football Edit

How Notre Dame moves on from OC search is now what matters most

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick on Thursday sent out a mass email to people who had emailed him critical about ND's search for an offensive coordinator.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick on Thursday sent out a mass email to people who had emailed him critical about ND's search for an offensive coordinator. (Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press)

In a matter of hours, perhaps rather than days, Notre Dame second-year tight ends coach Gerad Parker will be formally elevated to offensive coordinator, and sometime after that he’ll have a newly officially anointed sidekick in quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli.

Angst has been the most common reaction to the impending development, much of which has little to do with Parker’s own aptitude. Rather, it’s the process.

The accuracy in depicting how head coach Marcus Freeman arrived at the Parker/Guidugli combo matters, because it speaks to the level of support he has or doesn’t have from the administration and what he can expect along those lines in the future.

It also helps shape the outside perception of the ND athletic department and serves as another checkpoint to gauge how ready the Irish administration is when it comes to dealing with the new college football world order being thrust upon Notre Dame and 130 other FBS schools.

It took 12 days from the time outgoing Tommy Rees accepted his new position as offensive coordinator/QBs coach at Alabama, to Freeman opting to go with a 42-year-old internal candidate with limited OC experience. That, when there was so much outside interest in what’s being framed as likely the most consequential hire Freeman has made or will make during the entirety of his run as Notre Dame’s head football coach.

One day later, late Thursday afternoon to be exact, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick felt compelled to send a mass email to those who had emailed him in an attempt to explain that the process didn’t include balking at any candidate’s contract buyout, a perceived deal-breaker with Utah offensive coordinator/QBs coach Andy Ludwig based on a well-connected reporter’s tweet on Monday night.




To be clear, Ludwig wasn’t mentioned by name in Swarbrick’s email. Nor the size of the buyout, reported to be $2.8 million.

Sources familiar with the search process helped provide valuable context and a rough timeline but left enough holes to deem plausible both the original presumptions of Notre Dame having grander ambitions than the price it was willing to pay for them and Swarbrick’s rebuttal.

Here’s the upside for believers and skeptics alike: Swarbrick is now on record on what Notre Dame’s commitment should look like.

And if the mass pushback and universal disillusionment within the Notre Dame family in proportions rarely seen in decades provided a wakeup call, a consistent pattern of accountable actions must ensue.

Or his email box won’t be able to handle the bandwidth.

Starting with the still-open offensive line coaching vacancy created Sunday when coaching icon Harry Hiestand re-retired.

There are more high-stakes opportunities ahead, not all of which require deep pockets: The need for an evolving and agile NIL strategy, for finding compromise in self-imposed transfer portal hurdles, keeping up just pragmatically, not just for opulence sake, in the arms race for facilities.

In other words, a recalibration of how Notre Dame sees itself in a seismically changing college athletics culture and a plan for how it’s going to thrive in it instead of playing the survival game and risking ceding the ground the Irish program fought so hard for following its 4-8 cratering in 2016.

An outline of which probably would have gone over better than the solicitation of funds near the end of Swarbrick’s email response.

The offensive coordinator search itself elicited lots of interest from potential Rees' replacements. But Freeman knew what kind of offense he wanted to run — a pro-style offense — and schematic match was a key criterion in the search.

Only three known candidates interviewed in South Bend: Kansas State’s Collin Klein followed by Ludwig, followed by Parker. The 58-year-old Ludwig had the best résumé among them.

He visited Friday, including making a very public appearance with Freeman and Parker at the Notre Dame-Ohio State hockey game on Friday night before leaving back to Salt Lake City on Saturday night.

Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding, who had his own seven-figure buyout, would have been part of a package deal.

“We communicated clearly in each and every instance that any offer we made would include our funding of their buyout with their current institution,” Swarbrick wrote in his email. “To the extent the buyout was an ‘obstacle’ in the case of one candidate, that was true of a brief period of time only because of conflicting information that had been provided to us regarding the amount and mechanics of the buyout. However, it was an obstacle we knew could be quickly resolved.”

Then why didn’t it?

A source said once Ludwig had the chance to talk to his head coach, Kyle Whittingham, about the Notre Dame opportunity on Monday, he retreated to the fence, unable to commit either way in the moment. At some point on Tuesday, a source said the two sides elected to move on, with Ludwig staying at Utah.

Here’s the gray area. There’s no trail at this point that indicates who on Notre Dame's end actually made the decision to move on and only a vague “why” they did — something to the effect that at some point it shouldn’t be this hard to convince someone to come to Notre Dame.

But it should be noted that part of Freeman’s recruiting prowess when dealing with high school prospects is that he’s willing to be relentless about pushing through that very same wall.

The other fuzzy detail is if you’re going to set the record straight about the mass interpretation (or misinterpretation) of ESPN reporter Pete Thamel’s Monday night tweet, then why not do so in the moment rather than three days later? Well, at least through Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame was still in talks with Ludwig.

It’s expected Marcus Freeman will get his chance to speak publicly sooner than later — and either answer those questions or offer up word salads. Given his streak of authenticity since his took the job, Freeman's approach should be telling.

Freeman’s very recruiting model is built on selling his vision for the program and the trust he builds with prospects, including when it comes to the inevitable movement of position coaches and coordinators in and out of the program.

Elite 2024 QB commit CJ Carr didn’t flinch at Rees’ departure to Alabama, because he believed Freeman had the ability to attract a replacement who might turn out to be even better than Rees and that the ND athletic administration would have his back in pursuing that.

Moving forward, Freeman and the Notre Dame administration can’t afford for only half that supposition to be true.

Were AD Jack Swarbrick (left) and Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman in lock step when it came to moving on from reportedly indecisive Utah OC Andy Ludwig?
Were AD Jack Swarbrick (left) and Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman in lock step when it came to moving on from reportedly indecisive Utah OC Andy Ludwig? (Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports)


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