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Offseason O’pinions: Notre Dame Football Coaching Hot Seat Tracker

Some keisters might be on the heater

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 22 Notre Dame Blue-Gold Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We can debate the treatment appropriate for collegiate athletes since NIL has essentially eliminated their amateur status. But what’s indisputable is that coaches are fair game, and in the offseason there isn’t much else to talk about. So here’s a look at just how comfortable Notre Dame’s coaching staff should feel heading into the 2023 season.

Cool as a Cucumber

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coaches: Gino Guidugli (QB), Deland McCullough (RB), Chansi Stuckey (WR), Joe Rudolph (OL), Mike Mickens (CB), Marty Biagi (ST)

Keeping in mind that it isn’t difficult for a coach’s seat to go from cold to hot in a single season, these names feel safe for the moment. At the top end, Mickens, McCullough and Stuckey have proven themselves (to varying degrees) both on the recruiting trail and in developing their position groups. It feels safe to project that at least one of them will be an NFL position coach or a collegiate coordinator after the 2023 season.

Below those three are the three new additions to the coaching staff. Rudolph and Biagi have the distinction of following one of the best offensive line coaches in college football (Harry Hiestand) and a punt block savant on special teams (Brian Mason), respectively. Even so, their predecessors leave them with plenty of tantalizing material.

Finally, Gino Guidugli becomes Notre Dame’s first new quarterbacks coach since 2017. The recruiting and development under ex-offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, even when he worked exclusively with the signal callers, left much to be desired. Furthermore, quarterback is the most important position for putting together a championship-contending program. With all of that said, Guidugli begins with a cool seat that could turn hot quicker than any other coach if he can’t shake up the Irish quarterback position.

Slow Boil

Syndication: Notre Dame Insider John Mersits / USA TODAY NETWORK

Coaches: Marcus Freeman (HC), Gerad Parker (OC/TE), Al Golden (DC/LB), Matt Balis (Strength & Conditioning)

The theme here is that the coaches with the most influence have the highest expectations. Marcus Freeman (probably) won’t get fired as head coach after just two seasons unless Notre Dame misses a bowl game in 2023. But the buck stops with him, so unless he’s competing for College Football Playoff spots then his seat is going to be warm.

And as for Freeman’s newest offensive coordinator hire, Parker follows a creative-if-not-world-beating OC in Tommy Rees. He also now must cater to a fanbase desperate for the Irish to post a 40-points-per-game average for the first time in school history. Maybe that’s setting the standard too high, even for a guy with previous Power 5 coordinating experience, but that’s the tradeoff to being OC at Notre Dame.

Golden is a trickier scenario. In 2022, he was in the dubious position of being the third Irish defensive coordinator in a three-year span. His defense was quasi-reliable at the beginning of the year (late-game breakdowns against Ohio State and Marshall notwithstanding); that unit also kept teams out of the redzone pretty well but completely folded once an offense reached that territory. Posting another season on defense like the last one would be serviceable, especially considering the loss of Isaiah Foskey. But the volatility needs to disappear, especially if Golden isn’t going to pull proportional weight on the recruiting trail.

Lastly is Balis, who doesn’t get talked about a lot. Part of that is that he doesn’t recruit or coach on gamedays, but he’s as instrumental in roster development as Freeman, Parker and Golden. And while Balis is usually talked about glowingly, it’s inexplicable that the 2022 Irish defense wore down physically in the FIRST TWO GAMES OF THE SEASON. The aforementioned late-game breakdowns against Ohio State and Marshall can’t be repeated, and to a large extent that falls on Balis.

Warm Enough for You, Yet?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coaches: Al Washington (DL)

Washington had a tough act to follow in his first year. Mike Elston wasn’t an elite recruiter or developer, but he was a notch right below that. Still, Notre Dame’s experience-riddled defensive line was expected to be a game-changing unit last season and didn’t live up to the hype against the two best teams on the schedule (Ohio State and USC). Compound that with the loss of Keon Keeley and other recruiting stumbles, and Washington might be having a tough conversation with Freeman if 2023 goes like 2022.

“It’s Getting Hot in Herre”

Coaches: Chris O’Leary (S)

Previous safeties coach Terry Joseph did a better job than O’Leary has to date, plain and simple. One reason for that is the former landed Kyle Hamilton while the latter lost Peyton Bowen. Also, Joseph got more out of his transfer portal addition (Alohi Gilman) than O’Leary did his (Brandon Joseph).

To be fair, Terry Joseph also recruited and developed so poorly that Shaun Crawford had to move to safety from cornerback. It’s a recurring theme that Notre Dame struggles with the safety position, but that’s no excuse for a program that purportedly wants to win national championships.

And, unlike fellow Brian Kelly holdover Mike Mickens, O’Leary is the only position coach (because Balis technically doesn’t coach a “position”) inherited by Freeman who doesn’t have a pre-Notre Dame relationship with the head coach. That’s the kind of fact that makes O’Leary a little bit easier to cut loose if he can’t do any better.