SOUTH BEND, IN – Gerard Parker started running back a year ago at Notre Dame. He was indebted to Marcus Freeman, his friend and former carpool partner from Purdue. After two seasons at West Virginia as offensive coordinator, Parker needed to find the next stop in his career. Freeman wanted Parker to coach Notre Dame. All he had to do was be prepared to teach the best tight end in the country and lead a three-deep center with NFL prospects.
Parker knew he would be discovered by Notre Dame tight ends if he reached anything short of game form. So he started calling Michael Mayer, Kevin Bauman, and Mitchell Evans before emptying out his office. He needed to know what they know and what they don’t. Because if Parker was going to teach a position so pivotal to the Irish offense while helping Meyer finish his run as the tightest end in Notre Dame history, he first had to learn.
“The first thing I noticed was his work ethic, man. Immediately he wanted to get down to business and learn from us,” Meyer said. the athlete. “So the first impression was, Dude, I was a little surprised. His knowledge, what he knew about roads helped me tremendously last year at Notre Dame.”
Parker will be challenged in his promotion from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, in part because of what made him such a game in his positional assignment last year. When Parker scouted Notre Dame tight ends, it was more than just a basics and blues review. He wanted a customized incentive plan for each player. This approach only works if the coach understands his players beyond their stats, research that is easier to do in one position than in an entire offensive roster.
In Mayer’s case, that meant understanding the tight end’s appetite for competition and absolute confidence. It meant connecting with him on a personal level, too, as the player and coach spoke through his Kentucky roots. Meyer once dreamed of playing basketball at Lexington. Parker played football at Kentucky. Within two months of meeting Meyer, Parker had gathered enough information to take an All-American motivational shot in a way that could have felt like sand under his shoulder pads.
Before spring practice, Parker put together a recap of the highlights for Meyer to watch. It is common for coaches to show clips from better players in the form of an aspirational tutorial tape. So it came as no surprise to Meyer when he flipped onto the bar and saw the highlight of Travis Kelsey’s passes to Patrick Mahomes. This is the next level, a place Meyer wanted to go.
But when did Georgia’s Brock Powers appear on the reel? different reaction.
“I think he was trying to motivate me a little bit. I think they were talking about Brock Bowers a lot before the season started, like I don’t really care about any of that stuff. It was just a funny little joke,” Meyer said. “Because at that point, he knows how to roll. I don’t BS to anyone I go to, play some ball, do what I need to do. And he kind of knew that, so maybe he knew that was going to shoot me a little bit.”
Meyer finished the season with 67 catches, 809 yards, and nine touchdowns. He came off Notre Dame with single season and career records in receptions, yardage and touchdowns for tight ends.
Meyer had such a relationship with Parker that he spent nearly two hours meeting with the position coach about his decision to withdraw from the Gator Bowl at the end of the 2022 season. Meyer said he also consulted with Freeman, his parents, and his agent. The fact that Meyer wanted to include Parker spoke about the time investment the coach had put into the player, motivational highlight reels and all.
Most Thursday nights during the season, Parker would invite tight ends to his home north of campus for dinner with the coach’s wife and children. Most meetings begin with Parker asking about the lives of his players before delving into game plans or movie reviews. This approach built credibility and fit Freeman’s philosophy that coaches can only push players as far as they trust that coach. With Parker, that trust has been earned.
“It shows his true personality,” Meyer said. “The guy knows how to build relationships. He wants to build relationships. There’s nothing fake about it. I’ve had coaches who don’t. And there’s a lot out there who don’t. Absolutely nothing against them, but (Parker) values his players’ performance, not just how They do on the field.”
There were several boxes Freeman wanted to check with his first true offensive coordinator hiring, a choice that would have a huge impact on the trajectory of his coaching career. Parker wasn’t the first interviewer, though he did help screen out Kansas State’s Colin Klein and Utah’s Andy Ludwig, two crime architects Freeman ranked high on his scheme wish list. Parker even sat next to Ludwig at a Notre Dame hockey game two weeks ago, a night that helped turn that search into more than just your average hiring process.
However, when Freeman turned to Parker last week after Klein and Ludwig decided to stay put, the Notre Dame head coach thought he knew exactly what he was getting. Parker has seen through thick and thin. He’s seen Parker build relationships like the one he had with Meyer last season.
Freeman said he could have stopped meeting Parker halfway because his mind was made up.
“I said, ‘Here’s our next offensive coordinator,'” Freeman said, “but I wanted to take some time and think about it and not make an emotional decision.” And I woke up in the morning, I remember calling Jack (Swarbrick) and saying, ‘I think we’ve found our next offensive coordinator. “
Meyer will now be watching everything from a distance, unlike when he returned to Notre Dame for Pro Day this spring after the NFL combine. If anyone on the offensive roster wants to know what Notre Dame is up to in its new offensive coordinator, Meyer will be happy to tell them.
“I was really happy with this appointment,” Meyer said. “I’m excited for him, man. He’s going to do great things at Notre Dame as an OC.”
(Photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
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