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Notre Dame Football

Three Things

November 30, 2023

Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman will be looking for a new receivers coach this month as Chansi Stuckey was let go earlier this week. 

It was a surprising move to most as it seemed Stuckey was on his way to turning over the room despite Chris Tyree and Tobias Merriweather announcing their intentions to transfer. 

There is no denying Stuckey will leave the receiver room better than he found it as Jaden Greathouse, Rico Flores Jr., Jordan Faison flashed at times this year, while Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie can provide a veteran presence. The 2024 recruiting class will also continue to add more talent to the room led by composite five-star Cam Williams. 

What would an ideal hire look like? 

There’s several thoughts here.

JaMarcus Shephard and Brian Hartline provide that bang for your buck in terms of being very good receiver coaches and recruiters. They are the sexy names. Both likely have offensive coordinator aspirations, but neither have called plays. 

If either wanted to come and it works financially (which is a big if as Notre Dame isn’t known for paying assistants), they are the kind of hires where it might be worth the risk of having a co-offensive coordinator type of role with Gerad Parker or even moving on from the current OC. 

That said, Notre Dame could use another veteran presence on the offensive side of the ball. Deland McCullough and Joe Rudulph provide valuable experience, but another veteran could really help the offense take the next step, especially in the passing game where the Irish will have experienced receivers heading into 2024. 

It’s probably too early to focus or name specific names here, but there are plenty of receiver coaches who have playing calling experience or even have head coaching experience. Now, Freeman would want to make sure of their intentions of being content as just a receivers coach if he wants to ride with Parker, but there is clear value in bringing a former play caller or even head coach to the staff. 

An example (not listing him as a candidate) would be Darrell Hazell, whom Freeman worked under at Purdue. He’s been a long-time receiver coach, but also was an assistant head coach at Ohio State before being named the head coach at Kent State and Purdue. Hazell also spent time in the NFL before retiring from coaching 2018.

That’s a resume that can help this staff and there are coaches out there who hold similar experience. 

And yes, it’s the safer pick, but it’d also likely provide some more stability within the staff moving forward, which is something the program needs after the first two years of the Freeman era. 

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Notre Dame has been tied to former Duke quarterback Riley Leonard as he entered the Transfer Portal on Wednesday and he’s impressed me personally over the last few years. 

The first detail you notice about Leonard is his love for the game and he’s a gamer. Leonard showed his grit in the Florida State-Duke game this fall as he was battling the ankle injury he suffered against Notre Dame, but kept coming back for me. He eventually got knocked out of the game as he reaggravated the injury, but Leonard kept trying to find a way back on the field. 

He was shown on the sideline trying to prove he could run, but also selling the staff that he was fine when he wasn’t. That’s a good quality for a quarterback to have and one you don’t see from all players. 

Notre Dame has also needed a little bit more playmaking from the quarterback position over the years as they’ve never seemed to have someone who can make plays with their legs and arm, so Leonard would be a good fit for the Irish if he ends up in South Bend. Tyler Buchner was probably the closest, but in limited games, he showed he could make big plays for the Irish and the other team. 

In watching the Clemson-Duke game earlier this year, Leonard picked his spots. You weren’t going to walk away from that game saying he was a Heisman contender, but you did walk away saying he was a good football player. Leonard understood the game he was in and didn’t make mistakes, which is a valuable quality. 

It’s obviously a highlight, but Leonard making this play vs. Clemson speaks volumes for his ability to be a threat running the ball. Now, I don’t think you want him running 10+ times a game like he did against Notre Dame, but it’s something the defense will need to account for and he can turn a negative into a positive. 

Leonard also comes from a pro-style system so if he runs Notre Dame’s offense, it wouldn’t be a foreign language like it was for Sam Hartman at points. As with any transfer, there will be growing pains of learning new personnel and new plays, but Leonard is a guy who isn’t in for a massive learning curve unless he decided on a triple-option school. 

Jack Coan was in a similar boat. The ability to pick up the offense and be comfortable was never a thing for him as it was the offensive line that led to his early season struggles in 2021. 

If Notre Dame is able to secure Leonard, the 6-foot-4, 212-pounder checks several boxes the program is looking for as they are staring Mike Elko and Texas A&M in the face. 

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The coaching carousel has already been crazy and will only continue to be chaos as assistant coaches start moving around the country in the coming weeks. 

A few thoughts: 

- Mike Elko: I like this hire for Texas A&M as he’s someone who is going to find ways to maximize the roster and is known for development. A&M has had just two double-digit win seasons since 1998, so they should be focused on developing a program over winning National Titles at the moment. 

It’s still a risky hire much like Marcus Freeman as he doesn’t have too much experience and SEC football can be unforgiving. It will be interesting to see who he hires as coordinators as early rumblings are Elko is going after some big-time names. 

- Jeff Lebby is an interesting hire for Mississippi State as he’s in the mold of the late Mike Leach. It will be interesting to see who he can lock in at quarterback as he can go air raid or pro-style. It’s a hard job as Mississippi State is always going to be behind the big dogs in the SEC, but it’s also been proven you can win at times there. 

- I like Jonathan Smith at Michigan State as he’s a great football coach. I mean, he made Oregon State into a good football program. That said, Michigan State is a tough job despite the success in the last 10-15 years. Midwest recruiting is going to be hard with Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State, while the addition of Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington will make life on the West Coast. 

Seeing where Smith decides to focus on as it relates to recruiting will be interesting to follow. I think he can win over the Detroit area, but anywhere else in the Midwest is going to be tough sledding. If I were him, I’d try to get the East Coast and Northeast. I’m not sure you can win a title with the talent that’s currently in New Jersey and the Northeast, but that’s not where Michigan State is as a program. 

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