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Marcus Freeman stands by Notre Dame’s interview process, praises promotion of Gerad Parker

Marcus Freeman is nothing if not blunt and transparent. The Notre Dame head coach may slip into coach-speak sporadically in the fall, but far more often than not, he does not waste time dodging questions or trading in obfuscation.

If ever there was a moment to slip into a more veteran mindset, it would have been in discussing the tumultuous last couple weeks as the Irish sought a new offensive coordinator. Instead, Freeman spared no words while introducing Gerad Parker in that role on Monday.

“The top-two offenses you saw on film were Kansas State and Utah, and we interviewed both of those guys (Collin Klein and Andy Ludwig, respectively),” Freeman said. “We brought them both to campus. For their own reasons, they decided not to come.”

Freeman did not outright say those were his top-two choices, and if he had, that would have been a slight exaggeration, but in simply bringing up those possibilities — without prompt, to be clear, as these mentions came in Freeman’s opening remarks — he broke from nearly every coaching introduction in recorded history.

Never before has someone said the eventual hire was not atop their candidate list, was not their clear and only choice. That soft-pedaling is almost always an obvious lie, so it accomplishes nothing. Freeman opting otherwise entirely adds validity to everything else he says in such moments.

“Two individuals decided it was best for them to stay where they’re at, much credit to them, congratulations,” Freeman said.

Freeman repeatedly said those were the decisions made, not that Notre Dame was scared off by a hefty buyout tied to Ludwig’s contract at Utah. Between Freeman’s strong words and the email released late last week from Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, the program has doubled and tripled down on the claim with such strength, it being a falsehood would be too big a risk to be later exposed. The unambiguity of Freeman’s words made it clear: Notre Dame was willing to pay whatever was necessary in the end.

“In our line of business, part of college football and college business is we negotiate buyouts,” Freeman said, a notable remark given the usage of the word negotiate, something that was not mentioned in Swarbrick’s email last week. “Any coordinator or position coach that has a buyout, we talk about those things. We discuss it. That’s not the reason why somebody didn’t choose Notre Dame. Let’s make sure we get that out there.

“... Jack Swarbrick has never shied away from paying a buyout.”

In promoting Parker after one season as the Irish tight ends coach, Freeman said he found an offensive coordinator who will focus on the pro-style approach Freeman wants. In other words, Parker will have an offense that can both appeal to recruits and shift on a week-to-week basis. Freeman described the offensive approach as “multiple” in just about every way, underscoring his want for malleability, though still with one distinct focus.

“It still goes down to complementary football,” Freeman said. “That’s what I love more than anything, that you can have varying tempos, you can really control the clock if you need to, it’s still an offense predicated on being able to run the ball.

“I want to be able to run the ball. This is not going to be a pass-first offense.”

Parker obviously knows Notre Dame’s personnel a bit better than Ludwig would have. He also just spent the last two weeks putting the Irish first in a way that Freeman tied to maturity. Parker could have found a way out of going to that infamous hockey game with Freeman and Ludwig on Feb. 10.

But when Freeman asked if he would want to go, Parker knew doing so could help the team.

“The number one thing is do what’s best for Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman,” Parker said. “That’s my job, to serve the message of the head coach. You do that and you do that job well. ... When that transformed, you also want to be able to say, I’m not going to flinch at the opportunity to be the offensive coordinator here.”

Parker wanted the job that Ludwig was interviewing for. In time he got it.

Freeman would not change that part of the process at all, not including Parker in the informal vetting and not doing that sales job so publicly.

“I wouldn’t change that if I had to,” Freeman said. “We want to put our best foot forward. We’re not trying to hide and say, let’s interview guys (but) we don’t want anybody to know because somebody might say you didn’t get the guy you’re going after.

“That’s okay, that’s life. We won’t hide that. In the future, if we’re interviewing somebody else, guess what, we’re going to put our best foot forward and show them everything that’s great about this place.”

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