'Stars are aligning' in Notre Dame's pairing of Gerad Parker and Gino Guidugli
SOUTH BEND — Newly promoted Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker and incoming quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli have never worked together before, but former and current associates of both men believe the pairing can’t help but thrive.
That list starts most prominently with Irish coach Marcus Freeman, who has spent nine combined seasons working with Parker at Purdue (2013-16) and Notre Dame (2022) and Guidugli at Cincinnati (2017-20). It also includes Mike Waugh, a former player personnel and recruiting coordinator who has worked closely with all three coaches during prior stops at Marshall, Purdue and Cincinnati.
“They’re familiar with each other,” Waugh, 36, said in a phone interview. “I’ve talked with both of them about each other. They’ve even had discussions in the past about potentially joining one another, and that was for some opportunities that Gerad got close to being able to capture as a head coach. I think Gino would’ve been, if not the guy for his OC, easily one of the first guys Gerad would’ve called.”
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Waugh, co-founder and CEO of 365Pro, an app-based training platform designed to help aspiring high school and youth football players, worked with Guidugli at Cincinnati from March 2017 through July 2019. In Guidugli, a former record-setting Bearcats quarterback who turns 40 in March, Waugh saw similarities to the way Parker, 42 and a former Kentucky wide receiver, approached things at Marshall and Purdue.
“It was quick for me to realize that Gino and Gerad were cut from the same cloth,” Waugh said. “After watching Gino go through spring ball with his guys and how he conducted himself in recruiting in April and May of ’17, it was readily apparent to me that Gino and Gerad were similar. By no means the same; there’s not going to be an issue of them being too much alike.
“I think they’re going to complement each other really well and also challenge each other to be creative, to be innovative. They’re going to bring ideas to the table. Both are supremely confident in the things that they bring forward.”
Division of labor
That both Guidugli (Fort Thomas) and Parker (Louisa) were born and raised in Kentucky only added to the perceived compatibility. Combined they have just three seasons as nominal offensive coordinators: Guidugli in 2022 at Cincinnati and Parker as co-coordinator at West Virginia in 2020-21.
Guidugli, who recently followed former Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell to Wisconsin after serving as Bearcats’ passing game coordinator for two seasons and then replacing Mike Denbrock (now at LSU) as OC, was instrumental in the development of current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder.
With the Badgers having already hired Phil Longo away from North Carolina in December to run the offense, Guidugli was named Wisconsin’s passing game coordinator and tight ends coach on Jan. 4. Parker will continue to coach tight ends at Notre Dame.
“I think the collaboration will be a beautiful thing for Notre Dame and for that staff,” Waugh said. “This is not going to be (uncomfortable). It’s going to be them learning about each other on a day-to-day basis.”
Notre Dame last had a dedicated quarterbacks-only coach from 2017-19, Tommy Rees’ first three years back in the program where he played the position from 2010-13. Chip Long, who coached tight ends, was the Irish offensive coordinator before Brian Kelly dismissed him in December 2019.
Matt LaFleur, who recently completed his fourth season as Green Bay Packers head coach, spent 2014 coaching Notre Dame quarterbacks. Denbrock, as assistant at Notre Dame from 2010-16, coached wide receivers as the Irish OC in 2014.
The only other times since 1999 that Notre Dame split the duties of quarterbacks coach from the offensive coordinator were 2007-09 (Ron Powlus) and 2005-06 (Peter Vaas). The latter two stints fell during the tenure of head coach Charlie Weis, an experienced play-caller hired after helping the New England Patriots win multiple Super Bowls with a young Tom Brady.
“I was around it for four years at Cincinnati, where Mike Denbrock was the offensive coordinator and coached the tight ends and Gino Guidugli was the quarterbacks coach,” Freeman said at Monday’s news conference.
Asked how that changes the dynamic between coordinator and QB coach during the week and on game day, Freeman cited the importance of alignment.
“They have to have a great relationship,” Freeman said. “There has to be a trust. There has to be a very clear understanding of what is expected out of that quarterback position, but the quarterbacks (also) know exactly how the coordinator is thinking. It’s very important for those two (assistants) to be on the same page as well as the off coordinator and the quarterbacks.”
Parker, who has also coached running backs and receivers during his career, echoed that sentiment when a similar question was posed about his future involvement with quarterbacks.
“It will be like anything that is technician-based,” Parker said. “We’re going to have a pro that’s going to do that part. My part will be to make sure we have unit meetings, to watch past phases of our offense and different things to make sure we’re seeing the whole scope together through the same lens.
“And, more importantly, let those guys feel my confidence in what we want to call because they also love it. I think just tying it all together as a group so we’re speaking the same language. In the future, when we’re able to announce officially our quarterbacks coach, I don’t want to walk in and say something different than what he’s saying.”
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Those who know Parker and Guidugli best don’t see that being a problem.
“If we’re not on the same page speaking the same language, then we have an issue,” Parker said. “That will not be something we’ll want to do. How do you (avoid) that? You’ve got to be able to communicate – in the same room a lot of times. We’ll find ways to cheat that time together.”
University of Cincinnati coaching pipeline
Once Guidugli arrives, seven former Cincinnati Bearcats assistant coaches will be on staff at Notre Dame.
In addition to Freeman and Parker, who briefly worked at UC in the spring of 2017, that includes cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens (2011, 2018-19), special teams coordinator Brian Mason (2017-21), defensive line coach Al Washington (2017) and newly hired graduate assistant/linebackers Max Bullough (2019).
Asked about the potential drawbacks of so much familiarity in a “challenge everything” environment, Freeman noted the benefits of “hiring people you know and trust” far outweigh any associated risks.
“There’s great resumes out there,” Freeman said. “There are guys that can interview extremely well, but you learn a lot about an individual when you’re with them every day. It doesn’t take long to say, ‘OK, this is a great coach. This is somebody in the future I would love to coach with.’ And maybe, ‘This is a person that I don’t want to coach with.’
“I want to make sure I get the best coaches we can into this place, but also there’s an element of, ‘I know and I trust that this person can get the job done. I know he’s an excellent football coach. I know he’s going to develop our players. I know he cares about them and he’s going to treat them the right way.’ “
Such advance knowledge, Freeman believes, removes the potential danger for backbiting or falling into a stale pattern of predictability.
“I’m going to take a chance on a guy that I know and I trust rather than just maybe a resume or just a guy that did a great job in an interview,” he said. “Experience goes a long way, the experience with somebody.”
Waugh, whose four-year run on the recruiting staff at Marshall overlapped with Parker’s first of two seasons (2011-12) coaching wideouts for the Thundering Herd, sees this Parker-Guidugli pairing as one that practically had to happen at some point.
“I think the stars are aligning,” Waugh said. “This was definitely meant to be. You could see it eventually going down this way in some way, shape or form.”
Knowing all three principals as well as he does, Waugh doesn’t believe the familiarity of Freeman’s coaching staff will be a hurdle.
“One of the things that’s misconstrued at times is that a strong friendship in football coaching is going to get in the way,” Waugh said. “I can’t stress enough that these are guys who are business-first. If you can help them win, that’s going to be a priority.
“That’s going to be the first thing that Marcus asks: ‘Is this going to help us get better? Is this going to help us win games?’ Gerad is the same way. Gino is the same way. When relationships grow, inevitably some of those are going to become great. That’s what you’ve seen happen with Gerad and Marcus, and I think that’s going to happen with Gino and Gerad as they get together.”
Parker and Rees had never worked together before February 2022. Not quite seven months into their brief association, buoyed by regular Tuesday brainstorming chats over coffee, Rees said of Parker: “I trust him like I’ve worked with him 10 years.”
Waugh, a father of two young boys (ages 5 and 3), stepped away from the college football grind to prioritize his family. He sees the coaching culture Freeman is building at Notre Dame as nothing but positive.
“One thing that gets overemphasized at times is that it’s going to be problematic having a friendship with somebody you work with,” Waugh said. “I actually think it’s what makes Marcus great. It’s what makes Gerad great, and it’s going to make the Notre Dame staff great.
“They’re tightly aligned in a football aspect, but also really wanting to fight for each other to make sure that Marcus gets the acclaim that he deserves and the program reaches the heights that it deserves and that in the end guys move on to better places for them individually because of the success they’ve had together. That bond that they have is important, and it’s something that doesn’t happen a lot in football in a healthy way.”
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.