When Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly went out looking to replace Matt LaFleur, he started his search looking for just another quarterback coach. But in hiring former Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, Kelly decided to rebuild the foundation of his offense.
After some candid conversations with top lieutenant Mike Denbrock—who served as Kelly's offensive coordinator in 2014—the departures of LaFleur, Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks allowed Kelly to revamp his coaching staff.
The biggest move was bringing in Sanford, a bright young star in the profession who'll coach the quarterbacks and coordinate the offense.
"What we were looking for was somebody who could turn the room upside down," Kelly said during Monday's press conference. "We didn't want somebody to be equal; we wanted somebody who was going to turn this room upside down."
They believe they found that man in Sanford.
A grand reorganization is taking place in South Bend. With a head coach best known for his offense getting out of the way.
Denbrock and Sanford take control of a unit that scored more points than any other previous Kelly offense. However, the unit also turned the football over 26 times, good for 101st in the country.
In one of the more unique partnerships we've seen, Denbrock will oversee the offense. Sanford will coordinate it.
"They're working together collaboratively," Kelly explained. "No egos. Best idea wins. That's really the philosophy that we've used for this offense."
After turning down the Central Michigan head coaching job, many wondered how Denbrock would take the perceived demotion that comes with Sanford taking over the coordinator job. But in naming Denbrock the associate head coach, Kelly is turning over many of his duties to Denbrock, giving this move the feel of an actual promotion rather than an empty title change.
"Everybody on this staff has made a commitment that the title that they want the most is a national title," Kelly said, a compliment paid to Denbrock while also maybe serving as a jab to departed running backs coach Tony Alford, who took the same job at Ohio State but earned an "assistant head coach for offense" title.
For Sanford, his immediate focus is on the quarterback position. With Everett Golson and Malik Zaire competing this spring, Sanford has two worthy candidates for the starting job, at a position that will be critical to the success of the Irish offense.
He'll also likely infuse some new X's and O's into the playbook. Boise State ran the football 57 percent of the time last season on its way to a Fiesta Bowl victory. Sanford cut his teeth under David Shaw at Stanford, another run-centric scheme that could transform the Irish offense.
The plan is still being formed. Kelly deflected questions about play-calling—a job the head coach held until the Music City Bowl (where Denbrock called them)—saying the structure is still coming together.
But Kelly was open about his willingness to take a step back from the offense, which would be the opposite of last offseason, when Kelly placed more responsibility on himself after Chuck Martin departed for Miami (Ohio).
"I just want to be part of the solution," Kelly said. "I don't have to be the play-caller. I don't have to be the QB coach. I've hired people to do those jobs. If it means at the end of the day that I don't have to be involved in that and it puts us in a better position, I'm 100 percent OK with that."
All quotes obtained firsthand.