Wasting little time after the dismissal of former receivers coach Chansi Stuckey, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman is set to hire Mike Brown to replace him. Stuckey was fired last Tuesday, which coincided with a quartet of Irish wideouts announcing their entry into the transfer portal.
Whether Stuckey’s dismissal played any role in those situations is simply speculation. Yet, a combination of injuries and the struggle to find a go-to receiver was a source of frustration. That effort to emerge from the scrum of talented options meant that one of the departing wideouts, Rico Flores, was the leading pass catcher among wide receivers with just 27 grabs.
The 34-year-old Brown arrives after one season in the same capacity with the Wisconsin Badgers. During his brief time with the Badgers, the team had 18 different receivers catch at least one pass in their 12 regular season games. led by possession receiver Will Pauling catching 66 tosses on the year.
Brown went to Wisconsin with Luke Fickell after the latter was named the school’s head coach.on Nov. 27 of last year. Before that, Brown had worked under Fickell for four seasons with the Cincinnati Bearcats. After Brown spent his first three years as wide receivers coach, he was promoted to passing game coordinator.
It was during Brown’s first two seasons 2019-20 that he worked on the same staff as Freeman, who was the Bearcats’ defensive coordinator and linebackers coach during those years. Brown’s hiring also reunites him with Gino Guidugli, Notre Dame’s quarterback coach. It was Guidugli’s own promotion to Cincinnati offensive coordinator last year that led to Brown being elevated to his coordinator role with the Bearcats.
Brown’s collegiate playing career consisted of a four-year stint at Liberty University from 2008 to 2011. During that span, he served as the Flames’ quarterback and finished his four-year career with 6,072 yards and 45 touchdown passes. In addition, he also presented a dual threat on the ground with 1,875 rushing yards and 29 trips to the end zone.
Despite going undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft, Brown was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars and played parts of three seasons with the team. Moving to wide receiver, Brown caught 39 passes and scored a pair of touchdowns during that time, with 32 of those grabs and both scores coming during the 2013 campaign.
Entering the Coaching Ranks
After being released by the Carolina Panthers in 2015, Brown began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan the following year. He followed that with a stint in the same capacity at Delaware in 2017 and then returned to his alma mater as running backs coach in 2018.
When Cincinnati’s receivers coach Joker Phillips left to join the Maryland Terrapins’ coaching staff, it opened up the position that led to Brown’s hiring. During Brown’s time on the Bearcats staff, Cincinnati came to Notre Dame in October 2021 and stunned the Irish in a 24-13 upset.
During Brown’s four years at Cincinnati, the Bearcats won 42 games, the most successful stretch since the Brian Kelly and Butch Jones eras that spanned from 2007 to 2012. That 2021 team went on to compete in the Cotton Bowl and ended up sending one of Brown’s players, Alec Pierce, into the NFL.
In Brown’s one season at Wisconsin, the Badgers completed the regular season with a 7-5 record. The team’s balanced attack on offense and available talent resulted in steady but unspectacular numbers concerning the passing game. The Badgers had a 5-2 record before three consecutive losses relegated them to a berth in the Reliaquest Bowl. There, they’ll match up against former Notre Dame mentor Brian Kelly’s LSU squad.
While the wave of receiving departures is hopefully diminishing for Notre Dame, Brown should still inherit some skilled personnel in this area. Jayden Thomas began the year with 12 catches in the first four games but after suffering a hamstring injury in the heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, he’s only caught five passes.
Jaden Greathouse also was forced to deal with hamstring concerns this season after 12 catches and two touchdown receptions in the first five games. He’s only had four receptions since and his absence is one of the reasons why Jordan Faison has emerged as a potential breakout star for next season.
Continuing the Process
Brown’s hiring is the latest example of the Cincinnati pipeline that essentially began with the hiring of Kelly after the 2009 season. Under Freeman, the presence of both Guidugli and offensive coordinator Gerad Parker is a testament to that approach continuing. How much Brown’s hiring will improve the Irish receiving game is something that won’t be answered until next season gets underway.