Over the last six weeks, Brian Kelly methodically filled his coaching staff. He evaluated assistants already at LSU, identified his own targets and waited for other teams to finish their seasons so he could lure away particular coaches.
The process took a long time. Kelly understood it had to. In some cases, he went after people in the NFL or on College Football Playoff teams. That’s why the last assistant, Georgia wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Cortez Hankton, wasn’t officially announced until Monday — a week after the Bulldogs won the national championship.
With Hankton aboard, Kelly had finally completed his staff. The diverse group brought together three Louisiana natives and another coach who has worked in the state for almost a decade. It combined youth and experience. It reunited Kelly with a long-time colleague. And it solidified who will help Kelly at the beginning of his tenure.
Kelly can now turn his full attention toward improving the roster, which has gained nine transfers, before national signing day next month. But with the new staff done, let’s review the hires.
Mike Denbrock, Offensive coordinator and tight ends
Denbrock and Kelly have worked together multiple times. Kelly hired him in the 1990s at Grand Valley State. Then he brought Denbrock onto his staff at Notre Dame for seven years before Denbrock became the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati.
Though Denbrock received his share of criticism, the Bearcats’ offense morphed over the last five seasons. It shifted from a run-heavy, ball-control approach, and combined with the development of quarterback Desmond Ridder, finished top 17 in scoring the last two years.
Kelly hired Denbrock the day after Cincinnati’s 27-6 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Kelly, who called his own plays until recently, may also add input to the scheme.
Matt House, Defensive coordinator and linebackers
Currently the linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs — he’ll stay with the franchise through its playoff run — House last called plays as Kentucky’s defensive coordinator in 2018. That season, one of the best in school history, the Wildcats held opponents to 16.8 points per game, which ranked sixth in the country.
As he worked his way through the coaching ranks, House was previously the defensive coordinator at Pitt (2013-14) and Florida International (2015) before his three-year stint with Kentucky. He spent the past three seasons on the Chiefs, gaining NFL experience while he won a Super Bowl.
Frank Wilson, Associate head coach and running backs
The day LSU hired Wilson last month marked a shift in public opinion about Kelly’s staff. Kelly was in the midst of clearing out the previous assistants, but he made Wilson one of his first additions, gaining a successful recruiter, New Orleans native and St. Augustine High School alumnus.
Wilson, who left McNeese State for the position, may help the most on the recruiting trail. He helped former LSU coach Les Miles sign four top 10 classes. He’s also a proven running backs coach.
Brian Polian, Special teams and recruiting coordinator
Another one of Kelly’s top assistants, Polian spent the past five years as the special teams coordinator at Notre Dame. The position lets him work with the entire roster, giving him a deep understanding of the players and the pulse of the team. Polian, a former head coach at Nevada, was also a major cog in Notre Dame’s recruiting operations.
Joe Sloan, Quarterbacks
Sloan came to LSU after nine seasons at Louisiana Tech, including the last two as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. With his time in Louisiana, Sloan provided another assistant who has a deeper understanding of the state. He helped Louisiana Tech sign the top class in Conference USA in 2020.
Cortez Hankton, Wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator
The last hire on the staff, Hankton went to St. Augustine High School and played wide receiver for six years in the NFL. He coached the position at Dartmouth and Vanderbilt before he joined Georgia’s coaching staff in 2018. Hankton, who was also the passing game coordinator at Georgia, took over for Mickey Joseph.
Brad Davis, Offensive line
Davis, a Baton Rouge native, was the only assistant retained from the previous regime. He came to LSU from Arkansas two months before the 2021 season, and LSU later made him the interim coach for the Texas Bowl. Though LSU’s offensive line initially struggled as it dealt with injuries and adjusted to Davis’ style, the group steadied later in the season.
Jamar Cain, Defensive line and run game coordinator
LSU swiped Cain away from USC, where he was expected to join Lincoln Riley’s staff after coaching outside linebackers and defensive ends the last two years at Oklahoma. A career defensive line coach, Cain replaced defensive line coach Andre Carter, who spent one season at LSU.
Robert Steeples, Cornerbacks
An up-and-comer in the profession, Steeples was a successful high school coach before he joined the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant special teams coach last season. Steeples, who played cornerback at Missouri and Memphis, bounced around the NFL for three seasons.
Kerry Cooks, Safeties
Cooks followed Kelly from Notre Dame, where he returned two years ago as a defensive analyst. Cooks was the co-defensive coordinator when the Fighting Irish went to the BCS national championship game in 2012. He then coached defensive backs at Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
|Name||Title||Average annual compensation|
|Mike Denbrock||Offensive coordinator/tight ends||$1.4 million|
|Matt House||Defensive coordinator/linebackers||$1.9 million|
|Frank Wilson||Associate head coach/running backs||$950,000|
|Brian Polian||Special teams and recruiting coordinator||$675,000|
|Cortez Hankton||Wide receivers/passing game coordinator||TBA|
|Brad Davis||Offensive line||$830,000|
|Jamar Cain||Defensive line/running game coordinator||$850,000|