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Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator Candidates

A look at several top offensive coordinator candidates that Notre Dame should look at

For the second straight offseason Notre Dame will go through a search for an offensive coordinator. This is an extremely important hire for Marcus Freeman, who will have a third offensive coordinator in three seasons in charge of the Irish.

In the coming days and weeks we'll hear a lot about candidates for the job, and some will be legitimate, while others will be nothing but rumors. No matter who Freeman hires, the reality is he has to get this hire right.

Notre Dame will have a very talented roster in the coming seasons, and that includes the 2024 campaign. Freeman needs to make a hire that will allow his staff to maximize that talent.

There are several quality candidates out there, and I've put together a list of coaches that I would like to see Freeman and Notre Dame consider. This is my personal list, not a list of candidates that I know Freeman is considering, so keep that in mind.


Current Position: Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach

Denbrock is a name Irish fans are quite familiar with since he coached at Notre Dame from 2002-04 and from 2010-16. He was the team's offensive coordinator in 2015 when the offense set a modern record (post World War II) with a 7.02 yards per carry average. That was also just one of two Notre Dame offenses in the modern era to average over 250 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in the same season. Denbrock was also the OC for a Cincinnati team that went 23-2 in 2020-21, and made the College Football Playoff in 2021, the same season when they beat Notre Dame 24-13 inside Notre Dame Stadium.

Denbrock spent the last two seasons at LSU, where he took an offense that averaged 26.5 points per game the season prior to his arrival and turned it into the nation's best offense in 2023. LSU starting quarterback Jayden Daniels won the 2023 Heisman Trophy.

His past at Notre Dame, history working with Freeman (2017-20) and his proven ability to build explosive offenses are obvious reasons why Denbrock should be considered a top candidate. It could be difficult to pry him away from LSU, however, due to his long-time relationship with head coach Brian Kelly, his comfort at LSU and the fact it would likely take a large financial offer to pry him away.


Current Position: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach

Moore and Denbrock are polar opposites in many ways. Denbrock is a veteran coach with a decade's worth of play-calling experience, whereas Moore is young, has only been coaching since 2014, and he's been at the Power 5 level just one season. But don't let his inexperience fool you, there is a lot to like about the first-year Missouri offensive coordinator.

The Tigers saw dramatic improvement in scoring offense (24.8 to 34.1), total offense (367.6 to 442.9), yards per play (5.4 to 6.6), passing yards per game (212.9 to 273.5), yards per pass attempt (7.0 to 9.1), yards per completion (11.1 to 13.9), passer rating (129.30 to 158.69), rushing yards per game (154.7 to 169.4), yards per rush (4.1 to 4.6), third down offense (39.4% to 44.4%), red zone offense (80.9% to 98.2%), red zone touchdown rate (59.6% to 61.8%), and the Tigers improved from 37th to 14th in offensive efficiency according to the FEI.

I also love Moore's pedigree, as he's coached under Chris Petersen (and played for him), Kalen DeBoer and Jeff Tedford, three of the best offensive minds in the game over the last decade. His philosophy seems to be a pro-style spread offense that can utilize mobile quarterbacks, which is something Freeman seems to covet.


Current Position: Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach

Atkins spent about a decade in the FCS and G5 level, but since arriving at Florida State in 2020 his career has taken off. He coached the Florida State offensive line in 2020-21, and he's responsible for the overhaul of the Seminole line, which was awful in the seasons before Atkins arrived. He was named offensive coordinator in 2022, and the Seminoles have gone 23-3 since he started running the offense.

Florida State went from 27.6 points per game in 2021 to 36.1 points in 2022 and 37.0 points in 2023. The Seminoles averaged 130.2 rushing yards per game in the three seasons prior to Atkins taking over as the offensive line coach, but FSU has averaged 186.2 yards since his arrival. The Seminole offense passed for 3,512 yards in 2022 and 3,373 yards in 2023, with an impressive 53-9 touchdown to interception ratio.

Atkins has a pretty good gig at FSU, so I'm not sure he'd be interested in leaving for Notre Dame. If he did the concern would be that any success would put him on a lot of team's short list for a head coaching opportunity in very short time. Atkins is also an offensive line coach, but he could easily transition into a tight ends coach role for the Irish.


Current Position: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach

Stein is one of the hottest offensive names in the industry and has had a meteoric rise in recent seasons. In 2019 he was the offensive coordinator at Lake Travis High School in Texas before heading to UTSA in 2020. The year prior to Jeff Traylor taking over at UTSA, and bringing in Stein as the team's pass game coordinator, the Roadrunners averaged just 20.3 points per game and 344.9 yards per game (5.05 yards per play). In his lone season as the offensive coordinator (2022), UTSA averaged 36.8 points per game, 476.0 yards per game and 6.4 yards per play. UTSA averaged 300.7 passing yards per game and 175.3 rushing yards per game.

Stein left after that season to become the offensive coordinator at Oregon, and the Ducks turned an already explosive offense into one of the best in the game. Oregon averaged 38.8 points per game and 500.5 yards per game (6.9 YPP) in 2022, and Stein made it even better. The Ducks averaged 44.2 points per game, 526.6 yards per game and 7.8 yards per play in Stein's lone season, and quarterback Bo Nix became a Heisman Trophy finalist.

As is the case with each of the coach's listed above, Stein has a pretty good gig at Oregon. But it would be worth Notre Dame looking into this one, especially with Stein not having the kind of salary that Denbrock currently has. Stein is similar to Atkins, however, in that he's likely going to be a head coach very soon.


Current Position: Pass Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach

Shephard is another name that Notre Dame fans should be quite familiar with, as he was a finalist for the wide receivers job back in 2022, and he should have gotten the job at the time. He ended up at Washington as the Pass Game Coordinator and wide receiver coach, and the Huskies have had one of the best pass offenses in college football in those two seasons.

The Huskies averaged 21.5 points per game and 323.4 yards per game (4.98 YPP) in 2021, the season prior to DeBoer, Shephard and the new staff arriving. In the two seasons since, Washington averaged 39.7 and 37.7 points per game, 516.2 and 469.1 yards per game, 7.2 and 6.9 yards per play while going 24-2. In just two seasons, Shephard has produced three different players to accumulate over 1,000 receiving yards, and in both seasons the Huskies had two 1,000-yard receivers.

Shephard as a great pedigree as well, having coached under DeBoer, Jeff Brohm and Mike Leach. Shephard is also an Indiana native that played college football at DePauw. Shephard was the co-OC at Purdue under Brohm from 2008-21, but he's never been the primary play-caller. He's also never been in a Power 5 offense that averaged more than 151.5 rushing yards per game. Outside of that there is a lot to like about Shephard.


Current Position: Head Coach

Candle has done an outstanding job as the head coach at Toledo, posting a 64-34 record in eight full seasons in charge. Toledo has gone 20-7 the last two years, including an 11-2 record in 2023, which included a perfect 8-0 regular season conference record. Toledo has won two MAC title games and played in the MAC title game three times in his eight seasons.

Toledo led the MAC in scoring in three of his eight seasons, including two of the last three seasons, and finished second in three other seasons. Toledo has also led the MAC in total offense in three different seasons, including 2023. The Rockets were 61.1 yards per game better than the second best total offense in the league. 

Toledo has averaged 199.8 rushing yards per game in his eight seasons as head coach. In his four seasons as the team's offensive coordinator, Toledo averaged 34 points per game, 461.3 yards per game, 236.7 passing yards per game and 224.5 rushing yards per game.

Candle makes very good money at Toledo and he has turned down overtures from Miami to be the team's offensive coordinator, so convincing him to go back to being a coordinator will be challenging. Candle's experience running a program, his balanced offensive philosophy and his consistency are reasons why he should be strongly considered for this spot.


Current Position: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach

Korn is the coach I know the least about in regard to what would be his philosophy, and he's not an overly experienced coach. I'm still doing more digging into him, but the success his offenses have had at Coastal Carolina and this season at Liberty have put him on my short list.

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