football Edit

How Gerad Parker emerged as Marcus Freeman's pick for offensive coordinator

Gerad Parker couldn’t help but be pulled in two potentially conflicting directions once it became clear that Notre Dame would need a new offensive coordinator this offseason.

Parker spent his first season at Notre Dame last year as the tight ends coach working for a head coach in Marcus Freeman who he’s known since they were on the same Purdue coaching staff starting in 2013. His first instinct was to offer to help Freeman navigate the process of identifying Notre Dame’s replacement for Alabama-bound Tommy Rees in any way possible.

That helps explain why Parker of all people was seated next to Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Freeman at a Feb. 10 Notre Dame hockey game while Ludwig was on campus to interview and consider taking the position. His job, Parker explained Monday, was to first and foremost do what was in the best interest of Notre Dame and Freeman.



Four days after that hockey game and even less time after Notre Dame’s attempt to bring Ludwig on board was deemed unsuccessful, Parker needed to sell himself last Tuesday in a formal interview with Freeman as a candidate for the offensive coordinator role. Before the interview ended, Freeman was convinced Parker was the right guy for the job.

Parker, 42, accepted the promotion once it was offered to him. By Saturday, Notre Dame officially announced his new title. On Monday, he was introduced to reporters as the Irish offensive coordinator and asked to explain how he navigated his way through it all.

“If my job were to maybe help with how we're going to construct certain interviews, then I want to provide help that way,” Parker said. “But then when my mind would drift late at night when I was wondering, I put notes in my phone. And I'm sure (Freeman) knew that if he knows me at all. I would constantly have things that I would put in.

“If those things were just things that I kept in my phone for next year or the year after or the year after, so be it. But my phone’s decorated with those. And when you put those in, you always stay prepared. Because what a sin it would have been if Marcus Freeman calls my number to do an interview and I'm not ready.

“That's how I feel. That's how I felt about it. And what a shame had I not been ready for this opportunity.”

Parker still has to prove if he was worthy of the opportunity given to him by Freeman despite having a résumé with only two seasons as an offensive coordinator at West Virginia in which he was never the full-time play-caller for an entire season. What Parker doesn’t have to worry about is explaining how or why Ludwig and Kansas State offensive coordinator Collin Klein before him turned down the opportunity with the Irish. Or addressing the messy and public way Notre Dame’s pursuit of Ludwig did or didn’t dissolve.

That was left to Freeman on Monday after Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick sent an email Thursday to those who expressed concern about reports indicating the buyout in Ludwig’s Utah contract proved to be an obstacle. Freeman echoed Swarbrick’s statement that Notre Dame was willing to cover any of the buyouts that were presented.

While the angst from some in Notre Dame’s fan base still lingers over the situation, Parker has gone to work in trying to put Notre Dame’s offense in a better position.

“Nobody is more charged to do this job than I am,” Parker said. “Every morning I wake up from this point forward will be to put my feet on the ground and make this the right hire for coach Freeman and everybody in this organization.”


Parker, a former Kentucky wide receiver from 2000-04, started his coaching career in 2005 as an assistant coach at Raceland (Ky.) High. He’s made stops at Kentucky, The University of Tennessee at Martin, Marshall, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duke, Penn State and West Virginia. He’s coached wide receivers, running backs and tight ends throughout his career. He’s been a passing game coordinator, a recruiting coordinator, an interim head coach, an offensive operations assistant and an offensive coordinator.

The hope for Freeman is that all the various offensive styles Parker has been touched by throughout his career — two-back pro style, spread with fast tempo, West Coast, run-pass option, multiple tight end sets — will culminate in a finished product that aligns with Freeman’s vision for the best path forward for Notre Dame.

“There's a lot of people out there that have had success and maybe not in the type of offense that I want to run here at Notre Dame,” Freeman said. “But to have somebody that can really understand where we're at, to help our guys with the learning curve, and understand and really convey how we'll improve is really why I chose him.”

How exactly will that be reflected in Parker’s offense at Notre Dame? The revelations Monday were more about philosophy than Xs and Os.

“The motivation moving forward will be what can our players do best?” Parker said. “And how do we make the ball go forward and gain yards and score points? If the answer to that question is yes with any scheme we broach, then we're going to do it. If the answer collaboratively is no or it's too much, then we'll dump it.

“We'll move forward, keep things as simple as we can and continue to let our guys make our plays work. Which is going to be a big thing that I've shared already with the guys. We want our guys to take care of the football, we want them to have effort with physicality and we want them to play with great details and make our plays work.

“So sometimes we'll cut the amount of plays and more look at making our plays work against multiple fronts and coverages, so our guys are confident and play fast. That would be where I would start.”

It’s hard to read too much into Parker’s track record as West Virginia’s offensive coordinator given the complicated and seemingly secretive nature of how play-calling duties were handled. The consensus has been that the offense West Virginia operated in 2020 and 2021 was led primarily by head coach Neal Brown.

Parker attempted to explain how everything was handled prior to him being demoted to co-offensive coordinator following the 2021 season. But he seemingly did so while trying to not betray any of his former coworkers.

“A very clear message was put across when I took the job that I would run unit meetings and do a lot of things,” Parker said. “I was involved in every facet of building an offensive gameplan, controlling the players over there in unit meetings and all those things. And that was clearly portrayed.

“During that time, I was offered by coach Brown an opportunity to be able to call plays in different times during year one. Those would be different moments in red zone and different areas. When my number was called, be prepared. When it wasn’t, serve the head coach and serve our offense. That was done.

“Year two at a certain time at that point things changed for a multitude of reasons. When my number was called, I was prepared to call those games and call them in entirety. At that point, that's when things maybe changed to a full scope of calling complete games.

“The details of that I don't think are fair to anything moving forward. But I was tremendously grateful for that opportunity. It prepared me for what this one’s going to be.”

New Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker will be entering his third season as an offensive coordinator but his first as a full-time play-caller.
New Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker will be entering his third season as an offensive coordinator but his first as a full-time play-caller. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

Though West Virginia had mixed success in total offense and scoring offense during Parker’s tenure, the red-zone offense saw significant improvement. Prior to Parker joining the staff in 2019, West Virginia ranked No. 119 in the FBS in total offense (321.9 yard per game), No. 116 in scoring offense (20.6 points per game) and No. 118 in red-zone offense (73.5% scoring rate).

Here’s how those rankings changed in Parker’s two seasons. In 2020: No. 50 in total offense (412.6), No. 82 in scoring offense (26.5) and No. 35 in red-zone offense (87.8%) In 2021: No. 88 in total offense (371.3), No. 88 in scoring offense (25.5) and No. 18 in red-zone offense (90%).

Because Parker won’t be Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach — that role will go to former Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli when the Irish finalize the hiring process — it’s important that he connect with the Irish quarterbacks about his vision for the offense. Parker, who will remain the tight ends coach, already admitted Monday that he’ll be deferring any technical coaching of the position to the quarterbacks coach, but it’s crucial that he’s on the same page with the position group.

It’s easy to understand if grad transfer quarterback Sam Hartman, who skipped entering the NFL Draft and said no to any other potential suitors after five seasons at Wake Forest, had questions about the future he thought he was committing to with Rees as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

“There's been communication with all of them,” Parker said. “But especially with (Hartman) to obviously sit down and talk to him about the direction of the offense to maybe ease some anxieties, because with change comes a lot of thoughts and things that you want to get addressed.”

Parker treaded carefully to not downplay anything Rees did for Notre Dame’s offense, though it can be easy to do so when trying to emphasize how the offense will look different in 2023. And it will be hard for anyone to prove definitively if Klein or Ludwig would have fared better than Parker will this season.

But Parker put one standard in place by which he can be measured: points. Notre Dame averaged 31.8 of them last season. It’s a straightforward goal for a coach whose path to offensive coordinator was anything but that.

“We want to score more points than we did last year,” Parker said. “And next year, we're going to want to score more points than we did last year. So that's the deal.”


• Talk with Notre Dame fans on The Insider Lounge.

• Subscribe to the Inside ND Sports podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Podbean or Pocket Casts.

• Subscribe to the Inside ND Sports channel on YouTube.

• Follow us on Twitter: @insideNDsports, @EHansenND and @TJamesND.

• Like us on Facebook: Inside ND Sports

• Follow us on Instagram: @insideNDsports