Analysis: Parker's next order of business and sizing up ND's O-line field
In the interim between Gerad Parker emerging as Notre Dame’s choice as its new offensive coordinator on Wednesday and the formal coronation on Saturday, the 42-year-old got a jump start on his No. 1 order of business.
Finding someone to replace a legend.
The process of identifying re-retiring offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s replacement had already started before Parker moved up the food chain from Irish tight ends coach to OC/tight ends coach. Head coach Marcus Freeman, though, wanted departed offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ successor to have significant say in who the next in line after Hiestand should be.
Once Parker and yet-to-be formally named QBs coach Gino Guidugli were added to the decision-making process for new O-line coach, the process itself accelerated. According to a source, the massive interest in the job has been narrowed to a handful of viable candidates, with in-person interviews possibly starting as soon as this weekend.
The end of the timeline is a little harder to predict, but a source said it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to have Hiestand’s successor identified by midweek. Or for the list to expand again slightly before the final choice is made.
That, of course, would be followed by the protracted vetting process before the official announcement is rolled out.
Freeman and Parker will have a chance to publicly weigh in on the O-line hiring process, Parker’s own hiring journey, and his and Freeman’s shared vision for the Irish offense moving forward at a Monday morning press conference (11 EST) that will stream live on YouTube.
Perhaps by then the Guidugli hire will be official and Freeman/Parker can address how he fits into the offensive collaboration beyond coaching quarterbacks.
The offense that the new O-line coach eventually steps into will have much more to do with the direction Freeman has decided for the program, and in line with where Rees was coaxing it, and less about what Parker was doing as offensive coordinator at West Virginia in the 2020-21 seasons before coming to ND.
Again, Monday should be a great time to tease out the details.
In assembling and revealing a list of offensive line coaching candidates, keep in mind there’s a difference between those willing to listen and those eager to leave where they are. Philosophical fit is a must.
“Recruiting and developing are both so important in this role, too,” longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of Prep Football Report offered. “But what you don’t want is someone who sees this job as a stepping stone to the NFL.”
Hiestand’s methods and work ethic — both in his six-year run (2012-17) under Brian Kelly and his second tour of duty, under Freeman, last season — pervaded Notre Dame’s entire football culture and identity.
You could argue that it also did during the Jeff Quinn years in between (2018-21), but that Quinn’s shortcoming was not being technique-driven enough in his teachings.
When all is considered, here’s our list, including a couple of long shots:
Joe Rudolph (Virginia Tech)
Brian Callahan (Minnesota)
Ron Crook (South Dakota)
Scott Huff (Washington)
Darrell Funk (BYU)
Cody Kennedy (Arkansas)
Matt Luke (Formerly of Georgia)
Chris Watt (GA at Notre Dame)
► Rudolph, 50, is the candidate who feels the most ideal. His recent seven-year run of elite development at Wisconsin (2015-21) combined with ND’s branding and its own development track record feels like an attractive dynamic on the recruiting trail.
He’s got offensive coordinator experience and has played in the NFL.
Oklahoma’s Bill Bedenbaugh, 50, has a similar vibe and a Joe Moore Award, but he seems much less realistic for him to want to make a move.
► Brian Callahan, 54, and Cody Kennedy, 33, are both ascending and both are considered strong recruiters/developers.
“It doesn’t matter that Kennedy has only coached in the south and mainly recruited there,” Lemming said. “If you can recruit, you can recruit.”
► Scott Huff, 43, brings stability and not because he’s not wanted elsewhere. Beyond his grad assistant days at Arizona State, he spent 11 seasons at Boise State and the last six at Washington. He was the only assistant Kalen DeBoer retained when he took over the Washington program following the 2021 season.
► The familiarity card gets dismissed too quickly sometimes because of the Brian Kelly 2014 hiring of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, in particular, but there’s something to be said for built-in staff chemistry and common ground philosophically.
Darrell Funk, 58, has crossed paths with both Parker and Freeman. Ron Crook, 54, worked with Freeman, and more so Guidugli, at Cincinnati. Watt, 32, obviously worked with Freeman, Parker and the 64-year-old Hiestand this past season and played for Hiestand (2012-13) before embarking on an NFL career.
He’s probably the closest thing there is to a Hiestand protégé and yet he has one year of full-time head coaching experience (Tulane 2021) and four total, including three as a GA in two separate stints at Notre Dame.
That makes him a long shot at this juncture. The best-case scenario for ND would be for him to continue in his current role.
► Of the available/intriguing coaches who sat out 2022, by choice or by circumstance, Matt Luke stands out. The 46-year-old former Ole Miss head coach spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons coaching Georgia’s offensive line but stepped away last season to spend more time with family.
But is he ready to come back?
Whoever follows Hiestand this time inherits an All-American at left tackle in Joe Alt and one on a similar trajectory in right tackle Blake Fisher as well as a wealth of interior O-line talent and plenty of depth.
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