Coordinators Notre Dame Should Pursue
Over the last three years Notre Dame had its best three-year stretch of offense during the Brian Kelly era, and the recruiting on that side of the ball matched the production.
Whoever replaces Chip Long will have the resources to put an outstanding offense on the field. Sources have been telling me for weeks that Kelly is leaning towards naming current quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees as the offensive coordinator. Rees will get an audition for the bowl game, but the reality is Rees lacks the overall coaching experience and maturity to be an offensive coordinator for a program that is competing for championships.
That means if Kelly is serious about competing for championships he needs to open up the process and bring in someone with the experience, not the potential, to build this offense into one of the nation’s elite groups.
There are a list of candidates that I believe Notre Dame should make a strong run at to replace Long.
Bill Bedenbaugh, Oklahoma — Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line — Prying Bedenbaugh away from Oklahoma is likely a pipe dream, but not calling him and making a legitimate run at him would be a mistake. Bedenbaugh has proven himself as arguably the premier offensive line coach in the country, and his lines have fueled an offense that has finished in the Top 5 in scoring in each of the last five seasons.
The Oklahoma pass attack gets much of the attention, but Oklahoma has averaged between 217.8 and 261.2 rushing yards in each of Bedenbaugh’s seven seasons in Norman. Notre Dame already has coaches in place (Rees, Lance Taylor, Del Alexander) with extensive pass game experience, which would combine with Bedenbaugh’s line coaching and run game prowess to give the Irish an outstanding offense.
Bedenbaugh’s experience is in the Air Raid, having worked with Lincoln Riley the last five seasons and former West Virginia coach Dana Holgoren (2011-12). Unlike most Air Raid’s, Riley and Bedenbaugh have built an offense that looks to establish the run week after week. Oklahoma racked up at least 201 yards in 10 games this season.
Mike Yurcich, Ohio State — Pass Game Coordinator/QB Coach — Yurcich is in his first season with Ohio State, and the Buckeyes had a truly elite offense this season. First-year starting quarterback Justin Fields - a true sophomore - finishing the season with 2,953 passing yards, 40 passing touchdowns and just one interception.
Prior to his time at Ohio State, Yurcich was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State (2013-18). Oklahoma State averaged between 38.4 and 45.0 points per game from 2015-18, and had between 480.0 to 568.9 yards per game. Oklahoma State averaged between 170.9 to 190.3 rushing yards in the final three games, and averaged at least 309.8 passing yards per season.
In 2017, Oklahoma State had a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers.
My personal preference is to have an offense that is more potent running the ball, but Kelly has made it clear throughout his career that it’s not a necessity for him. Kelly has always wanted a versatile and explosive pass attack, which would make Yurcich a great fit for Notre Dame. He has an extensive background in developing explosive passing games, spreading the ball around and using the run game effectively enough to do damage.
Kalen DeBoer, Indiana — Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks — DeBoer first got on my radar during his two seasons at Fresno State, and he impressed me quite a bit during his first season at Indiana. DeBoer came up through the small school ranks, and was a head coach at Sioux Falls from 2005-09, compiling a 67-3 record and winning three NAIA national championships. That background has helped him turn into an outstanding teacher, and you can see that with how his teams play.
Indiana used two quarterbacks this season, including redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. The young quarterback was picked off twice in his first start, but over his next five games, Penix passed for nine touchdowns and threw just two picks before suffering a season-ending injury. His passer rating of 157.57 is quite impressive. His other quarterback was Peyton Ramsey, who saw his rating go from 128.24 in 2018 to 152.61 in 2019.
Indiana made a big jump in scoring average, yards per game and yards per play in DeBoer’s first season. At the same time, Fresno State saw a big dip in production in its first season without him. Indiana went from 5-7 in 2018 to 8-4 in 2019, and DeBoer’s offense was a big part of that. Fresno State went from 12-2 in his final season to 4-8 in 2019.
DeBoer’s offense is creative, aggressive and performed well against several top defenses. It finished the 2019 season ranked 21st in offensive efficiency, which is six spots higher than Notre Dame despite the Hoosiers having far less talent across the board.
Mike Denbrock, Cincinnati — Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends — if Kelly is dead set on staying within his “coaching tree” then he needs to have a reunion with Denbrock instead of going with Rees. When Denbrock had full control of the offense (2015) the Irish were dynamic. When he had less control (2016) the offense suffered. Denbrock gets Notre Dame, he’s a high character person and he’s a strong recruiter.
This has nothing to do with Denbrock, for whom I have a great deal of respect, but I’d rather see fresh blood and a new voice. But if Kelly wants someone he knows, Denbrock would be a great choice.