Photo credits: Chad Ryan for Fighting Irish Preview (L) and Courtesy of Irish Illustrated/247 (R)
On Monday Marcus Freeman went before the press to announce Gerad Parker as the new offensive coordinator, and to set the record straight regarding the process that led to Parker’s hiring.
“At no time during this process did I not have the support of Jack Swarbrick and the administration. I want to be very crystal clear about that. At no point during this process or since that I’ve been here do I not feel that I’ve had the support of our administration and Jack. He’s offered to pay whatever buyout there’s been.” With that statement Freeman did his best to put to rest the outcry over ND’s alleged reticence to pay the contract buyout that would have reportedly brought Utah OC Andy Ludwig to ND.
When asked about the perception some fans have that Notre Dame isn’t committed to winning a National Championship, Freeman seemed to gather himself before emphatically stating, “I don’t see any other way that they can show more commitment to us having success. Now, it could be with coaching salaries, that can be with NIL, that can be with the support of our football program and continuing to enhance everything we do. Facilities, training table, whatever it is that we believe our program needs to continue to climb to the mountaintop, I’ve had the full support by the administration and Jack.”
As to the hiring of former tight ends coach Gerad Parker, Freeman elaborated on the process, “”we wanted to search nationwide….and the top two offenses that you saw on film were Kansas State and Utah. We interviewed both of those guys, we brought them both to campus and for their own reasons they decided not to come. So we reconvened and looked at all these different candidates….at some point during that process Gerad Parker rose to the top. And we put him through a long, tough interview.” Later in the press conference Freeman seemed to offer an explanation for those decisions, “At the end of the day, coaches do what’s best for themselves and their families.”
Freeman obviously was impressed by what he heard during Parker’s interview, “He was able to display to me where we’re at currently as an offense, his understanding of the terminology and our offensive philosophy in the past year, but also a vison for how he can enhance it with what he’s done and what he believes it takes to be successful as an offensive coordinator.”
Apparently, Freeman wasted little time in making the offer, “It was halfway through the interview and my mind was made up. I said, (to himself) ‘this is our next offensive coordinator.'” Freeman slept on the decision and called Swarbrick the next morning with his decision.
Parker, a 23 year coaching veteran, spent the last year as ND’s tight end coach, previously spent two seasons as the OC at West Virginia and has coached with Freeman before. From 2013 to 2016, Parker was on the staff at Purdue with stints coaching tight ends, and wide receivers. He also served four years as recruiting coordinator. In 2016 he served as interim head coach for six games after Darrell Hazel was fired. Freeman was at Purdue in the same timeframe coaching linebackers and as defensive coordinator.
With Parker as interim head coach Purdue lost all six games to finish the season 3-9, and 1-7 in the Big Ten.
According to Freeman, during their time at Purdue the two developed a strong relationship, “There was a lot of adversity that we went through in West Lafayette, and even his time as the head coach, our last six games of our last season there together. The ability for him to continue to stand in the face of adversity and to not waver from the things he believes in. It tells me a lot about a person’s character. And that’s what we want.”
For his part Parker spoke forcefully during his introduction to the press. “Nobody is more charged to do this job than I am. 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.” He went on, “I know early in my career that looked like really wanting to be a pleaser in some ways, and make sure that everybody like you. Certainly you want to treat people with respect that at the end of the day they know that. But at the same time we’re doing them an injustice if we don’t hold people accountable to the standards of it. So this offense moving forward is a collaborative effort, but it certainly falls on my name first.”
When asked about what he has learned from his past experiences in coaching, Parker spoke about watching how Freeman faced adversity last season, “If you saw the way he stood in the fire, so to speak, when we took a tough loss early last year, well….I want everyone to have the same opinion of me.” Summing his answer up, Parker observed, “this is a tough job. High Expectations, all those things. And if you flinch at that, this place will eat you up.”
Regarding the fact that he was not first choice for the position Parker pointed to the maturity he feels he has gained during his career, “As you go through a process and go through the things we’ve been through in this coaching career…the first thing you have to do is make sure that you’re not letting your ego get in the way. So as we went through the process together and things changed, the number one thing to do, is do what’s best for Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman.”
One of the more interesting moments during the introduction came when Parker reminisced about his “start” in coaching. “My dad said at 12 years old, ‘Whatever camps you want to go to son, you raise half of the money, I’ll pay the other half.’ So i started teaching ball handling drills when I was 12 years old in our backyard. So I started coaching at 12. I didn’t know it, I just needed money.”
Gerad Parker’s offense returns a mostly intact unit that will now include arguably the nation’s top transfer portal player in quarterback Sam Hartman.
Spring Practice at ND starts on March 22, and the Spring “Blue Gold” game is on April 22.