Notre Dame Football: Mike Denbrock

Irish kick camp off at Culver

August, 4, 2014
CULVER, Ind. -- Brian Kelly spending the day with the wide receivers was probably the biggest oddity emerging from Day 1 of Notre Dame fall camp. Everett Golson returned to run the first-team offense Monday, the defense's "D-Boys" chant went on without coordinator Bob Diaco and the punt returners could probably do a better job of fielding undefended kicks, first day of practice or not.

Oh, and a pair of horses looked on at the new artificial turf fields here at Culver Military Academy, where the Irish will practice the rest of the week before returning to campus Saturday.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Everett Golson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondEverett Golson was running the first-team offense on Monday.
"It was good, it was fun for me," Kelly said after the two-hour padless session, the entirety of which was open to reporters. "Obviously you're in this business because you want to teach and being able to get in here and just give them a good base and foundation and some of the fundamentals, I think we've got really top notch athletes at that position. Just really spending a little more time with fundamentals on releases, transition, some of the things I think can really help them develop a solid foundation, they've got a great skill set."

Kelly said that his time with the receivers has not affected his ability to evaluate the quarterbacks, as the fifth-year Irish head coach subs in for offensive coordinator/outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock, who is out for the first several weeks of camp following an undisclosed operation.

Kelly said the program is happy to accommodate Denbrock however it can, as the staff is relaying video to him on an iPad. The date of Denbrock's return remains up in the air.

As for what else went down on Day 1 at Culver:
Notre Dame offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock will miss the first few weeks of fall camp as he recovers from a recent surgery, the school announced Sunday.

Head coach Brian Kelly will assume offensive coordinator duties in Denbrock's absence.

“Coach Denbrock had a recent surgical procedure that will force him to miss the first few weeks of preseason camp,” Kelly said in a release. “Mike is doing extremely well and everyone associated with the program looks forward to his return.”

Denbrock enters Year 5 on the Irish staff under Kelly, and his first as offensive coordinator. The 50-year-old assistant coached Notre Dame's tight ends from 2010-11 before becoming the Irish's outside receivers coach and passing game coordinator from 2012-13.

Denbrock was promoted to offensive coordinator after Chuck Martin left to become head coach at Miami (Ohio).

“I had surgery last week,” Denbrock said in a release. “I’m resting and feeling better every day, but I won’t be able to join the team for the beginning of preseason camp. Safe to say, I’m already chomping at the bit to get back with the guys.”

Notre Dame opens fall camp Monday at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, before returning to campus Saturday.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was hard for Notre Dame to differentiate among its wide receivers throughout the spring. Just ask Mike Denbrock about any one of them -- in this case, Torii Hunter Jr.

"He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road," the Irish offensive coordinator said. "Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."

Hunter saw action mostly on the outside this spring. Like most of his peers, however, the redshirt freshman also played in the slot. He had once expressed hopes of following in the footsteps of TJ Jones, last year's team MVP, by playing all over the field. But he was less direct when asked on the eve of the spring game.

"It just depends," Hunter said. "I just want to play wherever the coaches need me. I just want to see the field. If it does end up being the way TJ was used then definitely that's the way I'll be."

This isn't all necessarily a bad thing for Notre Dame; it's just the way things are until DaVaris Daniels' presumed summer return. From the towering Corey Robinson to the early enrollee Justin Brent, it was an all-hands-on-deck operation for Irish wideouts this spring.

There are no fewer than seven scholarship players fighting for meaningful roles this fall. But the pecking order -- let alone knowing who will line up where to begin with -- is really anyone's guess.

"I don't think that that's going to happen in June, per se," head coach Brian Kelly said. "These guys need so much development work, Amir Carlisle needs to continue to develop. Chris Brown has got to continue to work on a number of things. Will Fuller. A lot of that is development work that in June will continue to take place. Then we're very hopeful that if things go the right way, Daniels comes back to us.

"We got a very competitive situation with Robinson, Daniels, Fuller, Brown, Carlisle. We've got a nice situation there. I think it's a just competitive situation. We've got to get the best players on the field, because the tight end is going to be on the field as well. I like to keep a tight end on the field.

"So we're talking about three positions and arguably you've got, half a dozen guys there that can compete. So what's going to be the deciding factor for me is, I'm not settled on any one of those guys right now. I think it will be a very competitive situation. I think they are going to push each other and we're going to be the beneficiary. Notre Dame's offense is beginning to be the beneficiary."

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 11, 2014
One more time before the spring game ...

Derrick from Warsaw, Ill., writes: Matt, first off, thanks for doing such a great job covering the Irish! I always look forward to reading everything you write! My question is, with all the great options the Irish have at running back heading into the season, how do you see everything going at the running back position? Will one guy get the lion's share of the carries? Do they go with the hot hand? Or will each guy get a fairly equal share of touches? Thanks! And keep up the great work!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I think everyone will get a fair share early. Cam McDaniel is obviously the veteran of the group and will probably "start" the season with the first unit, but I don't see it being a traditional 1-2-3 pecking order. I said it last year (and was wrong) and will say it again now: I do think the bulk of the workload will go to Greg Bryant if he's playing near the top of his game. After all of his talk this spring about being "hungry and humbled," I think the light will click on for him in 2014.

Brian Henighan from Medina, Ohio, writes: During the practices leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl, we heard a lot about how Torii Hunter was looking very good. There was some good hype around this kid before and after his injury. Spring practices are now nearly over and I haven't heard his name mentioned one time. How is he doing/progressing? It's just strange for his name to completely disappear lately.

Matt Fortuna: Brian, I was actually wondering the same thing recently, as he rebounded from his leg injury last year to win offensive scout team player of the year: Here's what offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said when I asked him Monday: "He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road. Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet, but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees' legacy at Notre Dame will likely grow with time.
Jeremy from Bethlehem, Ga., writes: Hey Matt, great job on the blog! I was curious on your take of Tommy Rees' legacy. He has been on the losing side of some games that they should have won, like Stanford. But he has won some big games in his career, such as against No. 14 Utah in 2010, being the closer in 2012 to go on to the BCS championship game, and against Michigan State this past year.

Matt Fortuna: Jeremy, like most things, I think it will only grow with time. Sure, a lot of the turnovers are what stick out in most fans' minds right now, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Notre Dame had flat-out awful quarterback luck in three of Rees' four seasons there. And yet, the Irish were lucky beyond relief to have a guy like Rees who not only knew, but embraced his role, stepping in unfazed every step of the way. And in the one year they had good quarterback luck, in 2012? That 12-0 regular season doesn't happen without Rees being the great teammate he was, relieving the guy who took his job and leading the Irish to some crucial wins. Speaking of which, that locker room absolutely loved him, which speaks louder to anything the rest of us could say.

Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey Matt! I've been looking at the offensive line for this year and it seems like there is a lot of talent overall. I've seen on various sites that they have Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey playing tackle, but do you think Steve Elmer could get a chance, too? Also, I was excited last year when they got Hunter Bivin because he seemed like a great player. How do you see him factoring into the mix in the coming years/this year? Lastly, it seems that the talent of the offensive line has increased a lot. Do you think the offensive line could change from good to great in the coming years or even this year? As always, I love reading your blog!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Thomas. Brian Kelly actually addressed this topic Wednesday, saying that the left guard spot could very well be affected by the right tackle spot, which would be between Elmer and McGlinchey. That could provide an opening at left guard for Matt Hegarty, who has plenty of experience across the line and has filled in at center for Nick Martin this spring. As for the depth question, we'e seen Notre Dame sign nine offensive linemen across the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. So while the numbers are down this spring -- especially on days such as Wednesday, when Elmer had a stomach ailment and the Irish were down to eight healthy offensive linemen -- the addition of four more come fall camp should be a big boost to this group's daily progress.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock coached outside receivers the past two seasons, so he dealt with DaVaris Daniels more than most. With Daniels exiled for a semester because of academic reasons, Denbrock remains in touch with the receiver on a near daily basis, and he hopes the redshirt junior sports a new and improved mindset if and when he returns to school this summer.

"I'd rather not DaVaris make too many decisions on his own," Denbrock said. "I've been very close to that situation. We're in touch at least three or four times a week, if not every day, just to make sure he knows we're thinking about him and we're keeping an eye on him and what our expectations while he's away from here are, including what our expectations for him are going to be when he comes back."

[+] EnlargeDaVaris Daniels
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDaVaris Daniels caught 31 passes from Everett Golson in 2012.
Denbrock wouldn't get into specifics about expectations for Daniels upon his return, but Daniels' role in the offense should be fairly clear.

The Vernon Hills, Ill., native would be the Irish's leading returning receiver, having made 49 catches last season for 745 yards and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Daniels would also be the only pass-catcher holding any semblance of chemistry with returning quarterback Everett Golson, as Daniels caught 31 passes for 490 yards during both players' redshirt freshman campaigns in 2012.

Like Golson, Daniels was suspended from school for a semester because of academic reasons, though Daniels had told that his gaffe was simply failing to keep his grades up. (Golson had referred to his own violation as an integrity issue.)

Daniels is expected to return to school and to the team this summer. He has been training at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, Ill.

"I would hope it would be," Denbrock said of the light now clicking on for Daniels. "I guess I won't know the answer to that exactly until he's really back here in the middle of it and it's the fourth double session and he's still going as hard as he was the first time he set foot back on the field after -- good Lord willing -- being reinstated. I think time will tell. Right now, I think his mind's in the right place, I think he's excited about getting back with his teammates whenever that's possible to do and get this thing going."

Irish lunch links

March, 28, 2014
Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

Irish lunch links

March, 27, 2014
Madness returns!

Irish counting on young receivers

March, 27, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly wants more out of all of them, because that's just the way the head coach is wired. Mike Denbrock is not displeased with any of them, because six practices into spring ball would be an awfully early time for the offensive coordinator to heap any significant praise on a green group.

If Notre Dame's offense is going to break out in the fashion all expect now that it has a proven, dynamic quarterback in Everett Golson, it's going to need its receivers to take the next step. And these final three weeks of spring practice will probably go a long way in determining whether such a leap can occur, especially with headliner DaVaris Daniels exiled until the summer because of an academic matter.

"Now, it's kind of been funny, when I have a question, I have to figure it out as opposed to last fall," Corey Robinson said. "DaVaris played 'W' a lot -- whenever I had an issue, I'd go to him and he'd help me out, or I'd go to TJ [Jones]. Now I have to figure it out, and some of the younger guys who didn't play last year are coming to me and asking me what to do. That's really forced my hand -- and I know it's the same for Breezy (Chris Brown) and C.J. (Prosise). We have to know the offense better and it kind of puts pressure on us to do that so when questions are asked we can help out."

Robinson has raised eyebrows for the second spring in a row, this time for more than just his frame. The 6-foot-4.5, 205-pound son of hoops Hall of Famer David Robinson has asserted himself more after a nine-catch, 157-yard, one-touchdown rookie campaign, with Kelly saying the sophomore has pleased him more than anyone else at the position.

"He does exactly what I ask him to do all the time," Kelly said, loud and deliberately. "And he does it right. Now he may screw it up the first time, but you coach him and he does it right the second time. I love that kid.”

"They try to do it right," Kelly later added of the others when asked. "They all try to do it right. He does it right the second time. He's fun to coach."

Denbrock said the experience of Brown has made him the steadiest of the bunch, as his junior status and 17 career grabs for 265 yards and a score are all tops on the current roster.

It helps that youngsters like Robinson and
Will Fuller
(six catches, 160 yards, TD) got their feet wet last season as freshmen, but there are still projects in spring enrollee Justin Brent and Torii Hunter Jr., who redshirted last season while recovering from a broken left leg suffered in high school.

"If you look at those other guys, it’s still new to them," Denbrock said. "We’re really working hard at all positions on offense because of our youth and gaining that type of consistency play in and play out that you need to control the game from the offensive side of the ball."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It would probably be easier to list the players Brian VanGorder wasn't asked about Wednesday during his first spring meeting with the media. And though few of the guys he discussed outside of Joe Schmidt drew heavy praise of note, it is clear that Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator is a fan of all he has in front of him.

He just knows not everything is going to click overnight.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly, Brian VanGorder
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNew Fighting Irish coordinator Brian VanGorder (center) will coach a talented but young defense.
"There's a lot of mistakes out there right now, which is not unexpected," VanGorder said. "We get a lot of looks from our offense, and we're in the middle of installs, some players are getting a lot of looks being thrown at them right now. We're moving some guys around, trying to evaluate — it's an evaluation period for us, too. We're trying to find a comfort zone with respects to our players' ability and where he's going to fit best for us as we build our scheme. So a long ways to go, but I really like the players. Hard-working, they come ready each and every day. They're just a good group of players and mentally, they're fun to deal with. Good culture."

Being a veteran of 11 other college and pro stops has helped VanGorder fine-tune the installation blueprint, and he joked that he didn't know what the word "resistance" meant when asked if there had been any from his players in the early going.

But combating the coach's experience is the more versatile offense that his unit is facing every day, along with the overall greenness of a group that features just five total scholarship players entering their final seasons of eligibility (Josh Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth, Kendall Moore, Justin Utupo and Ishaq Williams).

"It's a little bit typical of some places that I've gone into," VanGorder said of the installation process, "but I guess the thing that probably stands out here is our youth, we're so young. Really young in the front seven especially. Young players. Again, so we've got to speed the process up and bring them along. That's the objective."

The 4-3 vs. 3-4 debate, meanwhile, will have to die another day, as VanGorder said he wants to be multiple and that the 4-3 base the Irish have often used through six spring practices is more a product of early installation. And he said there's no getting around the fact that it will be an uphill battle for some of the injured regulars (Jarrett Grace and Tony Springmann, among them) to become acclimated with the new system upon their expected full returns in August camp.

Still, the defensive differences from last year to this year have been enough for offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock to notice, beyond the predictably stout play from names such as Jaylon Smith and KeiVarae Russell.

"I think our defensive line as a whole has gotten more aggressive with what they’re doing," Denbrock said. "They’re playing more into the gaps and playing more up the field. Those guys kind of flash on me. I think secondary wise, there’s probably five or six or seven guys I could say, ‘Wow, I like seeing that. I like what this guy is doing. This guy is challenging the heck out of my guys and making them work.’ From Max Redfield to Matthias Farley. You guys have had the chance to see a couple practices, but even the practices you guys haven’t seen, a lot of the characters remain the same. A lot of the guys that are kind of flashing at you in the practices you’ve gotten a chance to see are doing that day in and day out and that’s obviously a tremendous thing for our football team."

Notes: VanGorder joked that his son, prep quarterback Montgomery VanGorder, joining the Irish as a preferred walk-on this summer is "great for Notre Dame." Asked if he wishes he could coach him, VanGorder said: "I learned a long time ago with my five kids, don’t coach them. They’re all athletes. It didn’t work well so I kind of backed off. Gave them things here and there but kind of let their coaches coach them and let me be dad." ... Asked for his philosophy of man coverage and pressing at the line of scrimmage, VanGorder said: "I’d love to do that. I think my mindset is to, especially in today’s game, is to take more and more control on defense by being aggressive and it starts out there. That’s where you start your decisions as a coach."

Irish's lunch links

February, 4, 2014
Good effort by the hoops team last night at Cuse.

Does Zaire have a chance to start?

February, 3, 2014
Brian Kelly was asked a question about Everett Golson, and so he talked about Golson, albeit for 16 seconds. Then he shifted attention to the other dual-threat quarterback on Notre Dame's roster, applying the brakes for the next minute-plus as he discussed another signal-caller who redshirted during his first year in the program.

"I know we're always in this rush to move to Everett, but I just want to caution everybody that we have I think a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire as well," the fifth-year Notre Dame coach said. "And I'm not ready to hand everything over to Everett. I love Everett. He played in the national championship game; I'm like everybody here. But I'm also somebody that wants to make sure that the quarterback position is such, especially with [quarterbacks coach] Matt [LaFleur] now with us, that we give everybody an opportunity to compete for that position, and Malik's going to get that chance as well.

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsMalik Zaire, who redshirted in 2013, continues to receive raves from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
"Everett's doing great. He looks physically like he should be at this time, and the reports have been great and we're very, very excited. But I do want to caution everybody, including anybody that's around the program, and our players in particular -- I'll use this opportunity to do that -- this is a pretty good quarterback that we didn't play this year, Malik Zaire, that's going to get a chance, too."

Few could blame Kelly for reining in the hype machine, especially with a talent like Zaire waiting in the wings. And few could blame those who let said the hype machine mushroom. Golson did, after all, help lead Notre Dame to the national title game in his only season. His name was brought up at seemingly every other media availability with Kelly during the 2013 season despite his semester-long exile.

There was a reason for that, of course. As Kelly said Friday when describing what he wants the 2014 offense to look like, the Irish have lacked the dynamic playmaker best-suited to run his show.

"We have been driven behind the tackles for the last couple of years," he said. "We would like to be a little bit more dynamic outside the pocket."

Golson's lone season certainly suggests those capabilities, with 298 rushing yards and six scores on the ground. And he had been given more control last spring, pre-suspension, with the Irish further tailoring the offense to his talents.

Yet he spent his first year at Notre Dame in much the same fashion that Zaire did, running the scout team while admittedly struggling in the classroom. Both players enrolled early and both showed flashes of promise in the spring game, with Kelly hesitant to use either any more than he had to during the following falls -- which is to say not at all.

"From my standpoint, both these guys are coming in with a blank slate as far as I'm concerned," LaFleur said. "I don't have history with either one of these guys, so I'm just excited to see what these guys are all about and watch them work and see how they compete, just kind of learn along the way."

Zaire was just recovering from a late-summer battle with mononucleosis as Golson was departing for San Diego last September. And it is safe to assume that the Irish are getting back a refined version of their former starter after two months of work with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.

"The reports have been good," Kelly said of Golson. "Physically he's put on a lot of weight, stronger, more mature, something that we would expect. But it's Jan. 31, so there is a long way to go."

New offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, having coached the outside receivers last season, said his old group felt very comfortable with Zaire last year during practice, respecting his downfield passing ability. No one from Notre Dame can comment until Wednesday on incoming prospect DeShone Kizer, who, like Zaire, is a four-star quarterback from Ohio.

And while Kizer will look to make it a three-man race, signs still point to the pair of Buckeye State natives chasing the one-time starter Golson when all is said and done, with Notre Dame advancing its push to look like the Brian Kelly offense many envisioned upon his move from Cincinnati five years ago.

"If you've watched coach Kelly's offenses in the past, I think they encompass an offense that's more in an attacking style," Denbrock said. "He likes to go fast, he likes to keep the defense on their heels, he likes to be very aggressive with what he does, and I think that's the direction we're certainly moving into. With the athletes that we have, we feel like we're in a position offensively to push the tempo more and to put our playmakers in positions where they can make big plays and do the things that all of us hope our offense looks like, one that's dynamic and can score more points and move the football consistently."
Brian Kelly reiterated Friday that he will again call plays next season. New quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will have full autonomy over his signal callers in the meeting room. And new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will put it all together and oversee the entire offense.

That was the blueprint laid out during a joint news conference to announce Notre Dame's finalized staff for the 2014 season, with LaFleur coming over from the Washington Redskins and Denbrock adding more to his plate after coaching the Irish's outside receivers for the past two seasons (and tight ends in the two seasons before that).

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesHead coach Brian Kelly will call the plays this fall for Notre Dame.
"We're transitioning back to an offense that I feel is best suited for the personnel that we have, and I think it's important to really get that philosophy and influence back into the offense, and I know it the best," Kelly said. "And then, once we're able to lay that in there, I think it will give everyone a great visual look of what that offense will look like, and I think it starts with me. I think it's important that if I want that offense to have the look, it's important that I have the influence in some fashion, and this is the best way to do it."

Kelly also shed some light on personnel matters, saying that linebacker Doug Randolph (shoulder), end Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and offensive lineman John Montelus (shoulder) were all expected to be ready for spring ball come March 3. Safety Nicky Baratti, who, like the other three players, missed all of 2013 with a shoulder injury, will be cleared for contact this spring but might be held until the fall as a precautionary measure.

Defensive lineman Tony Springman (ACL, infection) is progressing but has not been cleared for spring ball just yet after missing all of 2013, nor has linebacker Jarrett Grace (broken leg), with Kelly saying that Grace's recovery is taking a bit more time because he broke a bone in four different places when he left the field Oct. 5 against Arizona State.

Kelly did add that linebacker Ben Councell (ACL) and center Nick Martin (MCL) are both exceeding expectations, though neither is expected to be available this spring after suffering their injuries late in the season.

Notes: Kelly said that Notre Dame will still operate out of a 3-4 base under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, though it will again be about a 50-50 split based on personnel. … Fifth-year players will not be announced until after national signing day, following usual protocol, though Kelly said those players know where they stand. and other outlets have reported that Austin Collinsworth, Christian Lombard, Kendall Moore and Justin Utupo are the four fifth-year players who will be back for 2014. … Kelly said he still needs to fill out one more graduate assistant position. Former Irish and NFL safety Kyle McCarthy tweeted earlier Friday that he will be a GA this season.

Irish make LaFleur hire official

January, 24, 2014
Notre Dame made its hire of quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur official Friday, with the former Redskins quarterbacks coach scheduled to meet the media at an introductory press conference on Monday, Feb. 3.

The Irish will also introduce their new offensive coordinator then. and other outlets reported the hire of LaFleur on Thursday, along with reporting last week that assistant Mike Denbrock will be promoted to full-time offensive coordinator.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to once again work with Coach [Brian] Kelly -- who I believe is best head coach in the country," LaFleur said in a statement. "I'm extremely honored to be a member of such an outstanding coaching staff and join the premier program in college football. The history and tradition at this University is unmatched. I can't begin to describe my excitement to get started."

LaFleur spent two seasons as an offensive assistant on Kelly's staff at Central Michigan in 2004 and 2005.

"Matt has a proven résumé of developing quarterbacks at numerous levels of football, none more evident than his outstanding work with the Washington Redskins," Kelly said in a statement. "He was a major factor in the success not only of two rookies, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, but was also crucial in the resurgence of Rex Grossman's career, who in 2010 under LaFleur established numerous career bests.

"My respect for Matt goes back to his time as an outstanding quarterback at Saginaw Valley State. He was an incredible competitor and displayed all the characteristics a coach would want in his signal callers. That competitive drive to succeed was on display every day during his time with me at Central Michigan. He will develop our quarterbacks at Notre Dame to the highest level. I'm thrilled to have him on our coaching staff."

Irish to hire LaFleur as QB coach

January, 23, 2014
Notre Dame will hire former Washington Redskins quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur to the same position, a source told, completing its 2014 coaching staff. The Washington Post was the first to report the news.

LaFleur was with the Redskins for the past four seasons, the last two of which were spent mentoring 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III. LaFleur will now be charged with helping the development of Everett Golson, who re-enrolled at Notre Dame this spring after serving a semester-long suspension last fall because of an academic violation.

Golson helped lead the Fighting Irish to the Discover BCS National Championship during the 2012 season as a redshirt freshman.

Like Notre Dame's other outside hire this offseason, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, LaFleur has a tie to Irish head coach Brian Kelly. LaFleur served as an offensive assistant under Kelly at Central Michigan in 2004 and 2005. VanGorder, brought over from New York after one season as the Jets' linebackers coach, had served as Kelly's defensive coordinator at Grand Valley State in 1991. reported last week that Mike Denbrock, a four-year Irish offensive assistant who spent the last two seasons coaching outside receivers, will be named Notre Dame's next offensive coordinator. Denbrock held the title on an interim basis after former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin left in December to take the head-coaching job at Miami (Ohio).

Shortly after Martin's departure, former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco took the UConn head-coaching job.

VanGorder happy to be back with Kelly

January, 15, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In some ways, Brian VanGorder hasn't changed in the 23 years since he last worked for Brian Kelly, which drew Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator to the head coach in the first place.

"The first thing I wanted in this position is a great teacher," Kelly said. "I think first and foremost when you're talking about the ability to bring together our defensive players, you need the ability to communicate and to teach, and Brian is one of the very best teachers, if not the best teacher, that I've ever been around, and I go way back with Brian."

Tuesday provided a reunion of sorts for the two Brians, who last coached together at Grand Valley State from 1989-91. From there VanGorder held 13 different posts at 11 different stops at the college and pro level, including five total years as an SEC defensive coordinator at Georgia (2001-04) and then Auburn (2012).

The 54-year-old VanGorder arrives from the New York Jets, where he coached linebackers for one season. He replaces Bob Diaco, who became UConn's head coach.

[+] EnlargeBrian Van Gorder
AP Photo/Joe RaymondBrian VanGorder coached the New York Jets' linebackers last season.
And while he wants to further familiarize himself with his personnel before he delves into schematics, his past year in the NFL did provide one hallmark that he intends to continue with the Irish.

"I'm built to stop the run," VanGorder said. "I think last year with the Jets, they were [26th] the year before against the rush. I know this year at least rush average per carry, we led the NFL, and for the most part we were way ahead at one point in time. So I think that part of it for me is all about your toughness. When a team can run the ball on you in our game, there's something about the toughness factor that affects me and how I feel about it."

What VanGorder lacks in the rah-rahness that Diaco brought, he more than makes up for in experience.

He counts Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, Jack Del Rio, Cam Cameron and Les Miles among his many mentors, and he expressed a shared philosophy as it relates to bouncing back and forth between college and the NFL.

"I've always just considered myself a coach," VanGorder said. What’s important to him now, he said, is that “ … the culture is right, the standards and expectations are in line, and the mission is clear. That's really what I'm looking for, so the opportunity to be here with Brian and to be at Notre Dame just makes it all that much more special."

At Wayne State, VanGorder played with Irish strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, whom he called one of his best friends from college. He got to know assistant Mike Denbrock through their separate stints at Grand Valley State.

He has spent all but one year of his 25-year college and pro coaching career on the sideline -- a 2007 campaign spent upstairs as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Where VanGorder will reside inside Notre Dame Stadium this fall was one of many topics the Jackson, Mich., native was not ready to delve into during Tuesday's introduction. But for now, VanGorder is hoping to rekindle the same kind of success he had with his new boss the first time around.

"The one thing I really look forward to are the already established standards and expectations here of Notre Dame and the football program, and certainly the enthusiasm that he has brought to Notre Dame and that I'm going to be a part of," he said of Kelly. "For many years I've thought, as I admired Brian as he continually advanced, that maybe some day we'd get back together, and we had such a great time the first time around at Grand Valley, and I hope that we can do the same thing.”


Irish Flips Top TE Jones, Back In Top 10
National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert discusses the impact No. 1 tight end Alize Jones, a former UCLA commit, will have at Notre Dame.