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Notre Dame Football: 5 Potential Candidates for Irish's OC Job

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

Notre Dame Football: 5 Potential Candidates for Irish's OC Job

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Just as they did in 2008, when they poached Mike Haywood from the staff of Charlie Weis, the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks tabbed a Notre Dame offensive coordinator as their next head coach, this time Chuck Martin, according to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.

    Martin's departure is regrettable but not surprising. Almost every offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly has eventually moved on to a head coaching position, and this is just the next step in that cycle.

    Kelly typically promotes from within, preferring to work with people he knows and trusts. He has his guys and he wants to stick with them; his system has always worked in the past, so why bring in some sort of outsider to adulterate things?

    Here's a look at five guys that could run this offense next year.

Mike Denbrock

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Denbrock has worked under some talented offensive minds during his long-tenured career as an assistant, including Brian Kelly for the past few seasons (he's been on the ND staff since 2010) and Tyrone Willingham before that.

    The work he has done on Notre Dame's staff has been impressive, running a passing game that was surprisingly efficient in 2012. When Tommy Rees hasn't been turning the ball over—which not even the finest coach seems able to prevent him from doing—Denbrock has helped him look like a pretty good QB this season as well.

    Kelly trusts Denbrock about as much as he trusts anybody, having worked with him all the way back to their days at Grand Valley State. Promoting him up to coordinator would seem like a natural move at this juncture.

Tony Alford

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Alford coached at Iowa State before the Cyclones were a Big 12 punchline, and he also helped build Louisville from the basketball-first school it once was into the football-relevant school it now is.

    Since arriving at Notre Dame, he has made himself most useful as a recruiter, but he has also done some decent work with the running backs and slot receivers. This year was a step back in terms of running back development, but with so much inexperience to work with, that might be forgiven.

    Kelly has a longer working relationship with Denbrock than he does with Alford, but he trusts both men substantially. There's no reason the duo couldn't work as co-offensive coordinators, with Denbrock overseeing the passing game while Alford tends to the ground attack.

Harry Hiestand

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Notre Dame's running game has been a major disappointment in 2013, and Hiestand, currently serving as the offensive line coach, has a history with improving such things.

    It was 20 years ago, sure, but when Hiestand was at Cincinnati, he was promoted from offensive line coach in 1992 to offensive coordinator in 1993. Under his command, the Bearcats improved from 3-8 to 8-3, posting the seventh-most points in school history and turning running back David Small into a 1,000-yard rusher.

    Since then, Hiestand has coached under some great offensive minds, including Ron Turner with the Chicago Bears, where he helped a team led by Rex Grossman—repeat: a team led by Rex Grossman—make the Super Bowl. That requires a seriously good rushing game.

    If Kelly wants to send a message to his team and city about the necessity of establishing the run, Hiestand might be an intriguing option.

Alex Wood

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    Kelly won't hire someone external unless he knows them and trusts them—unless, of course, that person has the stamp of approval of someone else he knows and trusts.

    Alex Wood is the offensive coordinator at Buffalo right now, coaching under Kelly's most favorite offensive apostle, Jeff Quinn. Wood also served one year as offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals (under noted offensive mind Dennis Green) in 2004 and was the head coach at James Madison for four years in the late '90s.

    Buffalo's offense has been a surprise revelation (of sorts) in the MAC this year, running the same system that Notre Dame runs under Quinn and Wood's command. If Kelly calls up his old buddy Jeff and gets a ringing endorsement of Wood, this might be a rare time he looks outside his staff for a coordinator.

     

Brian Kelly

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    It would be a bit—alright, a lot—out of character for Kelly to simply assume the duties of offensive coordinator, but it's not a downright implausibility.

    Next season will be an important litmus test for Kelly in South Bend. The offense had a down year in 2013, but without Everett Golson, there were some built-in excuses. No one is blaming Kelly for the poor season at hand, instead chalking it up to an unwinnable situation.

    Another bad season, however, would put a little bit of pressure on Kelly to improve.

    It didn't work out well when Lane Kiffin demanded to call his own plays at USC, but Kelly is not Kiffin. He has always had a savvy mind for play-calling, and if he decides that he is willing to put in the extra work, Notre Dame is unlikely to say no.

    Just don't bank on it.

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