I could say, “I’m not one to brag,” because I’m not. But I’m sure this won’t come off that way.
When I reacted to Gerad Parker’s promotion to offensive coordinator in February, I got flamed pretty hard in the comment section (shout out BobRodes). I’ll admit that the commenters had some valid critiques, even Mr. Rodes, who is the first person I’m aware of to ever call me a “weasel.”
All of that’s to say that I’m really not trying to brag, I promise. But after the last three weeks of Notre Dame football have flipped the viewpoint on the oh-so-promising start to the 2023 season, I’m just going to dust off some old quotes from that February post that feel particularly relevant right about now.
Told #NotreDame subscribers at #IrishIllustrated earlier tonight that some of the staff was heading to the Hockey game tonight.— Tom Loy (@TomLoy247) February 11, 2023
Here are TE coach Gerad Parker, OC candidate Andy Ludwig and head coach Marcus Freeman all hanging out https://t.co/FNrYApPovz (VIP)@247Sports pic.twitter.com/vlB3ec7NKj
Marcus Freeman notes that the buyout is not the reason Collin Klein and Andy Ludwig didn't end up at Notre Dame.— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) February 20, 2023
"That is not the truth," Freeman on the idea Notre Dame didn't hire Klein or Ludwig because of a lack of financial support.
To be honest, the whole opinion piece was predicated on the following quote from The Athletic’s Pete Sampson, which he offered following the Andy Ludwig hiring debacle:
“What matters most moving forward is that Freeman makes Notre Dame football more his own by hiring coaches who understand what he wants this program to be. To that end, Parker brings more to the table than the reaction to his promotion might suggest.”
You can come at me and say that Sampson lives rent free in my head. And, honestly, he kind of does. He is the most prominent Notre Dame beat writer for a reason. He’s very good at his job.
But this quote rubbed me the wrong way. Not only did it wave away the Ludwig fiasco as a relatively innocuous occurrence. More annoyingly, it was emblematic of a groupthink by people who view head coach Marcus Freeman as infallible just because he embraces Notre Dame like Brian Kelly never did.
My response to that quote:
The ultimate goal is not to shape the program more in the image of Marcus Freeman; the goal is to win a national championship. Freeman pulling the university into the modern era of college football’s arms race is a means to an end, not an end in-and-of-itself.
I then droned on:
If it’s been said once it’s been said a thousand times: Notre Dame isn’t part of any conference, so there’s only one championship that the Irish are playing for. Therefore, what matters most regarding the offensive coordinator decision is Freeman making the correct hire—i.e., the one that puts Notre Dame in the best position to win a national championship.
In my opinion, the biggest question after the hire was not how Parker remade Notre Dame in the image of Freeman, but:
... whether the pairing of Parker and new quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli will get the most out of Sam Hartman—because that development has a direct bearing on whether Notre Dame makes and wins games in the College Football Playoff.
We now know the answer to that question. And, in case you’ve stuck with me this long without leaving the story or racing to the comment section (as I’m sure some did), let me be clear that I take no joy in Parker’s failings the past three weeks. As a fellow Kentuckian, I want nothing more than to see Parker succeed. Which is why I said the following:
Granted, Parker could very well end up acing [that question] and proving himself to be the correct hire. He isn’t necessarily the wrong option just because Freeman has a previous and extensive professional relationship with him.
And, if Parker turns out to be a success, I said:
I’ll gladly eat crow.
But I also said this, perhaps the most accurate thing I’ve ever written:
Contrary to what has been suggested, offensive success next season is not guaranteed just because Notre Dame has Sam Hartman, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher. Never underestimate the power of coaching incompetence to ruin accumulated talent (see, e.g., an Irish defense featuring Jaylon Smith which happened to be coached by Brian VanGorder). I’m not saying Gerad Parker will be an incompetent offensive coordinator, but his track record is neither robust nor impressive enough to definitively say that he won’t be.
It was actually a coincidence that I used that same word, “incompetence,” in my post-game column after Notre Dame’s most recent loss to Louisville. But it’s all I can think of to describe the collapse of Notre Dame’s offensive coaching the past three weeks.
And for you true supporters that have stuck with me this long, I will yet again acknowledge that the script has not yet been written on Parker’s time as OC of the Irish. He could turn this thing around and wind up being a resounding success, the recent road bump notwithstanding. Is that likely to happen? I can’t say. Regardless, I’m still rooting for him and Freeman to succeed.
And I get that the negative reaction to my February column was mainly because I took a critical stance on the program during an offseason of good vibes. One Foot Down is a blog by fans for fans; you all come here for fun or for outrage when each is warranted, so you might view nuance as negativity.
I don’t blame you for that reaction. After all, a weasel wrote that column, and no one should ever listen to a word a weasel says (because a talking weasel would be terrifying).
But I’m nothing if not an honest weasel, so I’ll admit that I'm capitalizing on the moment right now to revisit my hot takes. If Parker and Freeman turn this ship around (which again, I’m here for), then I’d have missed my opportunity for vindication. Here’s hoping that it’s short-lived.