A look at the newest members of Brian Kelly’s Coaching Staff


The 2013 football offseason saw major changes occurring in Notre Dame’s coaching staff. As both offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco went off to be head coaches elsewhere (Miami University of Ohio and University of Connecticut, respectively), Coach Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame football team made some big moves to recruit the talent that the Irish need to build the team up to another run at the National Championship.

Some of the movement came from within the program, as Mike Denbrock moved into the offensive coordinator position, but a lot of outside experience was brought in. Brian VanGorder was recruited to lead Notre Dame’s defense as coordinator, and Matt LaFleur came on board to be the quarterbacks coach. Both coaches come with extensive and diverse experience at both the college and professional level, and both had previously coached under Kelly.

“I think it’s awesome that everybody’s worked with Coach Kelly before,” junior Michael O’Brien explained. “Coaching chemistry plays a huge part in team chemistry, and to know that they’ve worked together before and want to work together again should mean great things for Notre Dame football.”

Starting with the offensive side of the ball, Notre Dame passing game coordinator/outside wide receivers coach Denbrock was promoted to Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator role. This was a fairly logical step—Denbrock served as the interim offensive coordinator during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The Irish put up 494 total yards during that game, including 175 rushing yards against the nation’s fourth-best rushing defense.

Denbrock’s Notre Dame coaching career includes time served as the tight ends coach before moving on to coaching wide receivers. Denbrock helped develop Tyler Eifert into a first-team All-American, Notre Dame’s first tight end since 1991 to gain that distinction. Upon moving to the outside wide receivers, Denbrock worked directly with TJ Jones, who went on to be one of the best wide receivers in Notre Dame history.

Denbrock will continue personally coaching the wide receivers, but the quarterback coaching role will now be taken up by LaFleur. LaFleur has been involved with offensive production throughout his entire career. One of his most notable roles was as the Washington Redskins quarterback coach, where he worked directly with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins en route to Washington’s 2012 NFC East title, the team’s first since 1999.

LaFleur was also an offensive assistant under Kelly at Central Michigan in 2004 and 2005.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to once again work with Coach Kelly—who I believe is the best head coach in the country,” LaFleur told reporters. Kelly reiterated the enthusiasm, saying “The competitive drive to succeed was on display every day during his time with me at Central Michigan. I’m thrilled to have him on our coaching staff.”

On the defensive side of the ball, VanGorder is coming to Notre Dame to step up as the defensive coordinator. VanGorder coached linebackers at Grand Valley State 1989 – 1991 (Kelly was assistant head coach 1987 – 1990 and head coach 1991 – 2003). VanGorder comes to Notre Dame with extensive defensive coordinator and linebacker experience, including as the linebacker coach under Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State between 1989 and 1991.

VanGorder is no stranger to success, as demonstrated during his time with the University of Georgia and the Atlanta Falcons. In 2002, VanGorder helped lead Georgia to a 13 – 1 record on the way to an SEC Championship and a Sugar Bowl victory, as well as winning the Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl over the next two years. While defensive coordinator in Atlanta between 2008 and 2011, the Falcons were always above .500 and went to the playoffs in 2008, 2010 and 2011, including claiming the NFC South championship in 2010.

As Kelly builds up his coaching staff, the Irish continue to look forward to the 2014 football season. Under the new leadership of VanGorder and LaFleur and the continued leadership of Denbrock, the Irish are certainly in in a position to make a big entrance when the season begins.

Kyle Mulholland is a junior residing in Duncan Hall studying computer science and economics. He doesn’t always wear a scarf when he bowls, but he always bowls when he wears a scarf. Contact Kyle at kmulholl@nd.edu.