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Update at Notre Dame: Setting the scene for one of college football’s premier offensive coordinator posts

Football Scoop logo Football Scoop 2/7/2023 John Brice
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The team is synonymous with college football, and the brand spans the globe.

Yes, Notre Dame needs a new offensive coordinator for second-year Fighting Irish coach Marcus Freeman, whose stewardship since taking over for Brian Kelly in December 2021 has led to elevated levels of recruiting not seen in years under the Golden Dome.

That includes the program’s new Big Man On Campus, Wake Forest graduate-transfer and Atlantic Coast Conference record-holding quarterback Sam Hartman.

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This is a Fighting Irish team built for a College Football Playoff run in 2023, and in addition to its customary quintet of games against ACC foes, Notre Dame also hosts Ryan Day’s Ohio State Buckeyes and Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans in South Bend, Indiana, among other contests.

In addition to Hartman and returning signal-caller Tyler Buchner, the Irish also boast a veteran offensive line anchored by outstanding tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher – Sharpie them in as future top-round NFL Draft selections – as well as a dynamic backfield under the tutelage of the well-regarded Deland McCullough and a surging wide receivers corps under future coaching star Chansi Stuckey. (Stuckey, like McCullough and Gerad Parker could well be in position to man this role in the future for the Irish).

Freeman is neither blindsided by the need for a new offensive coordinator following the departure last week of Tommy Rees to Alabama, nor is Freeman ill-prepared to work thoroughly but efficiently through this process to find the best fit for Notre Dame.

It’s worth remembering: This is the first time since after Kelly’s disastrous 2016 season that the Irish have needed to go outside the program for its offensive play-caller. Chip Long manned the post from 2017-19, with Rees working directly under him, and Rees was elevated to the top spot after Kelly and Long separated prior to the Irish's bowl game after the '19 campaign.

Yes, it’s been emphasized by sources with direct knowledge that there’s a desire for Freeman to potentially find a fit with both college and pro experience, but sources stressed to FootballScoop that fit with Freeman’s healthy culture, predicated on a family environment, is an absolute must.

Where do things stand?

Freeman and Ron Powlus are running point on the search, which is unfolding concurrent with the Notre Dame men’s basketball program’s search for its next head coach and also as venerable Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick continues working towards the school’s next broadcast-rights deal with NBC and also fulfils his roles within the ACC and working on the future landscape of Name, Image and Likeness.

Per sources, the Fighting Irish’s candidate pool at the collegiate level has seen the school vetting Utah’s Andy Ludwig, Washington’s Ryan Grubb, Toledo’s Jason Candle, Colorado’s Sean Lewis and at least one other high-level Power-5 offensive coordinator.

From the NFL standpoint, most chatter has focused around Notre Dame’s potential interest in former Tampa Bay Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who starred collegiately at Marshall, as well as Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.

Sources confirmed any preliminary talks between the Irish and Leftwich have minimal depth; again, Freeman is being extremely deliberate in this process. The Irish conducted talks with multiple candidates Monday and again spoke with additional candidates Tuesday.

As for Johnson, NFL sources on Tuesday told FootballScoop that the well-regarded Philadelphia Eagles assistant and former Florida Gators offensive coordinator who developed under Dan Mullen is expected to potentially be in demand for multiple NFL openings. Also, if Eagles current offensive coordinator Shane Steichen nabs one of the final head coaching vacancies in the NFL, Johnson is expected to be a top -- if not the top -- candidate to become Philadelphia’s next offensive coordinator.

A recurring theme from coaches to FootballScoop during the past month has been the desire of those with college experience now in the NFL to remain in the NFL, and former NFL coaches now back in the college game oftentimes are seeking to return to the NFL.

“Quality of life is so much better now in the NFL,” one coach said. “You think guys WANT to deal with NIL and the (NCAA Transfer) Portal and the recruiting calendar?”

In other words, it’s widely believed per sources who spoke to FootballScoop that both Johnson and Leftwich prefer the NFL; it’s additionally why Todd Monken continues to interview for NFL jobs after helping lead the Georgia Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships as college football's highest-paid offensive play-caller.

Sources late Monday night indicated to FootballScoop that Candle remains a person of interest at both Miami, where Mario Cristobal is seeking a new play-caller for the Hurricanes after parting ways with Josh Gattis, and Notre Dame. Sources indicate to FootballScoop that Candle is mulling a verbal offer from the Hurricanes.

Likewise, though he’s only just arrived in Boulder, Colorado, on the staff of new Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders, Lewis is seen as a potentially top-priority target for the Irish. Lewis served as a graduate assistant coach under Powlus when Powlus coached at Akron; he led Kent State to a pair of bowl berths and a 2021 MAC East Division.

Lewis widely is seen as one of the bright, young offensive minds in college football.

Utah’s Andy Ludwig is the most experienced of this group of sourced candidates. An Ogden, Utah, native, Ludwig has coordinated offenses at a trio of Pac-12 schools – California, Oregon and Utah (twice) – as well as in the Big Ten (Wisconsin) and Southeastern Conference (Vanderbilt).

A former Ludwig colleague at one of his Power 5 stops raved about the potential of a Ludwig hire for Notre Dame, calling it “potentially a home run.”

Though the Irish vetted Grubb, he just recently reaffirmed his commitment to Washington and also was rewarded by the Huskies with a raise to $2 million in late-December.

That’s on par with the salary sources indicated to Notre Dame that Rees had received on his former three-year deal with his alma mater. 


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