Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, post-Marcus Freeman Coronation Edition. Please remember to include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question.
Jeremy from Goshen, Ind.: Hi Eric, at one point you were predicting Notre Dame to land Xavier Nwanpka in an upset. Today is commitment day. Is that still your prediction?
Eric Hansen: Hi Jeremy. The five-star safety is making his college announcement at 5 p.m. EST today. I do not have a future as a psychic, apparently. I believe he’ll choose to stay home and play for Iowa. (That indeed happened.)
Looking Ahead: Notre Dame finalizes football schedule for 2022 with dates for Boston College, Syracuse
Hansen: Inside the rise of Marcus Freeman to Notre Dame’s head football coach
Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi, Eric. Hopefully, you got a chance to catch up on the sleep you lost last week. I saw Brian Polian is leaving, as somewhat expected, and sorry to see him go. I thought he’d done a good job improving special teams and reopened the recruiting channel to Hawaii. Any word on the status of Jeff Quinn and Del Alexander? I expected Quinn would be going to LSU, but maybe not? Any indications yet on whether you and the rest of the media will have more access to coaches, players, and practices? Kelly seemed to really limit that in his tenure at ND and it seemed to make the job a lot tougher for you, Tyler, and the other reporters.
Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. Thanks for the good thoughts about catching up on sleep. There are a lot of questions in the queue about O-line coach Jeff Quinn and wide receivers coach Del Alexander. They are the two assistant coaches that are not yet confirmed where they will be coaching in 2022. As you mentioned, special teams coach Brian Polian is off to LSU. The others are confirmed staying at Notre Dame. What I’m hearing is that those two, Quinn and Alexander, would like to stay beyond the bowl. There’s a chance they could, but there are no guarantees. As far as access under Marcus Freeman, I’m not sure what that will look like yet. I would hope we’d have more access to the assistant coaches. Beyond that, I think access in the lingering pandemic was pretty good for us this year.
Gerry from Sherman Oaks, Calif.: ND hasn’t played a team with a winning record since Cincinnati. With all the excitement over the team’s performance in the last 4-6 games and over Freeman’s hiring, do you sense the fan base is complacent about the challenge posed by Oklahoma State?
Eric Hansen: Gerry, I don’t think it makes a hill of beans difference whether the fan base is complacent about Oklahoma State and its prowess and how that might play into the outcome of the game. Now if it were the players and coaches — and they’re not complacent — that would be a different dynamic all together.
Ruth from Jordan, N.Y.: Eric, as a graduate of the Mendoza School of Business, I am interested in the Freeman hire from a managerial perspective. Coach Freeman will now have to manage and direct a staff with whom he has been a co-equal colleague and partner. He will have to become their boss. My business experience tells me that can be an incredibly difficult transition for both sides to deal with: You are no longer my friend and partner; you are now my boss. Eric, how do you see this transition working out with staff and with Freeman?
Eric Hansen: Hi Ruth.This is pretty common in the coaching profession, where assistants get elevated to head-coaching positions and position coaches get elevated to coordinators. That doesn’t mean that it is without its challenges that must be met. I think that coaching is such a collaborative business, and that helps. I also think Marcus Freeman’s people skills and what he was able to accomplish in his first 11 months at ND buys him the respect that this promotion was indeed earned. I think if there were resistance from the other assistants, they would have already been eating crawfish and wearing purple down in Baton Rouge.
Leo from Auburn, N.Y.: Eric, over the years you have done some very insightful interviews with Mr. Swarbrick. You probably know him as well as anyone reporting on ND football. Can you give us some insights into the man? I was a bit surprised that he has showed no bitterness toward Brian Kelly for abandoning ship on the cusp of a possible College Football Playoff game. I was also shocked that he moved so quickly on the Freeman hire. I feel good about the hire, because I trust Swarbrick’s judgment. Eric, isn’t Swarbrick the one who saved ND football in 2016, when he forced BK to make some fundamental changes? Do you agree that with the Freeman promotion Jack has now saved the program twice?
Eric Hansen: Hi Leo, and thanks for the compliment. To your two questions. The 2016 turnaround had a lot of layers to it. A big part of that was players like Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. They not only gave Brian Kelly an unfiltered and unapologetic earful about what was wrong with HIM and the program, they stayed around in 2017 to help see the changes through and provide leadership to make sure the other players bought in. Kelly had to be open to hearing that and not only willing to make changes, but able to make the right ones.
Jack showed patience and support to Kelly in that process. I’m sure there was collaboration on a lot of key points. That’s what really good organizations do. Saying he forced Kelly into the changes makes it sound like Kelly would get sent to his room without supper if he resisted. I don’t think that’s an accurate characterization of what happened. But again Swarbrick did play a key role. Time will let us know whether Marcus was the right hire. As I wrote last week, hiring him was a gamble. Not hiring him was a bigger gamble.
Lorraine from South Bend: Eric, as an SMC alumna and ND football fan, I think the past week has been a win/win for Brian Kelly and for ND. BK gets to take over a program that plays much more to his strengths than ND. At LSU, BK has a home-state recruiting market filled with four- and five-star players. He doesn’t have to recruit nationally. He also can focus on developing football players rather than student athletes. ND wins, because it gets a much needed boost of energy from a rising young coach who welcomes the challenge of recruiting nationally and who takes great satisfaction in developing all aspects of the student athlete. Freeman, unlike Kelly, understands how ND’s unique culture can be a strength rather than a limitation. Do you agree with this win/win assessment?
Eric Hansen: Hi Lorraine. I think it can be a win/win. I’m not sure LSU plays to Brian strengths more than ND did, but we’ll see. He introduced himself to his new team last week and talked about winning a national title. He hasn’t done that at the Division I level. Many of those players have, in 2019. So much about coaching success is fit. We’ll see if Brian fits in the SEC. I do think you made some good points about the talent in Louisiana and not having to do as much cross-country travel to recruit. And I do think Marcus understands Notre Dame and its demands better than a lot of coaches I’ve seen walking in the door.
Mark from Orange County, Calif: Hi Eric, appreciate you hosting these chats. Hope you have been able to get some rest. So, last chat I said that I really wanted ND to hire an experienced head coach. Somehow Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbick ignored my request. Coach Freeman does seem to have many of the qualities needed to succeed, excluding offensive experience, and game day experience making head-coaching calls like clock management, penalties. Coach Rees has two years of offensive coordinator experience — all under BK. Is there room for ND to bring in an experienced quarterback coach? I would be thrilled for coach Freeman to take the program to the next level, but I am concerned with the lack of coaching experience on the offensive side. Your thoughts on this? Thanks
Eric Hansen: Hi Mark. I appreciate you being part of the chat. Part of your question is actually a math problem. So, all FBS programs get 10 assistants. If you are going to have Tommy Rees just be the offensive coordinator and not also the QBs coach, then what position group are you going to sacrifice? Combine wide receivers and tight ends? Combine tight ends and O-Line. Drop the special teams coach and split those duties among other assistants? So that’s an issue. Jeff Quinn (who may or may not stay) and John McNulty have both been offensive coordinators. Both have lots of experience. Lance Taylor, though less experienced than those two, is a guy ready to be a coordinator. He’s that skilled. Del Alexander, if he stays, is experienced as well. I think I get the gist of what you’re getting at. With Marcus’ expertise on the defensive side of the ball, is it wise to turn the offense over completely to a 29-year-old? If you believe he has the talent, maturity and resilience, and that he’s earned it, then yes. I think there are fans who are on both sides of that debate.
Stosh from Canton, Ohio: Eric, the expectations and the hype for ND football have gone through the roof. I’m just not sure that’s a good thing. Imagine the pressure it puts on the back of a first-time head coach. What are your thoughts, Eric, about what Charles Dickens would call … Great Expectations?
Eric Hansen: Stosh. I think if you accept the job as head coach at Notre Dame, handling those kinds of expectations and pressures is a big part of the job. If you’re not up to those challenges, go coach at UConn.
Chuck from Cleveland: From the city that gave you Polish Boy street food, the Cleveland Clinic, Drew Carey and the star of the Dan Patrick Show, our own Eric Hansen! Nice to participate in the FIRST CHAT of the Freeman Era. Thank you, Eric for your round-the-clock efforts! Questions: 1) Why did Mike Elston stay after he had been with Brian Kelly for sooo long? He is a valuable asset. 2) Would you agree that Marcus’ head-coaching style will be more like Dabo Swinney than other successful coaches, e.g., Saban, Mack Brown, Mel Tucker, Lincoln Riley? 3) Was Tommy Rees “handcuffed” a bit by BK? And do you expect better critical-game-moments play calling? Lastly, 4) Was Jordan Botelho in the doghouse of BK, Marcus, both or none — just beat out by better players? Would hope that he stays and contributes greatly in 2022. Please keep up the fine work!
Eric Hansen: Chuck, thanks for the intro and for staying under the 17-part-question limit … barely. 1. He puts his family first and he loves Notre Dame. … and he believes in Marcus Freeman. 2. Marcus has his own vibe. Wouldn’t compare him to any of those you mentioned. 3. I don’t think so. I think there was good give and take. Moving forward, I think Tommy feels ready and able to spread his wings a little bit. I think Tommy’s play-calling will improve largely because he’s learning, not so much because BK is gone. 4. Not in anyone’s doghouse. He plays the same position as Isaiah Foskey. He’s learning to play some rover. I think he’s had a good year, with the chance to be special in 2022.
Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, in your opinion, is there any quarterback on the current roster that can lead Notre Dame to wins against schools like Alabama and Georgia or is this a position that needs to be upgraded in future recruiting classes? Thank you.
Eric Hansen: Well, Alan, as you know it’s not just the quarterback … but that is a position where Notre Dame needs to be elite if it is going to win a national title. So let me answer the revised question. I think Tyler Buchner has that kind of potential. But you need to have more than one of those guys on your roster. That’s why the Irish have aimed so high in the 2023 and 2024 classes, extending offers to and pursuing the most elite QB prospects in those classes. Now you have to land one.
Phil from Foster City, Calif.: Eric, it was good to see what you look like when you stood up to ask your questions at Monday’s Marcus Freeman introductory press conference. You look even smarter than you write! LOL. Question for you about Ramon Henderson and his pulled hamstring suffered early in the Stanford rout. Any news about his health/availability for the Fiesta Bowl? The guy looked like an absolute natural at free safety prior to the injury. Assuming (and I hope I’m wrong) that Kyle Hamilton will not play in the Fiesta, I’d feel better about Irish chances if Henderson is ready to go. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: Well Phil, thanks, I think, LOL. I would assume Ramon will be fine. I was able to sneak in one injury question to Marcus Freeman so far, and that wasn’t easy. We don’t have a postseason media schedule yet, but I’d assume our next chance to chat with Marcus Freeman will be on signing day, next Wednesday. If there’s a window to ask about bowl game details then, I’ll make sure to ask. If not, I’m sure soon after, we’ll have a chance to catch up on all those details.
Brianna from L.A.: Eric, you did great work this past week. Thank you. President Emeritus Monk Malloy has indicated that the firing of Tyrone Willingham was a very low point for the University of Notre Dame. Willingham was not given the same five-year proving period that other ND coaches have benefited from. The obvious implication is that racial bias was a factor. In fact, racial bias seems to be an issue for all of college football in that only 12 Division 1 schools have African American head coaches. Contrast this with the fact that well over 65% of college football players are African American. It’s really a national disgrace. Does the hiring of Marcus Freeman signal a new era for fairness and diversity in college football or is it an outlier with very little national influence?
Eric Hansen: Hi Brianna. I appreciate your question and took it, not because I have a great answer, but because I think these are conversations we shouldn’t be afraid to have and need to have. And part of having a great conversation is both sides listening respectfully and trying to understand each other. I think this has potential implications in the Asian-American community as well. Marcus’ mom is a South Korea native. QB Tyler Buchner, S Kyle Hamilton and DE Jordan Botelho all have Korean ancestry. In these discussions, I think opportunity and fairness are the key points. That’s what I would focus on from your comments and your question.
I’m going to share with you this excerpt from Marcus’ self-written article in the Players’ Tribune.
“The longer I’m in this profession, the more it’s become really obvious what it means for a man that looks like me to be elevated in this industry.
“I’m a part of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches started by Coach Locksley. He’s doing an unbelievable job of trying to open up doors for minority coaches. And being a part of this coalition has been an important reminder that: Hey, you are a representation of a lot of people. And that’s what I want to be. I want to be a representation, but also more than that I want to be a demonstration. I want to be a demonstration of what someone can do, and the level they can do it at, if they are given the OPPORTUNITY. Because that’s what is needed: opportunity. We need more minorities to get the opportunity to interview — and we need more minorities to get the opportunity to do a job that they can have success in.”
Michael from Galesburg, Ill.: Eric, great work on the Kelly/Freeman news frenzy! Leo Durocher’s old adage that “nice guys finish last” works double for a physical and dangerous game like football. Every coach needs to instill some level of fear in his players for motivation. Nick Saban is famous for his temper and hard edge. Does Marcus Freeman have that hard edge from what you have seen and heard as a reporter?
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Michael. I think the most important thing for a coach to do is be true to himself. There are many coaches in the Hall of Fame, and they didn’t all use the same template. The ability to adapt and evolve as the game changes around you is paramount as well. Marcus also addressed this in the Players’ Tribune article. Here’s what he said:
“Listen, I know I’ve been labeled as a player’s coach, and I’m proud to wear that badge. But I’ll be honest, I think there’s a misconception about a player’s coach, that Oh, the players like him — he’s their buddy. And my players know this: just because I don’t walk around like I have to put fear in their hearts, that doesn’t mean the demands aren’t going to be extremely high. I’ve always been a believer that being a coach doesn’t mean there has to be some constant level of discomfort for kids to reach their goals. You can be very demanding, and still make people feel good and still make people feel important — as long as they believe that you have their best interest at heart.
“That’s the coach I’ve always been, and I’m going to stay true to that. These kids today are so smart. They’re so intelligent, and they know what’s real and what’s phony. If you’re not authentic they’ll see right through you.”
Buddy from Oakland, Calif.: A marching band, perky cheerleaders, a full football team, sportswriters galore, a picture-perfect family, a proud mom and dad, and stirring speeches. What a press conference! Everything seemed perfect to me until Marcus Freeman was asked about what offense he would run, and then, for me, all the energy went poof. He said something about deferring to Tommy Rees. What a letdown. I wanted to hear about strengthening the O-line, shoring up the receiver corps, bringing in elite quarterbacks, and figuring out how to attack elite defenses. Then a thought struck me: Charlie Weis was an offensive coordinator who knew nothing of defense, and it showed! Bob Davie was a defensive coordinator who knew nothing of offense, and it showed! Eric, please tell me this pattern will not continue with Freeman, because I have a really bad feeling.
Eric Hansen: Buddy, there are other questions in the chat that have the same tone as yours. Expect the worst. After three post-Holtz regimes that didn’t end well, I can understand your pessimistic attitude. But college football is filled with successful head coaches whose expertise is on one side of the ball. Nick Saban is one of them. He was a defensive back at Kent State and either coached linebackers or DBs before his first coordinator job — also on defense. But Nick hires great people and he listens to them and lets them do their jobs. He also learned a lot about offenses by knowing how to attack them. So no, I do not see a pattern. As far as what Marcus Freeman could or should have said, I think he spoke to the important points about how to build upon what’s already here. I’d expect him to have answers and comments that go into greater detail, about the things you mentioned, once he’s given them time and thought.
Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. What a week. You must be exhausted. Thanks for all the amazing coverage. What will be the biggest adjustments as head coach that Marcus Freeman will need to make prior to the Fiesta Bowl? Also, any concern that he would leave ND for Ohio State if the job opened up in the next couple of years? Finally, have you heard anything credible about the UNLV game being moved to the week before the Ohio State game next year, or is that just an internet rumor? Thanks for all your great work, glad you will be going to a fun destination for the bowl game.
Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. Thanks. One of my sons is getting married Saturday, so I better be awake for that. For the next week, Marcus’ main focus really needs to be finishing off his recruiting class, and there was a lot of damage control to do. Once he turns his attention to the Fiesta Bowl, it will be about elevating some GAs and analysts to give himself a full staff, and then carefully delegating. He also will have to figure out what his game-day role needs to be. Then he’s got some time to put together a game plan for an Oklahoma State team that’s better than anyone else ND played in 2021 except for Cincinnati. Who knows how long Ryan Day will be at Ohio State? And even if he leaves, it’s not a given Marcus would prefer that job to the one at ND. As far as the UNLV game moving, ND would have to get a waiver from the NCAA to move that game to “Week Zero.” But it has not been on my radar, to be honest with you.
Bert from Windermere, Fla.: Hi Eric I Hope we run across each other during my next visit to ND. I will gladly pay for a few rounds of drinks to exchange stories and experiences with Tyler and you! Kidding aside, my question is what offensive plan would you suggest for the bowl game, given OSU’s ability to stop the run and our line’s inability to run block for our good runners. Have a blessed Christmas.
Eric Hansen: What do you mean “kidding aside?” Free drinks are nothing to kid about. … So there’s some similarities to having to face Wisconsin. I think Baylor did a great job, especially early, of throwing safe passes and completing them. That opened up the run, then Okie State adjusted in the second half. Oklahoma, meanwhile, put up 33 points the game before, mostly via safe passes, but the Sooners took some shots. Quarterback Caleb Williams had 95 yards on 19 carries, and that helped open up the traditional running game for Kennedy Brooks. So my conclusions: Tyler Buchner’s going to have to be part of the game plan, not just mopping up/playing late. ND needs to get some quick passes out to the perimeter. They can’t abandon the run, but need some misdirection mixed in. And occasionally take some deep shots. The Irish defense is going to have to help out by forcing turnovers and creating short fields for the offense.
Mike from Roanoke, Va.: Hey Eric, excited about coach Freeman. My question is regarding the assistant coaches. Are the ones who announced they were staying on board for next year or was it just through the end of this season?
Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. The assistant coaches that have been announced as saying are in place for 2022 (and presumably beyond).
Ed from Ocala, Fla., by the way of Niles, Mich.: Eric, could you pull back the curtain a bit as far as how much is the head coach involved in watching film of opponents and in developing the game plan for each side of the ball. Is it a “we need to attack by air” and particulars are left up to the coordinators, etc? I‘m trying to get a picture of how Marcus’ role will change as he steps into the head ball coach role. Keep up your awesome insight!
Eric Hansen: Hi Ed, and thanks. There’s not a universal answer for this. Some coaches coach their coaches. Some are much more involved in the details. Brian Kelly, when he got to ND, spent the vast majority of his time with the offense and specifically with the QBs. That changed after 2016, and he became more balanced (but still leaned offense). My impression is Marcus will be balanced (but lean defense) and will be more involved in the details than most coaches … at least in year one.
Mick from Philly: As a Philly guy for decades, I loved rooting for Phil Martelli, head coach at St. Joe’s basketball. Then two years ago, he was fired by a new athletic director (who came from Notre Dame). We were all crushed. But then Phil picked himself up and went to Michigan, where he was hired to be an assistant and a mentor/advisor to Juwan Howard, a rookie head coach. They have been a very successful team. My question to you, Eric: Do you think Marcus Freeman will bring in a veteran head coach to assist him? I have heard the names David Cutcliffe and Skip Holtz being bandied about.
Eric Hansen: Hi Mick. I took a glancing blow at this question earlier, but you added some more specifics. So let me give this a try. Again, math is a problem … not that it can’t be overcome. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to consider, but I’m not sure once you vet it, that it is the right move. So yes, discuss, but I don’t think that’s where it will end up. Especially if you are counting on that veteran head coach to recruit for you.
David from Tempe, Ariz.: Eric, I am as excited as the next guy about the energy that Marcus Freeman brings to the Irish. But to be successful, he needs an elite quarterback. That is the lesson from last Saturday’s Alabama beatdown of Georgia. I am worried about what happens to the quarterback room when Jack Coan graduates. Tyler Buchner showed he can run a limited RPO package effectively, but when it comes to reading defenses, he seemed to struggle. So, I’m not sure he’s the elite guy Freeman needs. He is also injury prone, which brings us to Drew Pyne, who realistically is, at best, an average backup who may well transfer. Beyond him is an untested Ron Powlus III. Then you have a newly recruited freshman and a host of walk-ons. Like I said, it’s worrisome. What’s your assessment, Eric? Will Freeman be forced to go to the transfer portal?
Eric Hansen: Hi David, let me cherry pick a couple of points here. Buchner pulls a hammy, and he’s injury prone? And given that he was a starter for one year in high school with no games or practices his senior year because of COVID, I think just lining up behind the center and not the offensive guard is remarkable. Let’s let this play out with Buchner. I personally would take him on my team in a heartbeat. Now might ND need to go to the portal for QB depth and not a potential starter? That’s a possibility unless they can get a second QB signed in this class (and with limited options left).
Ed of Omaha: Eric, thanks for keeping us so well informed this past week. I’m surprised at the recent hate for Brian Kelly. He took the ND job when it was a complete disaster. He endured some very difficult seasons and the criticism to go along with it. Through sheer perseverance, he developed a very solid program with an 85% winning percentage in its past five years. He brought ND into the modern age with state-of-the-art facilities and resources. He even hired the rising star who now heads up the program. Like any good capitalist, he cashed in on this success to get a huge pay raise at a program that now gives him a chance to win a national championship. Why isn’t this the great American success story? I’m confused.
Eric Hansen: Ed, I can’t speak for other people, and I’ve been up front in and (hopefully) clear in my columns and this chat last week how I feel about what Brian Kelly brought to the program and the manner in which he left it. From what people have shared with me, their issue is Brian being inconsistent in his message about why he left and also the issue of how he left. Brian leaving is not the issue. Doing it in a way that comes off as in conflict with your words and what you have claimed to stand for does rub people the wrong way. Authenticity is a word that comes up a lot, fair or unfair.
John From Kannapolis. N.C.: Thanks for everything that you do. Love your input. A simple question: If the head coach of a university, like Notre Dame, leaves and the new coach does not retain them, what are the financial implications for that coach? Does he only get paid until the end of the season? Thanks again.
Eric Hansen: John, thanks. I appreciate you. He gets paid until the end of his contact, which usually comes up for renewal at the end of the season. However, some assistants have multi-year contracts, in which case the financial obligation would continue beyond the end of the season, offset by whatever he might make in his new job.
The Gipper from Mine Hill, N.J.: How involved do you think ND will be in the transfer portal? And, if so, what positions of need do you think they try to address? Wishing your and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Eric Hansen: Well, the Gipper, I’ll have a better answer next week, when we see who signed with the Irish on Wednesday. And then an even better answer after we see if players like Kevin Austin, Isaiah Foskey and Jarrett Patterson elect to come back. At this moment, the positions that make the most sense are: safety and QB (for depth) and possibly wide receiver.
Joseph from Indianapolis: 50% of Division I college players are black, and 13 black head coaches (14 with Freeman?). Blacks make up 12% of population — about right for black head coaches per percentage of population. She needs to get facts straight before asking racially charged questions.
Eric Hansen: Joseph, the math part gets sticky, and I’m not going to get lost in that. I’ll repeat myself that we need to have these discussions and they’re not always going to be easy discussions. And you made a contribution to that discussion. That’s a small step toward progress.
Michael from Chicago: Coach Freeman commented that he verbally told Brian Kelly that he would go with him to LSU. This was a surprise to read unless Freeman didn’t think he was getting the ND job? Can you share any insight to that and how close ND was to losing other assistants to LSU (Rees’ status seemed to be tenuous). How about Elston? Were any of the other assistant coaches offered to go as well (Del Alexander, John McNulty, Mike Mickens, Lance Taylor, etc.)? Thank you for your top-notch coverage of this transition!
Eric Hansen: Hi Michael. Not sure if you read my column on the topic. Remember, Marcus Freeman was in shock when Brian Kelly said he was leaving. He thought about his six kids and that he needed a job. Then he paused and said, “I need to talk to my wife.” And that’s when he was able to clear his head and think about what was most important to him. Yes, several assistants, including Rees and Elston, were asked to go with Kelly to LSU.
Cheryl from Texas: Who do you see committing to the class of 2022 who hasn’t already stated their commitment?
Eric Hansen: I think the Irish have a shot at offensive guard Billy Schrauth and have a chance to get a recommitment from defensive back Devin Moore. There may be others, but I think those two are the most realistic. Marcus Freeman and the assistants have been basically playing defense since Kelly’s departure, as rival schools jumped to poach the Irish recruits during the uncertainty.
Connie from Pacifica, Calif.: Eric, I am a graduate of ND, but my son is a Stanford alumnus. Since we live in the Bay Area, we go to all the Stanford football games. I see a lot of parallels between ND’s hiring of Marcus Freeman and Stanford’s hiring of David Shaw in 2011. Both were star players for major Power 5 universities. Both were coordinators under strong head coaches. Both were 35. Both were promoted to the head coaching job after their bosses bolted for more money. Both were at academically rigorous institutions, and both had no head-coaching experience at any level. When Shaw was promoted, the same sorts of questions were raised about his inexperience that are now being raised about Freeman. Shaw answered those questions very convincingly. In his first eight years, he won 82 games against only 26 losses, with five bowl wins and five wins vs ND. Eric, do you think experience is overrated when dealing with exceptional human beings?
Eric Hansen: I don’t think experience is overrated when it comes to the Notre Dame job, and I had to be convinced the lack of it could be overcome. I think Jack Swarbrick did, too. Talent, drive, fearlessness and exceptional recruiting skills are all important. This hire wasn’t a simple math problem. It was calculus. Timing, potential, risk and the state of the program all factored in. So ina way, I am agreeing with your premise, just using different words.
Dave from Alpha, N.J.: Hello Eric. Thank you for always doing these chats. I’m hopeful that Mike Elston gets promoted to defensive coordinator. What do you think? He is also an excellent recruiter. This is the deepest the defensive line has been in quite a long time. With him at the helm, I truly believe that would continue.
Eric Hansen: I think retaining Mike Elston was a huge win, as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Marcus Freeman was asked Monday about whether Elston would be the defensive coordinator, and he said he didn’t know yet. Elston is deserving, so I think the question Marcus is pondering is whether Elston is more valuable as a defensive coordinator, but keeping him in his current roles? Or have him give up being the recruiting coordinator to be the defensive coordinator? I’d lean toward keeping him in his current role and paying him like a coordinator. It’s a win-win on two fronts.
Robb from Manassas, Va.: Thanks for all you do, Eric. What are the chances of Notre Dame scheduling LSU sometime in the future? I hope not. We get nothing out of that. It would only showcase the LSU football program, and we’d end up giving them credibility. There are plenty of SEC teams we can schedule if that’s an objective.
Eric Hansen: I think the best chance for them to meet would be in a bowl game. They haven’t had a home-and-home series since 1997-98. And ND already has SEC teams Arkansas, Alabama and Texas A&M on future schedules. If there is an opening, it’s likely to be after Kelly’s 10-year contract is over.
Jim in Charlottesville, Va.: Hi Eric. I recently perused the current Fighting Irish roster online, and noticed seven juniors/seniors apparently recruited for the O-line, who best I can tell have played all but entirely on the scout team. How deep does ND go in dressing O-line players for game day? Are scout team ones considered recruiting misses or mistakes?
Eric Hansen: For home games, all healthy players are in uniform. There are limits for road games. And no, scout team players are not considered mistakes. Many eventual All-Americans started as scout team players.
Bob Gorman from Columbus, Ohio … for one more week: Eric, next time you hear from Kathleen and I, we will be in Oak Park, Ill. — home of the 5A State Champs, Fenwick. Making moves for family and the next chapter of life. How much NIL money is available to play for ND? Will ND be able to compete for talent (which is a fit for ND) that is getting paid to play? Understand Marcus Freeman’s comments about letting kids know they qualify for ND, but 4 for 40 seems less compelling in today’s landscape. The ground has shifted under the feet of the administration. Are we proactive or reactive?
Eric Hansen: Hi Bob, nice to hear from you. If I understand your question, you’re asking me how much you can offer recruits in NIL money to play at ND? It doesn’t work that way. (Or at least it shouldn’t). The NIL money comes after you’re at the school. And it’s only limited by the company’s willingness to pay and the players’ marketability. So it’s not one size fits all, but rather a free market. ND has one of the strongest brands in all of sports, so that NIL potential is definitely there. And yes, Notre Dame has been extremely proactive in NIL. I don’t agree that 4-for-40 is passé. If you can provide players access to play in the playoff and to play in the NFL AND give them a chance for a great life after football, why wouldn’t that have appeal?
Joseph from L.A.: Eric, thank you for all things Irish. Anything new on C.J. Williams. the wide receiver commit from Orange County?
Eric Hansen: Marcus Freeman (and others from ND) was in his home last night. There’s optimism that the momentum is swinging back to ND.
Chad from Elkhart: The bye week on the 2022 schedule is after week 4 (October 1). I don’t ever recall having a bye this early in the season. Your thoughts?
Eric Hansen: Ideally, Notre Dame likes to schedule its bye week in or around its fall break, which is deeper into October. It’s not unprecedented to be that early (Oct. 1), but I’d guess I’d rather have it in early October than mid-November, given those choices. That it’s right before the Vegas trip to play BYU isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Chris from Tulsa: Good Afternoon, Eric. Thanks for your exquisite coverage for us fans. Reading that Jim Knowles took the Ohio State defensive coordinator position — from one OSU to another. I did not read anywhere saying whether he would stick around for the Fiesta Bowl, only that Ryan Day said he would not be at Ohio State until after the Rose Bowl. How much of an impact do you see this being if Knowles doesn’t stick around for the bowl? Also, Jaylen Warren was out of the Big 12 championship game, I don’t see that being the case this time. What are your thoughts for the ND defense to concern themselves with more: Warren or Tay Martin and the wide receivers? Finally, can the ND find a way to run and/or neutralize Rodriguez? Thank you. good sir. All the best.
Eric Hansen: Chris, for obvious reasons, I haven’t been able to take a deep dive on Oklahoma State yet, though I’ve followed them at least peripherally through the season, because I’m an AP poll voter. It’s my understanding that Knowles will coach Okie State in its bowl game. I think Jaylen Warren is the big headache to deal with as a defensive coordinator. I think a big key for Notre Dame is coaxing Spencer Sanders into mistakes with pressure. He’s 83rd nationally in passing efficiency and has thrown 12 interceptions. Only two QBs in the FBS have thrown 13, and no one has thrown 14 or more. Notre Dame QB Jack Coan, by comparison, is 31st in passing efficiency and has thrown six picks.
Matt from St. Louis: Hi Eric. Thank you for doing these. A question occurred to me with all the press coverage about Marcus Freeman being a great developer. What happened to Khari Gee (did I get the name right?), the safety recruit we stole from LSU last year. It was touted as a big deal, but, when we needed to develop safety depth, we ended up with a converted wide receiver and a converted cornerback. Definitely examples of developing talent, but what about the talent that was recruited for the position? Still percolating? Recruiting miss? Something else? Thank you! I appreciate all your great coverage and time doing these chats!
Eric Hansen: Hi Matt, thanks. Khari Gee is still percolating, but may be more of a fit at rover eventually. Too early to see if it was a misevaluation. Safety is the position group that needs the most attention this offseason (outside of QB).
Eric Hansen: OK, that’s going to have to do it for this week. Thanks for all the great questions. We’ll be back to do it all over again next week, though not likely Wednesday, which is the first day of the early signing period for recruits. More likely Thursday or Friday. I’ll post something on my Twitter @EHansenNDI and on the ND Insider Facebook page once I get it figured out.
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI
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