Gerad Parker was not Notre Dame’s first choice to replace Tommy Rees as offensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. He might not have been their second choice, either. He is, however, reportedly who will replace Rees after Notre Dame botched its search for Rees’ replacement so badly Jack Swarbrick had to release a “save face” email blast that did nothing to quell the backlash. All that said, the one person who didn’t mess up at all in any of this is Gerad Parker, and despite the disappointment from Notre Dame fans, he deserves a chance to prove himself.
Parker is not stepping into the offensive coordinator position at Notre Dame the way he may have envisioned one day when he joined the Irish staff last year. Whether or not Notre Dame ever offered Kansas State’s Colin Klien, Notre Dame flew to Kansas to see him, and his candidacy was public. Whether or not you believe the Swarbrick-spin of Notre Dame’s failed attempt to lure Andy Ludwig from Utah, their pursuit of Ludwig was real and very public. So perception is Parker was, at best, Notre Dame’s third choice. Fair or not, perception is sometimes hard to break.
While Notre Dame probably couldn’t have handled this search any worse than they did, the one person in all of this who deserves non of the blame is Gerad Parker. Heck, Parker was at the ill-fated hockey game with Freeman last week when they tried to woo Ludwig. Parker takes over the reins of the Irish offense, however, with the feeling as though he fell into the position and was a last-resort option.
It’s hard now to know what a Gerad Parker offense will look like for Notre Dame. While he held the OC title at West Virginia in 2020 and 2021, he didn’t call plays for most of that time. He was essentially demoted at West Virginia when the Mountaineers hired Graham Harrell to their staff after the 2021 season before deciding to join Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame as the tight ends coach. That’s what Notre Dame fans know of Gerad Parker today. Again, tough perception to break here.
It’s fair for Notre Dame fans to be upset about how this process played out. Whatever actually happened, only a few people likely know for sure. However, we know for certain that the entire fiasco made the program look very bad and small-timey in the eyes of the rest of the college football landscape. So it’s reasonable for fans to be upset with the administration for botching this as badly as they did.
It’s not fair, however, for fans to be down on Parker or judge him before he calls a play for the Fighting Irish. It is not unreasonable to think that the pairing of Parker and new quarterback coach Gino Guidugli could unlock something in this offense that we haven’t seen in recent years. That obviously takes a bit of a leap of faith at the moment, given all of the unknowns surrounding Parker and his vision for the offense, but it’s not unrealistic to think. Tommy Rees, for instance, had only called plays one game in his life before being elevated to offensive coordinator by Brian Kelly in 2020.
In 2018, following Mike Elko’s departure, Brian Kelly elevated Clark Lea to defensive coordinator despite having no experience calling defenses prior. That worked out pretty well for the Irish, and we know it wasn’t due to anything Kelly did specifically since we know he always tended to let the defense do its thing during his time at Notre Dame.
Parker could be a home-run hire. Often, the no-brainer or big-name hire doesn’t work out as planned. He also steps into a situation where he will have everything needed to succeed – a stout offensive line, a stud quarterback, a stacked running back room, and a group of young and talented receivers. In that regard, he couldn’t ask for a better situation to be stepping into from a talent and personnel standpoint. Fair or not, he will also be stepping into a situation where many will jump all over him if the offense sputters even a little bit out of the gate.
The one thing Parker can do to break the perception challenge he faces is score points—a lot of them. If Notre Dame comes out firing against Navy and Sam Hartman throws for four or five touchdowns, people will start to forget about the public spectacle of this OC search. The biggest hurdle there, however, is time. There are five and a half months until Notre Dame travels to Dublin to take on Navy to start the season.
Until then, it’s fair to be upset with the administration, but Notre Dame fans would be wise to have an open mind regarding Parker as the next offensive coordinator of the Fighting Irish. He deserves at least that much.