What happens if Notre Dame assistants draw interest from a Power Five school with a coaching vacancy?

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman watches spring NCAA college football practice on March 17, 2022 inside the Irish Athletic Complex in South Bend, Ind.  (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune)

SOUTH BEND — Should any Notre Dame assistant football coaches be invited to interview for one of the five Power Five coaching vacancies that already exist, Marcus Freeman said Monday he would not stand in their way.

“We obviously have a job to do every single week,” Freeman said at his weekly news conference at Notre Dame Stadium. “Anything that’s going to distract us from getting our job done, we don’t want, but I’m always going to make sure I’m helping every person I’m surrounded by to reach their ultimate goals.”

Defensive coordinator Al Golden, who capped six seasons as an NFL assistant with a Super Bowl appearance for the Cincinnati Bengals, previously led college programs for 10 combined seasons at Temple and Miami.

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, 30, reportedly was in demand last offseason at LSU and Miami, and running backs coach Deland McCullough, 49, has a Super Bowl ring from his three-year stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. Rees and McCullough, associate head coach at Indiana last season, were among 37 candidates on a national publication’s preseason “hot list” of prominent assistant coaches.

USC and LSU got the jump on the competition last fall with early dismissals of Clay Helton and Ed Orgeron, but the dominoes didn’t start to fly until Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma, followed soon thereafter by Brian Kelly after 12 seasons at Notre Dame.

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Freeman, who empowered McCullough and defensive line coach Al Washington to run their own squads in April’s Blue-Gold Game, made it clear he wants to see his assistants grow professionally.

“If part of that is to be interviewed to be a head coach, I’m their No. 1 fan,” he said. “If our guys can continue to push forward and reach their goals, I want to help them do that. but I also want to make sure we’re helping our players right now reach their goals and that’s to win every game we play.”

No obvious connections exist between Freeman’s coaching staff and the known decision makers at Wisconsin and Colorado, which over the weekend joined Nebraska, Georgia Tech and Arizona State among Power Five schools seeking new coaches. Those dismissals came with contractual buyouts totaling nearly $61 million, although the final negotiated figure is typically lower.

“It’s tough, man,” Freeman said. “You feel for guys that are in your fellow occupation. I’m sure it’s not a lack of effort, but we’re in a result-driven business. It’s a part of the profession we chose. We chose this profession.”

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Freeman, along with Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker, was part of the Purdue staff that was displaced in 2016 when Darrell Hazell was fired at midseason with a 3-3 mark.

“You never want to see that with people with families,” Freeman said. “Because it not only affects the head coach but it affects all those assistants that are with him. I’ve been on that side. I’ve been a part of a staff that’s been fired. It’s never easy. But if you continue to work hard, good things happen to those people who work hard and do the right things.”

Concussion protocol at Notre Dame

Amid the NFL’s concussion controversy involving Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, which resulted in the firing of the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who allowed him to go back into a game on Sept. 25, Freeman was asked about an adjustments to Notre Dame’s in-game concussion protocol.

“The No. 1 priority for us as a coaching staff and a football program is player safety,” he said. “Obviously there’s medical professionals all around me that really understand the intricate details of that, but we hope to never, ever put our players in harm’s way. Their safety is No. 1 (and) of utmost importance for our football program.”

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Five different Irish offensive linemen dealt with concussion issues during August training camp, and linebacker Prince Kollie also missed significant practice time as he recovered from a concussion in early August. Kollie played on special teams in the first three games but finally got his first 10 snaps of the year on defense in the Sept 24 win at North Carolina.

Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey during Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 12, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Appeal denied for JD Bertrand

Starting linebacker JD Bertrand, ejected for targeting in Notre Dame’s past two games, will miss Saturday’s first half against 16th-ranked BYU after an ACC-submitted appeal was denied.

Bertrand, who also sat out the first half at North Carolina following a targeting ejection in the final minutes against Cal, was tossed early in the fourth quarter after hitting a Tar Heels wide receiver above the shoulders but while leading with his facemask.

“I’ll save my opinion,” Freeman said. “We felt like we had a strong appeal, and it was denied.”

Nov 27, 2021; Stanford, California, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker JD Bertrand (27) talks on the sideline during the third quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

New to the process this season, the league office can request a review of any second-half targeting penalty through the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials.

Health updates on Michael Mayer and the safeties

Safeties DJ Brown (hamstring) and Ramon Henderson (ankle) used the bye week to expedite their injury rehab and have been medically cleared for practice this week.

Tight end Michael Mayer also sat out three padded practices last week after getting “banged up” in the win at North Carolina with an undisclosed issue, Freeman said. Mayer spent last week “physically recovering” but should resume his usual work schedule when the Irish return to practice on Tuesday.

Barring a setback, both safeties should be able to play against the Cougars’ top-25 passing attack (293 yards per game). Quarterback Jaren Hall, who turned 24 in March, is in his second year as the starter and has a career touchdown/interception ratio of 33/6.

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) goes past North Carolina defensive back DeAndre Boykins (16) for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

Brown, third on the team with 20 tackles, was limited to 21 defensive snaps in Chapel Hill, N.C. Henderson, who did not dress out for the UNC game and wore a brace on his right ankle, played a season-high 30 defense snaps in the season opener at Ohio State and saw 25 more in Week 3 against Cal.

Xavier Watts, who had been practicing at wide receiver as well as safety since midway through training camp, is back to focusing completely on the defensive side. Watts played 28 snaps on defense at UNC, tying a career high he set in last year’s regular-season finale at Stanford.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.

Shamrock Series: No. 16 BYU (4-1) vs. Notre Dame (2-2) 

  • When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: Allegiant Stadium (65,000), Las Vegas 
  • TV/Radio: NBC/Peacock, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame favored by 2½ points  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads series 6-2 
  • Last meeting: ND 23, BYU 13, Nov. 23, 2013 in South Bend