method from what he and Kelly employed during the 2014 season) has been buoyed by the only reality that matters when he and the rest of the gang gather to share their vision:

They're chasing a championship.

"You've got myself, Coach Kelly, Mike Sanford, Jeff Quinn, Harry Hiestand, Autry Denson, Scott Booker -- we're all in the room throwing ideas around and trying to adjust our offense so that we're in position to do the things we all want to do. It's been a great dynamic so far.

"It's true as much as people might not to want to believe it, but we really are here (only) to try to win a national championship and the rest of it is what it is."

Win big and it won't matter at season's end who proved to be the smartest guy in the room.

Lose five more? It will only prove to be none of the above. Top Stories