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Institutional Overhaul Is the Only Way to Fix Notre Dame Football’s Offense

This is the way...

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Once the 2023 season ends, Marcus Freeman needs to fire Gerad Parker or demote him back to just being the tight ends coach. I don’t care if Collin Klein can’t command the respect of the quarterbacks room; if he’s just competent at his job then it’s an upgrade. Go get him or Sean Lewis or chase Andy Ludwig again. Someone with a track record of success at any level is the bare minimum for Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator job at this point.

But don’t stop there. Call up David Cutcliffe and bring him on board as an offensive analyst. See if Dan Mullen might have any interest, too, even if it’s a long shot. Form a thinktank of people who know offensive football worth a damn and let them handle the rest.

Call it an impractical strategy, but don’t people say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Because when it comes to what Notre Dame has been doing, if college football were a group project, then the Irish offense is the one member who consistently doesn’t do anything until the assignment is due and then writes down its name to share in the credit.

Against most of the teams Notre Dame plays, that’s all well and good. The program still gets passing marks against ACC and MAC teams. But at the risk of stretching this metaphor too far, when it comes to Advanced Placement classes, everyone in the group needs to pick up the slack in order to pass.

At times throughout the years, the offense’s struggles have been a personnel problem, especially when one position group underwhelms for an entire season. Case in point, Notre Dame’s wide receiver room is clearly still in shambles this season. On top of that, tight end Mitchell Evans’ ACL tear doesn’t help matters at all in the pass-catching department. Even so, there’s still a loaded running back room, a talent-rich offensive line and a sixth-year quarterback with nearly 130 career touchdown passes. So why do the Irish look completely lost on offense?

The answer is clearly coaching.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Notre Dame
This past offseason, Gerad Parker was promoted from tight ends coach to Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator after Andy Ludwig elected to remain Utah’s offensive coordinator.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Parker has failed miserably as offensive coordinator through 10 games. Notre Dame may currently be averaging 6.81 yards per play (13th nationally and second all-time in school history) and 36.8 points per game (15th nationally and tied for sixth in school history), but screw statistics. That was stat padding against terrible teams at the start of the year, and anyone with a pair of eyeballs knows a change has to be made.

But this isn’t a problem specific to Parker. The track record of offensive failure in the biggest moments at Notre Dame — under an offensive head coach in Brian Kelly and a defensive head coach in Marcus Freeman — comes down to two themes:

  1. Atrocious player development
  2. Consistent failure to prepare players to execute in games

Back in 2021, I recall hearing on a podcast or reading in an article from a reputable Notre Dame media outlet (forgive me for forgetting the specific source) that former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees joked with the media following Ian Book’s graduation about how Rees never taught Book how to properly read some such defense or throw a pass on some such route. That’s coaching malpractice, and it’s infuriating.

Under the offensive minds of Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees, Notre Dame’s offensive coaching staff consistently jumped ahead in the lesson plan. They thought their players were smart enough to know what to do on gameday and talented enough to execute it. Which brings me to my second point.

If you want to learn about offensive play-calling in football (like I need to), then go follow Irish Sports Daily’s Greg Flammang on Twitter/X (@greg2126). He breaks down plays following Notre Dame’s games every week. Watching that is a really good way to get even madder at the Irish coaching staff.

This isn’t a play-calling issue. Every offensive coordinator at every school, Parker included, makes some good play calls and some bad plays calls. What constantly bites Notre Dame in the ass is a failure to execute.

Tyler Buchner can’t connect with Braden Lenzy on a deep ball at the end of the first half? Buchner can’t find Mayer open in the flat and throws a pick-6 instead? Notre Dame loses to Marshall by five points.

Michael Mayer scores a touchdown but it gets called back because Mitchell Evans draws an ineligible man downfield penalty? Drew Pyne sails what should have been a touchdown pass to Lenzy out of bounds? The Irish lose to Stanford by two points.

Sam Hartman suddenly doesn’t know how to read a defense anymore? Holden Staes tries not once but TWICE to block the same man that his teammate is blocking? Notre Dame loses to Clemson by eight.

I said this back when Notre Dame lost to Louisville: “Notre Dame’s coaches and players are not smart. They make dumb decisions constantly. The players are not smart because the coaches are not smart and can’t teach them how to play football worth a damn. The coaches are not smart because... well, you’re guess is as good as mine.”

It still holds true, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Marcus Freeman is a masterful ambassador for the University of Notre Dame and was a talented defensive coordinator. But once the 2023 season ends, he needs to let go of the offensive reins completely and bring in some people who actually know what the hell they’re doing on that side of the ball.

Otherwise it will just be more of the same, and more of the same clearly isn’t getting the job done.