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LSU Football Coach Brian Kelly Close To Hiring Cincinnati Offensive Coordinator Mike Denbrock

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It took some time, but new LSU football coach Brian Kelly is in the process of making clearly better coordinator hires than former coach Ed Orgeron did before last season.

Kelly, who was hired last month from Notre Dame to replace Orgeron, is expected to hire Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock fresh off the Bearcats’ 13-1 breakthrough season that ended Saturday with a 27-6 loss to No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

Denbrock, 57, has been the Bearcats’ offensive coordinator since 2017 and previously was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2014 under Kelly and at Grand Valley State under Kelly from 1992-95.

LSU’s 2021 offensive coordinator was Jake Peetz, who had never previously held that title.

Denbrock’s offense struggled against Alabama Saturday, but it finished the 2021 season No. 13 in scoring with 36.4 points a game and was 17th in 2020 with 37.5 a game. The Bearcats set school records for points scored with 510 and for touchdowns with 69 in 2021, and they finished No. 8 in yards gained per play at 6.5.

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ritter finished 2021 No. 13 in the nation in efficiency at 158.7 on 251-of-387 passing for 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

“It has been a real emphasis of ours to try to attract as many playmakers to get this offense a little more explosive over the last couple of years,” Denbrock said at a Cotton Bowl press conference last week. “We’ve been very fortunate to do that.”

In 2020, Cincinnati was No. 8 in the nation and 9-1 with its only loss to No. 9 Georgia, 24-21, in the Peach Bowl. Denbrock’s offense was No. 24 nationally in total yards a game at 451 and No. 22 in rushing with 212 yards a game that season.

Kelly, who was Cincinnati’s coach from 2006-09 before going to Notre Dame in 2010, and Denbrock were graduate assistants together in 1987 at Grand Valley State in Allendale, Michigan. Denbrock, a native of Albion, Michigan, was a tight end at Grand Valley State from 1982-85.

In 2010, Kelly hired Denbrock from an associate head coach and special teams coordinator post at Indiana State in 2009 to be his tight ends coach at Notre Dame. Denbrock was Kelly’s pass game coordinator in 2012 and ’13 before getting the offensive coordinator post in 2014. He was wide receivers coach in 2015 and ’16 before moving on to Cincinnati.

Denbrock was Kelly’s offensive coordinator at Grand Valley State from 1992-95, then switched over to be his defensive coordinator from 1996-98. He was defensive coordinator at Buffalo in 1999 and 2000 before returning to offense at Stanford as tackles and tight ends coach in 2001 under coach Tyrone Willingham.

Denbrock followed Willingham to Notre Dame in 2002 and coached tackles and tight ends in South Bend, Indiana, through 2004. He followed Willingham again when Willingham became Washington’s coach in 2005 and coached the offensive line there through 2008. LSU athletic director Scott Woodward was Washington’s athletic director in 2008 and fired Willingham. Denbrock landed at Indiana State.

Kelly just hired an experienced defensive coordinator last Tuesday in Matt House, who will remain with the Kansas City Chiefs as linebackers coach until the end of their NFL season. House previously was a defensive coordinator in the SEC at defensive power Kentucky in 2017 and ’18 and at Pittsburgh in 2013 and ’14. He will replace Daronte Jones, whose season at LSU last season was his first as a defensive coordinator since 2009 at Division II Bowie State in Bowie, Maryland.

Jones and Peetz are expected to be leaving LSU after helping interim coach/offensive line coach Brad Davis coach the Tigers (6-6) in the Texas Bowl on Tuesday (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) in Houston against Kansas State (7-5). Davis has been retained by Kelly.

Kelly, who is not coaching the bowl, also hired defensive assistant coach Robert Steeples last week. Steeples, 32, is a special teams assistant with the Minnesota Vikings and will join the Tigers after the NFL season.

And Kelly may be close to hiring another assistant – Jamar Cain, who was the outside linebackers and defensive ends coach at Oklahoma last season. Cain, 41, was at first expected to join coach Lincoln Riley at USC. Riley left Oklahoma for USC following this past season after interest from LSU. Cain was Arizona State’s defensive line coach in 2019.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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