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Notre Dame Football

How Marcus Freeman Determined Gerad Parker was the Right Fit for Notre Dame's OC Vacancy

February 20, 2023

Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker dreamt he’d fill Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator vacancy shortly after Tommy Rees left for Alabama on Feb. 3. 

At first, Parked suppressed his ambition to focus on the program’s greater good. He met with coach Marcus Freeman and ask, “Where are you headed with it? How can I help?” and got to work assisting with the interview process. 

Parker then returned to his personal aspirations each night once he completed his team responsibilities. He jotted down notes on the Notre Dame offense on his phone, giving serious thought to how he’d approach the position. 

Was he wasting time? Possibly, but Parker saw it as his moral obligation to be prepared just in case.

“What a sin it would have been if Marcus Freeman called my number to do an interview and I’m not ready,” Parker said. “That’s how I felt about it. What a shame had I not been ready for this opportunity.”

Notre Dame soon focused on two candidates: Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Utah’s Andy Ludwig. That put Parker in a support role designed to woo his future boss to South Bend.

Freeman brought Ludwig to the Compton Family Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 10, with Parker in tow. They showed up midway through the second period with Notre Dame hockey leading Ohio State 2-0 and sat in the box seats connected to the premium club area, O’Brien’s.

Shortly thereafter, Freeman, Ludwig and Parker appeared on the arena’s video board and the television broadcast. Attentive members of the Notre Dame fanbase assumed Freeman and had Ludwig in the bag.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. ESPN college football insider Pete Thamel reported on Feb. 13 Ludwig was staying at Utah, and that his $2.8 million buyout “proved an obstacle in discussions with Notre Dame.”

The public discourse swirled. Was Notre Dame cheap? Is Jack Swarbrick committed to winning a championship at Notre Dame? 

The hiring process was criticized nationwide, but perhaps the biggest hiccup was failing to provide clarity in short order and then disparaging the Notre Dame community and media once the administration finally addressed the matter days later. 

“We negotiate buyouts. Any coordinator, position coach that has a buyout, we talk about those things,” Freeman said. “We discuss them, but that's not the reason why somebody didn't choose Notre Dame. Let's make sure we would get that out there.

“Two individuals decided that it was best for them to stay where they’re at, and much credit to them.”

With Ludwig out, Freeman turned to other candidates. Early last week, he interviewed the 42-year-old Parker.

By that time, Parker’s phone was “decorated” with notes and thoughts on the Notre Dame offense.

“When you put those in,” Parker said, “you always stay prepared.”

Parker lacks Ludwig’s 25 years of experience as an offensive coordinator but comes with an interesting resume of his own. 

He played wide receiver at Kentucky from 2000-04, catching 15 receptions for 168 yards as a fifth-year senior. In 2007, he returned to his alma mater as a graduate assistant.

Over the next 16 years, he worked at eight different FBS programs before joining Fighting Irish in 2022. During that time, he’s coached wide receivers, running backs and tight ends and held leadership roles like passing game coordinator, recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator. 

Gerad Parker Coaching Career

Raceland HS Wide Receivers/Defensive Backs — 2005-06 

Kentucky Graduate Assistant — 2007

UT Martin Running Backs — 2008-09 

UT Martin Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator/Recruiting Coordinator — 2010 

Marshall Wide Receivers — 2011-12

Purdue Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator — 2013-14

Purdue Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator — 2015-16

Purdue Interim Head Coach — 2016

Cincinnati Running Backs — 2017

Duke Offense Operations Assistant — 2017

Duke Wide Receivers — 2018

Penn State Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator — 2019

West Virginia Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers — 2020-21

Notre Dame Tight Ends — 2022

In 2016, he even served as the interim head coach at Purdue after the Boiler Maker administration let Darrell Hazell go for a 3-3 start. 

Purdue lost all six games under Parker by an average of 20.5 points. Cincinnati hired him to be its running backs coach but Parker resigned shortly thereafter to coach wide receivers at East Carolina. However, before he could officially take the position, he was arrested in West Lafayette for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and went to Duke as an offense operations assistant instead. 

“Anytime you go through failure on or off the field, that shows who you really are,” Parker said. “Coach Freeman talked about it in [not] hiding and certain things like that, and I'll never do that either. When you face things, lean on the people that love you the most, and you're able to stand tall during the tough times. That's really the difference between good and great.”

Of course, Freeman was already familiar with Parker’s resume — the good and the bad — so during the interview, he inquired how Parker would install his version of a pro-style offense, the strengths and weaknesses of Notre Dame’s offensive personnel and he would enhance the offense going forward.

“We’re going to be built from inside out,” Parker said. “With what we have returning up front, with our running backs and tight ends to be able to control a box, that's where it always has to start. Will we continue to find ways to attack people on the perimeter or deal with hat counts when we may be outnumbered, so to speak? Of course, we will. 

“The growth of our wide receivers and all those things are going to be critical to us this spring, this summer and getting into fall. That’s no secret.”

By the midway point, Freeman thought to himself, “this is the guy,” and ‘I found our next offensive coordinator.’

Freeman then spoke with several people he trusts in order to avoid making an emotional decision. The following morning, that feeling hadn’t waned, and he informed Swarbrick that Parker was his guy.

“I'm not hiring a buddy. Let’s make sure we’re very clear,” Freeman said. “Because I've known him for a long time, I had a comfort level with who he is as a person. [It’s] important to me that you treat our kids the right way. You treat them with respect. You love them. [I’m] hiring a guy to run the offense and to have a dang good offense.”

Notre Dame then moved on Gino Guidugli to fill its quarterback coach vacancy. Guidugli spent the previous six seasons at Cincinnati, which included stints as the team’s running back and quarterback coach, as well as passing game coordinator and offensive coordinator.

The university has yet to officially announce the hiring of Guidugli, but Parker looks forward to building a rapport with him and the Irish quarterback room. 

“Anything that is technician based, we're going to have a pro that's going to do that part,” Parker said. “My part will be to make sure we have unit meetings, to watch past phases of our offense and different things to make sure we're seeing the whole scope together through the same lens. 

“More importantly, let those guys feel my confidence in what we want to call because they also love it.”

Of course, the quarterbacks will only love the play calls that Parker dreams up if those lead to an efficient and potent offense on Saturdays this fall.

“In the end,” Freeman said. “I have a strong belief that we will under his direction.”

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