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Leftovers & Links: Coaching staff turnover brings new ideas, pertinent experience to Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01: Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman and his staff looks on during the Playstation Fiesta Bowl game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs the Oklahoma State Cowboys on January 1st, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A new coaching staff naturally leads to a cornucopia of conversation topics, some lasting longer than others. The ones with more substance naturally lend themselves to complete stories, but some of the insights from Notre Dame’s new coordinators last week were not expansive enough to demand hundreds of words.

They should still be noted, though.

Defensive coordinator Al Golden on the biggest difference between NFL gamedays and college gamedays:
“The NFL is about problem-solving. Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, halftime adjustments.’ I’m going to tell you right now, by the time you get into the [locker room at halftime], you’re turning around and going out. It’s a 12-minute halftime, and a lot of guys have to get an IV or get medical treatment, or whatever it is.

“So you’re working, but the point I’m making is, those adjustments are made after every series. I think that’s the one thing the NFL has taught me, just how to make those adjustments and how to solve problems, because you have to be a problem-solver in the NFL constantly in terms of the matchups or who you need to eliminate on offense.”

Given how Notre Dame failed to make the necessary second-half adjustments to slow down Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl faceplant, Golden’s quick-change approach stands out.

Golden on the NFL playoffs:
“Whether it was (Titans running back Derrick) Henry in Tennessee or (Oakland tight end Darren) Waller with the Raiders or obviously the Chiefs offense, just the number of issues that we had to encounter to get to where we were (the Super Bowl), and then obviously (Rams quarterback Matthew) Stafford and those guys in the Super Bowl itself …”

Suffice it to say, Golden encountered and overcame the best of the best this postseason as the Bengals’ linebackers coach, and in the first two of those instances in particular, his linebackers were crucial to Cincinnati’s advancing.

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees on the silver lining to even unexpected position coach turnover:
“I’m extremely energized by the hirings. The thing that’s been so fun, and I mean that, is that when we go into the room and we are studying our offseason cut-ups, and we’re in there as a staff, there are new ideas. There’s new conversations. It’s not just the same five guys sitting in a room trying to check the box having stale conversations.”

There is value to continuity. Let’s not discount that. But Rees’ thought is also valid.

For that matter, when he says “five guys,” let’s count them: offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, running backs coach, receivers coach, tight ends coach. That’s five.

But perhaps Rees should have said six …

Head coach Marcus Freeman …
“I want to learn the offensive side of the ball, so if I can get in there and learn what they’re doing, it’s going to be great.”

His may not be the loudest voice in that room, but if the head coach counts as an interloping sixth, that’s another new voice in Rees’ offensive staff room.

Golden on lessons learned as a first-time head coach, as Freeman is, and Golden was in 2006 at Temple, the only Irish assistant with head-coaching experience:
“Where to stand, right? Where do I go? I [was] always running a drill and all of a sudden, now I’m overseeing a lot of different things.”

This was the exact same thing Freeman first said back in December on his week-one lessons, calling himself a “man without a home” in the first practices preparing for the Fiesta Bowl.

Special teams coordinator Brian Mason on convincing players to enjoy chances on his coverage units:
“You might not be on the punt return team, but when we do punt return drills and fundamentals, it’s going to help you develop as a fundamental, total football player. That can help you play at the next level.

“So then showing guys examples of how it’s going to help you increase your draft status … if you have some of those skills and fundamentals developed here at Notre Dame.”

As Mason said that, one name came to mind before any other: Chase Claypool.

Longtime readers may remember this particular scribe — actually, let’s abandon that professional trope and lean into the first-person pronoun — they may remember I gave up my last vestiges of Notre Dame fandom during the second lightning delay of the Irish loss to South Florida in 2011 as I heard the then-sophomore class sing the closing verses to “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” At that moment, I realized I was more invested in the absurdity and uniqueness of the day than in the result of the game.

That has never changed. And amid a post-college stretch of nomadic residency, my Packers fandom waned and I never lived close enough to New York City to double down on my love of the Yankees. (That began when I was six, as an act of rebellion against my family, if anyone wants to question its legitimacy.)

So if being completely honest, I have often forgotten just how much fun y’all get to have as fans, be it foolish fans, fervent fans or the rare even-keeled fans. Well, at the admitted expense of some of my work around here this month, I have gotten a delightful first-hand reminder in my fifth season as a Timberwolves season-ticket holder. The Wolves are now actually not bad, and while enjoying these games is going to lead to inevitable disappointment, I have been slapped in the face by the memory of how much fun it can be to a foolish fan.

Which is all to say, I will not apologize for any days that lack an article that otherwise should have been published if they come after a Timberwolves home game. Enjoying this now should help me better serve you Irish fans this fall, because I’m remembering the joys (and the lows) of fandom.

Skowronek’s Super Bowl, and two tales of Notre Dame recruitingAs Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator, Al Golden completes Marcus Freeman’s staffIn hiring a young staff, Marcus Freeman once again prioritized recruiting at Notre DameIn Al Golden, Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman found a like-minded ‘partner’Freeman turned Rees loose to hire Notre Dame’s new offensive staffBrian Mason’s special teams bring ‘aggressive’ play to Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman’s ‘challenge everything’

OUTSIDE READINGNBC to make big push for Big Ten media rightsA better version of Harry Hiestand walks back into a new world at NDCharacter & respect matter for Notre Dame WR coach Chansi StuckeyCoaching defensive line brings out the passion in Al WashingtonGerad Parker ready to serve Notre Dame’s coaches and tight endsMarcus Freeman’s first Notre Dame coaching staff: Leaps of faith, blind spots and unexpected paths to South BendChad Bowden: Notre Dame’s not so secret weaponRecruiting revisited: Ranking the top 25 in college football’s Class of 2018, four years later — the hits, misses and more

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