New coordinators try to keep same feeling for Fighting Irish

Published 2:09 am Friday, December 27, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — The goal for Mike Denbrock and Kerry Cooks as interim coordinators for No. 25 Notre Dame was to make the Fighting Irish players feel as if nothing had changed as they prepared for the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.

Denbrock was elevated by coach Brian Kelly to interim offensive coordinator when Chuck Martin left Notre Dame to become the head coach at Miami, Ohio, earlier this month. Cooks went from co-defensive coordinator to the top guy on that side of the ball when Bob Diaco left to take over at Connecticut.

Denbrock said Thursday during Pinstripe Bowl media day at Yankee Stadium that his job was to stay focused on the short-term.

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“I didn’t ever think of it in terms of beyond getting ready for this football game and doing whatever needed to be done to make sure the players had the best opportunity they could have for success,” he said.

The Fighting Irish went 8-4 the season after playing in the BCS national championship game, including victories against No. 16 Arizona State and No. 4 Michigan State.

The biggest change the past few weeks for Denbrock, who was outside receivers coach and passing game coordinator, was having the final say in the plan the offensive staff presented to Kelly.

“I took one step to the left or to the right or whichever direction you’d call it,” he said. “The offensive staff has been unbelievable … It’s as good a job of coaching and getting these guys ready to play in football game as any I’ve been around.”

Denbrock worked at Grand Valley State under Kelly and has been at Notre Dame since 2010.

“The weeks of preparation have been great,” quarterback Tommy Rees said. “Smoother than you probably anticipate when you lose your coordinator, but coach Kelly has a ton of experience and coach Denbrock has a ton of experience so it’s been a pretty smooth transition.”

Cooks said the only change on the defensive side was a slight shift in approach that was more in line with his personality.

“Just a little bit more of, not relaxation, but of allowing those guys to be themselves, and not putting them in such tight quarters,” he said. “That’s a little bit of a change.”

Rutgers has also prepared for the Pinstripe Bowl while dealing with staff turnover, but for different reasons. Coach Kyle Flood fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen and two other offensive assistants after finishing 6-6. Special teams coordinator Joe Rossi has been coaching the defense.

“Coaching defense is like riding a bike,” said Rossi, who has also worked with the Scarlet Knights’ safeties. “You just get on it and go.”

Notre Dame’s offense is essentially Kelly’s and he hired Martin, who also worked with him at Grand Valley, because he wanted someone he could trust to be an extension of himself.

Denbrock goes way back with Kelly — they were graduate assistants together at Grand Valley State in 1987 and was his offensive coordinator at the Division II powerhouse for four years. Denbrock seems like a good fit to fill Martin’s role permanently.

Denbrock’s message to the players about dealing with the departures of Martin and Diaco has been the same as Kelly’s

“Change is difficult at times but we’ve got other people in place that are going to step into roles and make things as ordinary, if you will, as possible so there’s not a lot of change on your end of things,” he said.