Episode Description

Ty chats with Pete Sampson about an intense couple months at Notre Dame, as Sam Hartman transferred in, Tommy Rees left for Alabama, and Gerad Parker was promoted to offensive coordinator from within. How did the Hartman transfer come to be and was there ever a concern he might change his mind? What was the relationship like between Marcus Freeman and Rees? And with bigger names rumored as the next playcaller, is it a disappointment that Parker got the nod?

Welcome back to The Solid Verbal, boys and girls.
My name is Ty Hildenbrandt.
Dan Rubenstein’s in California right now.
So you’re stuck with me today, but I’ve got a special guest going to talk with our friend Pete Sampson of The Athletic.
It has been a very active offseason for all things Notre Dame.
I want to talk to him about Tommy Rees.
I want to talk to him about Sam Hartman, about new coaches, about this ongoing conference realignment discussion
that we continue to have, if only because we have to.
So stay tuned for that.
That will come up here in just a few moments.
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In the meantime, let’s just jump right in.
Let’s talk to our friend Pete Sampson of The Athletic.
All right, joining me now, long-time friend of the Verbal.
You know him from The Athletic.
You know him from The Shamrock podcast.
You know him as Pete Sampson, sir.
How you doing?
Good. Sort of enjoying a slow offseason for the last 48 hours
because the rest of it has been a little bit nuts around here.
But, yeah, spring practice is–
It’s hard to believe it’s two weeks away.
And we’ve yet to talk to Sam Hartman, which is sort of like the big thing here.
So very, very interested to do that this week.
Was there ever a moment in time where you were concerned that Sam Hartman might leave too?
Yes. Because, I mean, these grad transfers are such business decisions, right?
Like I don’t think there’s a lot of grad transfers that are coming to play for
Our Lady on the Dome or spend some time at the Grotto.
It’s, you know, how do I get in better position to make it at the NFL?
And, you know, say what you want about Tommy Rees.
It’s a very pro-style approach, sophisticated offense,
and that’s what Hartman was looking for.
So, you know, I think even in Gerad Parker, the new offensive coordinator’s introduction,
he acknowledged–I think he used the word “anxiety” with Sam Hartman
in getting with him and sort of explaining, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.”
You know, and Marcus Freeman’s talking about pro-style, pro-style, pro-style.
But, yeah, it’s like you’ve got to–Sam Hartman came here as a business decision,
and then the reason of that business headed to Alabama.
So I think getting that settled and we’ll talk to Hartman for the first time on Wednesday this week,
that’s significant.
What questions do you have for him?
Well, I mean, how he processed Rees’s departure, you know, the reason he came to Notre Dame left.
So how do you sort of view the experience here and how it’s changed after essentially two months?
That’s the biggest one.
And then, you know, sort of why he decided to do the six-year at all.
You know, it’s my understanding he was sort of a late-round draft pick, as is.
How much can that improve coming to Notre Dame?
What does he want to improve coming to Notre Dame?
You know, and then I think just sort of what his expectations are for this offense here
and what he could do in it.
I mean, he’s put up ridiculous numbers at Wake Forest, but, you know,
he’s never had an offensive line quite like the one he’s going to play behind at Notre Dame.
You know, how does that sort of factor into where he wants to be
and how coming to Notre Dame can help him from an NFL point of view?
Pete, do you have any sense for the chronology of events with respect to Hartman coming to Notre Dame?
Because oftentimes, right, when we hear about a player throwing his name in the transfer portal,
we’re the last to know.
There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes, as you just said, Tommy Rees,
maybe the reason that Hartman came to ND to start.
What did that process look like?
Well, I mean, I think that they were sort of kicking the tires on that
from very third-party points of view for a while.
You know, I always say it’s sort of like Rounders.
You can’t spot the sucker at the table in the first ten minutes you’re the sucker.
Like if a kid enters the transfer portal and you don’t know where he’s going, you’re the sucker.
He’s not coming to you.
So you’ve got to do your legwork ahead of time on that and be prepared for this stuff.
You know, there’s a tangential relationship there where, you know, Bill Rees,
who was Tommy’s dad who was in scouting at Notre Dame, was actually at Wake Forest
when they recruited Sam Hartman.
So it’s not like they didn’t know what they would be getting into there from the get-go.
But I think there was a lot of consternation around Notre Dame, NIL,
how is this going to factor into it, is this going to work against Notre Dame,
whether that be Florida was a possibility that was sort of rumored for Sam Hartman.
And I don’t have really a great understanding of what the NIL opportunities are
for Hartman at Notre Dame other than just to say that the quarterback at Notre Dame
is a very lucrative position.
And I think that he will be–he’ll monetize that because it would be hard not to.
But I think for most of it, Hartman was looking for a bigger stage that,
most importantly, was going to turn him into a better pro prospect.
So that’s sort of where the biggest question is like, okay, well,
is Notre Dame still the place that’s going to turn you into a better pro prospect?
That’s one of Marcus Freeman and Gerad Parker’s big points to convince Hartman about.
And I think that’s where spring practice is significant in a different way
for Notre Dame because Hartman’s going to have to–you’re going to want to prove it
to him a little bit that, yeah, we’re pushing your game forward
in an NFL developmental kind of way.
I will say I was very reassured after the news broke from you and others
about Tommy Rees going to Alabama.
I think it was that Friday night Sam Hartman posted a video on his Twitter
of him working late Friday night, weight room.
It felt to me like that is not something you post if you are planning on leaving
and going elsewhere.
So obviously things can change very quickly in college football,
but at least for the moment I feel somewhat confident that we’re in a good place.
Yeah, I think that if he has a good experience in spring practice,
I know he’s had a good experience just sort of being at Notre Dame
and the culture of the program.
The guys here are like the guys probably he was with at Wake Forest.
That’s a positive.
So all signs point to this will work out just fine,
but there is always that flicker of college football is a very drunk sport.
Anything can happen at any time.
You never want to rule anything out, but I think that overwhelmingly stuff
is in a good spot with Hartman and Notre Dame the longer this goes on.
And that once spring practice starts in a couple weeks,
I think it will further kind of strengthen Notre Dame’s position
and Hartman’s relationships here.
I was hoping you could help us unpack the whole Rees thing if that’s okay.
I’m sure you’ve probably grown a little bit tired of talking about it,
but after Brian Kelly left, the partnership between Marcus Freeman
and Tommy Rees was something that I think was very easy to get behind.
Even people who didn’t like Notre Dame found that easy to root for.
There was, I think, from a Notre Dame fan’s perspective,
a sense of continuity that was reassuring about that setup.
The season played out.
I think we can debate the merits of what went right, what went wrong,
but I was hoping you could give us some insight into what was
that relationship like between Freeman and Rees.
I mean, my understanding, talking to sources very close to both of them,
is that they had a good relationship, that it wasn’t–I think it was portrayed
as an arranged marriage sort of after the fact.
I don’t think it was ever that way.
If Marcus Freeman could have gone back and hired any offensive coordinator
a year ago, I think he would have hired Tommy Rees.
So that sort of retention made perfect sense.
I think from a professional development standpoint,
it made a lot of sense for Rees where he had more autonomy to a point.
When it came to filling out the staff, I think Rees probably expected
to be able to pick and choose who he had in different spots,
and Freeman sort of put his foot down on Gerad Parker as the tight ends coach.
So that was a point of like, all right, we’re not co-head coaches here.
I’m not the head coach of offense.
I’m the offensive coordinator, and Marcus Freeman is the head coach.
What he says goes.
So that took a little bit of an adjustment because I think Rees thought
when the job came open that he would be like not maybe a serious,
serious candidate, but more than a token like, hey, we’ll talk to you
and just see what your thoughts are on this.
I think it got to a point–like Rees is a big professional development guy,
and when he flirted a little bit with Mario Cristobal at Miami a year ago
that job went to Josh Gattis, it was purely for professional development
standpoints, very well compensated by Notre Dame.
But how do you push your career further forward?
I think working for a first-year head coach, you could make an argument
that like the professional development angle there is like not a selling point.
However, having the autonomy to just sort of run the offense you see fit
without Brian Kelly sort of looking over your shoulder,
that was a positive to stay.
I mean, ultimately you get to a point where like which head coach
in college football runs the best finishing school for a coach?
I mean, it’s Nick Saban 100 times out of 100.
Maybe you could say it’s Kirby Smart just because he is Nick Saban,
just the younger version.
So I think that ultimately that opportunity for Rees to kind of leave
the Notre Dame nest and just sort of like, all right, you don’t get the benefit
of the doubt in Tuscaloosa like you did around South Bend a lot of times.
That ultimately sort of got him to a point where it was like, okay,
I need to do something else.
But more importantly, if I do something else, it needs to be with somebody
like Nick Saban or Kirby Smart.
Like those are the places I need to go because that opens the door like,
do you want to go to the NFL?
Nick Saban is a great person to learn from.
Do you want to be a college head coach?
Same deal.
So that’s I think also – I don’t think there was any like I’m getting away
from Marcus Freeman.
I think they have a good relationship.
They’re like working together.
And for Rees, it’s always about professional development first
and foremost.
And Nick Saban offers that at the highest, highest level.
Yeah, I don’t think anybody can fault Rees for taking that job.
As he said, it’s a clear step up.
It puts him on a rocket ship for a big job probably within the next five years.
And he’s still a really young coach.
I like what he did at Notre Dame.
I think he was very good at maximizing several of the parts of that offense.
But I don’t know if he ever fully optimized the whole thing.
Nobody is going to look at Notre Dame’s offense over the last couple years
and say, “Wow, that was a machine.”
That didn’t happen.
And if you read the internet, there are reasons for that per the internet.
They range from Notre Dame not having enough talent to Tommy Rees’s overrated.
Where are you on that spectrum?
Well, I mean, they didn’t have enough talent at receiver.
There were times where they didn’t have enough talent at quarterback.
But ultimately, that’s the fault of the offensive coordinator, who is Tommy Rees.
So those are like kind of a circular argument about like what was the problem.
It’s players, not plays.
I thought Rees is like a play caller, like does it at a very high level.
Nick Saban would seem to agree with that.
So I feel good about my opinion there.
But the reason Notre Dame had Jack Coan and Drew Pyne
and inexperienced Tyler Buchner at quarterback came down to Rees.
They didn’t take a grad transfer in the market a year ago when they should have.
Buckner wasn’t ready to go in a way that he needed to be last year.
They took half a season to figure out that Jack Coan needed to get the ball out of his hands
in two seconds or less, not six seconds or more.
So I think Rees certainly has faults.
I’ve written about them a bunch.
But I think there is a section of the Notre Dame fan base that Rees can do no right,
maybe because he was the guy that was keeping Everett Golson on the bench 10 years ago
and they just haven’t gotten over it.
So he’s a very polarizing figure on Notre Dame.
I totally agree with you.
His offenses were not killers.
At times the run game was and the way they used the tight ends I thought was creative
and sort of fit what Notre Dame wants to be, like very blue collar and smash mouth type stuff.
But I do think when Notre Dame fans watch games in other leagues and they’re like,
“Holy crap, they start at 35 points,” and Notre Dame is scratching and clawing to get there,
there’s got to be a different level out there.
You can run pro-style offense, and I understand the development aspect,
but these college-style offenses, if that’s such a thing,
like Tennessee runs a college-style offense, pretty damn effective.
So Notre Dame maybe moving in that direction would be a little bit healthy.
We had a really interesting debate about this point with Tommy Rees.
Is this a good hire for Alabama on our Verballer Discord?
And as I said, there was a full spectrum of responses that came out.
I think he deserves credit for helping build the running game this past season,
knowing that every opponent knew it was coming because of Drew Pyne.
They knew it was coming.
They knew it was either going to Michael Mayer or one of the running backs,
and building that offensive line in the manner that the staff did
and then crafting a ground game around it in a way that was really effective,
notably against Clemson, I think that deserves a lot of praise.
I think you said it.
They didn’t have a killer offense really at any point in his tenure at Notre Dame,
and I’m just curious to see how that translates to Nick Saban, Alabama, and the SEC.
Yeah, because he’s going to have killer talent on the outside there.
He already does.
He won’t ever start Drew Pyne at Alabama.
He’s not going to start Jack Coan at Alabama.
They’re just going to be at a higher level from the get-go.
That said, Bill O’Brien has caught all sorts of crap towards the end of last year,
and they’re averaging, what, like 42 points a game?
And there’s like, is Bill O’Brien, is it time for him to move on?
Has his offense gotten stale?
And I’m just like, Notre Dame would kill for this production.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, he’s going to go in the top ten of the draft.
I get it.
But that’s like to do–Rees will have to produce at such a higher level in Alabama
than he ever did at Notre Dame, just as like a bare minimum,
and how he handles that pressure and that scrutiny down there.
Because he definitely is–whether he reads it or he hears it,
people around him read it and hear it, and it gets back to him,
and he knows about who’s ripping them and what they’re saying.
And sometimes he’ll clap back at you in sort of how he answers questions
in press conferences.
So he’s going to have to mature, I think, as a coach down there
because you can’t be in Paul Finebaum country
and be worrying about what’s being written on AL.com
or what’s being said about you on The Finebaum Show.
I mean, Notre Dame was a much more comfortable ride for him
in terms of criticism than anything that Alabama would be like.
On the Notre Dame side of things, by all accounts, including your own,
Marcus Freeman felt that this was kind of a make-or-break moment for him.
And it sounds as if the hire was taken extraordinarily seriously,
brought in a bunch of people to help give him input on it,
some big names, of course, tied to the job–Joe Moorhead, Andy Ludwig,
many others.
Can you give us that timeline of events that led to Freeman
ultimately promoting his guy, Gerad Parker?
That was a fascinating process because at the beginning
you’re talking to people in the agent space and around Notre Dame,
and there’s like this may be the most important hire
that Marcus Freeman makes in his time at Notre Dame
because it may determine how much time at Notre Dame he actually has.
And then to see him sort of hunt Collin Klein, who’s not experienced,
but he really liked his offense, very creative, and Andy Ludwig,
who really sort of fit multiple tight end sets,
bludgeoning you over the head with your offensive line and your run game.
Like, okay, well that fits with what Notre Dame wants to do.
I was impressed he took big swings with that.
Neither of them hit.
The Ludwig situation was very dramatic, I should say.
Like he comes out to a hockey–
It was dramatic.
It’s just like this is not how it should work.
You do your interviews behind closed doors,
and then you announce them.
Like they bring them to a hockey game.
Everyone’s like, well, that’s a sign.
Like this is the white smoke.
It’s like you go to a hockey game, it’s the white smoke from the Papal Chimney of 2023.
But to see that sort of fall apart, whether it was a buyout or a fit–
What happened there?
What happened?
Because there are two schools of thought, right?
Either he got cold feet or Notre Dame wasn’t willing to pay the buyout.
I think both sides have kind of denied–
Yeah, right.
–like both circumstances.
What happened?
I’ve heard about eight different sides of the story.
I was told that Notre Dame didn’t necessarily know the buyout figure
when the interview process began.
I think that they maybe believed it was a reasonable buyout,
opposed to the Ludwig buyout was actually close to $3 million,
which is absolutely insane for an offensive coordinator.
I also think that Ludwig just wanted to stay at Utah.
He’s from Utah.
His greatest success has been with Whittingham.
They’ve got a lot coming back.
That program is really humming right now.
He’s got some family situations out there where being close to–
being local is important.
I think it was sort of everything.
That got really hot and interesting.
You don’t really hear about offensive coordinator hires going that sort of sideways
or publicly sideways like that.
Maybe there’s a lesson there for Notre Dame and a young head coach about,
“Okay, this is a way to approach that.”
I know Freeman wanted to sort of give Ludwig a taste of what Notre Dame was about,
which is at its best, I think Notre Dame feels like the world’s biggest high school
where sports are supporting each other and the community is sort of all into Notre Dame.
So we want to give them a taste of that.
In doing that, I think it set expectations that this deal was done.
And then when it wasn’t, sort of people got their hackles up there.
So it was–getting to Gerad Parker, I think after Colin Klein and Ludwig,
they just needed to make a decision.
I do think that for how good Rees was, he was not a Freeman guy.
And there is value–when you talk to college head coaches,
there’s value in having a guy you can trust 100% of the time with everything
about how you communicate it, how you coach it, that you’re going to have their back.
And Gerad Parker is definitely one of those guys for Marcus Freeman.
So I can see the value in that, but that’s a big change from
this is maybe the biggest hire Marcus Freeman is going to make
to, “Okay, we’re going to go with somebody in-house that we can really trust and believe in.”
It was definitely a weird process.
Not how I think Marcus Freeman expected it to play out from the get-go.
A friendship forged in the fires of West Lafayette, where they carpooled to work.
All these stories that I’ve read about Gerad Parker and Marcus Freeman.
That could be a Fantasy Things thing for you next year, by the way.
The carpool is going to be a big one.
I don’t think there’s any denying that.
Do you feel disappointed that they went Gerad Parker?
Not really.
I’m surprised, but I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed.
I think it’s definitely a departure.
The result is different than what I thought the process was going to lead to.
I thought the process was going to lead to Notre Dame hiring an experienced offensive coordinator
with a track record of quarterback development, and it didn’t.
It led to a guy with some experience as an offensive coordinator who doesn’t coach quarterbacks.
But I could see where Freeman’s head is at.
If you’re like, “Okay, you go Parker as offensive coordinator.
Gino Guidugli, who is another Freeman guy who does have some offensive coordinator experience.
Joe Rudolph as offensive line coach.
Gerad, coach Harry Hiestand.
Freeman and Rudolph go back to Ohio State together.”
I understand how the pieces fit together.
It’s just not the puzzle I thought Freeman was working on when the process started.
What does the Parker/Guidugli, because I presume he’ll have some input into it, offense look like?
Is it a modified version of what we’ve seen over the last couple years with Rees?
Will it go in a different direction altogether?
What’s your sense?
I think that it will be similar to how Rees ran it in terms of it will be a run first,
That’s where it’s going to start for Notre Dame.
I don’t think they’re ever going to air it out like a reference Tennessee.
Notre Dame’s not going to have four receivers outside the numbers every play.
But it needs to have more of a vertical pass game threat.
The quarterback upgrade should help that.
The receivers should be better than they were last year when there just was not much of a connection between, I think,
Pine Buckner and what Notre Dame had at receivers.
They were not overly talented in that position last year either.
It has to have more options than a world-beating tight end and elite offensive line.
Their offensive line should still be very good.
Their running backs are great.
But they’ve got to push the ball vertically in a way they couldn’t last year.
I think that’s not like a change in offensive scheme.
It’s just like your players are better at those positions.
If Rees was still the offensive coordinator, I think this would have been his best offense at Notre Dame by far.
I think Gerad Parker in a lot of ways is set up for success because of the players he’ll be putting into various pieces.
But Sam Hartman is obviously the biggest of that group.
I’m interested on what that puzzle looks like on the quarterback side of things.
You listen to our show, Pete.
I’ve been talking about the quarterback spot at Notre Dame for as long as I’ve had a show.
You have been covering Notre Dame longer than just about anybody.
So you understand the questions around quarterback.
As you said, it is a prestigious spot.
It does not feel like a spot where they’ve had a whole lot of transcendent talent over the last 15 to 20 years.
They’ve had guys come through there.
But Sam Hartman now I think represents a moment of real optimism for where the offense can go.
We had a question on our Verballer Discord from someone I know you know, Catherine B., who is revered on our Verballer Discord as well as The Athletic comments section.
But her question is specifically around CJ Carr, the big commit that they’ve got in the class of 2024.
I will broaden it a little bit and ask what does that pathway look like from your standpoint at the quarterback position?
Because Sam Hartman’s one and done.
And they did take Kenny Minchey, their recruit that came in as part of the ’23 class, CJ Carr coming in with ’24.
Tyler Buchner is still there at time of recording.
How does that quarterback roadmap appear to you as we record this in early March 2023?
I think it’s muddled, which is fine.
I think one of the things I want to see Notre Dame do that they didn’t do last year is be more aggressive and cutthroat with how they handle that position.
I think they’ve had much more of like, we have a good culture in our room and it’s a developmental program.
And like, no, no, no, no, no.
Find the best guy and play him.
And I’m not saying that Ian Book wasn’t the best guy because he won 30 fricking games for Notre Dame.
But there have been times over the last few years where I think Notre Dame has sort of deferred to like having good vibes in their quarterback room and not been as cutthroat with competition as they need to be.
I think taking Sam Hartman is a cutthroat move because you risk, well, you lost Drew Pyne.
You risk losing Tyler Buckner.
But you know what? That’s fine because you’re upgrading the position.
And then a year from now, you’ll have Buchner, Carr, Minchy, Steve Angeli, if he’s still here.
Somebody’s going to win the job.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Carr or Buchner or Minchey or Angeli.
Two of them will probably leave.
And I think Notre Dame has to be like, well, that’s fine.
Then we’ll just go get another transfer.
I think one of the things you see other programs do is they go out and try to find a dude every year at quarterback.
And I think Notre Dame has sort of been like every other, which is just not good enough when you’re banking on a one — you’re essentially hoping you have a 100% hit rate.
Because when you don’t, then you have this huge gap in your roster of quarterback talent.
I think that’s — Notre Dame needs to be more aggressive in recruiting and more willing to take transfers at the position to cover up cracks if they exist.
And spend less time thinking about like, okay, everyone’s in a happy camp mood here in this room.
Just like, no, this is the most important position on the team.
Be cutthroat about who you can get in there and be recruiting your butt off at all times to make sure you’re getting a top 200-level quarterback every cycle.
It will be interesting to see how the Hartman experiment goes.
Because if he is able to elevate his draft stock in a meaningful way, that tends to help other potential transfers with any discomfort they might have about coming to South.
I agree. I mean, I think Jack Coan’s experience was good.
It’s not like he turned him into an NFL draft pick, but —
XFL quarterback.
XFL quarterback. You did throw a touch on to Alize Mack if you’re a deep dive on Notre Dame former tight ends.
But he had a good experience here. I think Sam Hartman has a chance to have a great experience here.
I don’t think that you want to just have Notre Dame’s quarterback room be like you’re starting a grad transfer every year.
But you at least want whoever next year’s Sam Hartman is to look at Notre Dame and be like, oh, okay, well, he had a good experience there.
And maybe that’s a spot I should look at.
Maybe it’s next year’s Devin Leary or next year’s Brendan Armstrong. Who knows?
Like quarterbacks are moving all the time.
So it’s important for like branding of the program to be like you can come in here and play right away.
This is a big stage. Everyone’s going to know who you are on a national level.
Like I think Sam Hartman was a good college football story at Wake Forest.
He is one of the college football stories at Notre Dame.
So that’s that’s an important thing that Notre Dame can sell and distinguish itself from other places.
You mentioned the NIL structure earlier, Pete.
I haven’t heard a whole lot about Notre Dame and what Notre Dame is doing in the NIL space.
What is their position on NIL? How are they accommodating?
How are they competing with some of what we’ve heard elsewhere with collectives and big money deals being thrown around to prospects and transfers?
So big money deals to prospects is a big no right now.
Their NIL collective is it’s called Fund.
Brady Quinn and Tom Mendoza, who is now the business school here, sort of head that up.
It’s much more of like sort of the charitable works format where players are compensated for working in a community,
whether it be like Boys and Girls Club or Center for the Homeless, things like that.
But so there’s actually you do work to realize NIL dollars.
And then if you’re Michael Mayer or Kyle Hamilton, you zoom into six figures because like for profit businesses want to work with you.
But in terms of the recruiting aspect of it, Notre Dame’s approach is more like if you come here and you’re a dude, you’ll make money.
Opposed to you’ll make money before you come here and prove anything.
Notre Dame is not in the game right now to put out, I think, NIL contracts or promises to prospects just to show up.
So I don’t they may maybe they will change with that down the road, but they’ve been very reluctant on that.
I think Notre Dame is an institution has said like they’re for NIL and they’ve been like a champion or proponent of it.
In theory, yeah, that’s true. But where NIL has gone is not where it was, I think, theoretically people at institutions thought.
I think people in business knew it was going to go this way all the time.
But Notre Dame’s approach has been much more you can make money here and make a lot of it if you’re a player.
But just to come here, we’re not going to compensate you just to show up.
So it’s kind of a different approach to maybe some other places.
So in like two years, Pete, when they have to change that policy, how how would you envision them changing that in a way that is true to Notre Dame?
That’s a tough one, because that’s I think that there’s a way to work sort of their NIL approach into recruiting where you you can talk to these the top prospects and say, hey, come here.
Here’s what you’ll do. Here’s how you can monetize that.
Right now, their approach is much more with fund, at least as like every player is compensated in the same way.
It’s sort of at the same figure. So whether you’re the fourth team middle linebacker or the starting quarterback, that’s sort of a team wide NIL activity.
I don’t I don’t know how that sustains itself two, three years down the road when you’re sort of looking at the value Sam Hartman brings to the program versus the second team long snapper.
And wait a minute. One guy is the reason that we made the college football playoff.
And that’s that’s something I think Notre Dame is going to have to adjust to over time there.
And I think that they’re aware of that. They’re just trying not to sort of overstep into like a.
Football players as university employees world, that’s that’s Notre Dame does not want to go there at all.
I understand why they don’t want to go there. But there are other schools that are willing to.
So I think Notre Dame says this is like sort of constant re-evaluation of like, what are you comfortable with in the NIL space?
I do believe that Notre Dame is getting more and more comfortable with NIL, but this ain’t A&M or Oregon or Miami.
That’s not what’s happening up here. And I don’t think that’s ever what’s going to happen up here.
Pete, we’re recording this around, let’s say, 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.
And I saw a tweet come across from our friends over at Reddit CFB that the University of Colorado has scheduled a special executive session for Wednesday to discuss, quote, a legal advice on a specific matter and quote, an athletics update on the Pac-12.
You are a college football fan, first and foremost. You understand the climate right now with respect to the Pac-12 and media rights and how things could suddenly go boom at a moment’s notice.
I am not going to say that conference realignment, another round of it is definitely going to happen.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in college football. It feels like you need to fully qualify every statement because things change so quickly.
But there is a world in which the Pac-12 disintegrates. There is a world in which Oregon and Washington end up in the Big Ten.
There is a world in which in very short order we start talking about Notre Dame. What does Notre Dame do? How does Notre Dame fit in all this?
Start talking about Notre Dame.
Well, right, but continue talking about Notre Dame in maybe a more realistic way than we have in these hypothetical states that we’ve been in over the last decade or so.
What does that ongoing conversation look like from the Notre Dame standpoint? Is it something that they have warm to either because the situation around them has changed or because the money has changed?
What have you heard on the side of things?
The money has changed big time.
You hear people at Notre Dame talk a lot more about the financial implications of conference full joining of the Big Ten or the SEC.
What that would look like, what that would feel like for the ability to compete with Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia financially.
That’s much more of a front burner topic than it’s ever been for Notre Dame.
My personal opinion is that if Oregon and Washington join the Big Ten, Notre Dame makes sense at that point.
Notre Dame always makes sense for the Big Ten. I’m saying Notre Dame, it would be a logical decision to then join for Notre Dame because you’re not joining a regional conference anymore.
In the early 90s when this happened the last time and the Big Ten thought maybe Notre Dame was about to go, the East Coast was State College and the West Coast was Iowa City.
Now it’s the legit West Coast and the legit East Coast. There’s never been a national conference quite like that if you had Oregon and Washington that mix.
I don’t think Notre Dame would feel pinned in the way that it would if it was just stuck playing Thanksgiving weekend in Iowa City or Minneapolis opposed to Los Angeles or Palo Alto.
I think there’s a world where joining the Big Ten, Notre Dame would actually celebrate it opposed to begrudgingly do it.
If the Big Ten gets a little bit more national, it’s already getting more lucrative. I could see the day coming where it makes too much sense to put off conference affiliation just because independence isn’t important.
I understand that it is critical to the institution, but that version of the Big Ten I think would be very, very attractive to Notre Dame.
If you spin it forward, the Florida State-Clemson discussions where you hear their athletic directors talk about we can’t sustain this.
What happens when they depart there? What does the ACC look like? Is that still a home for you if you’re Notre Dame for all your other sports?
I’m not so sure that it is. It’s definitely worth monitoring, but like many things at Notre Dame, they don’t need to be the team that jumps first.
They can wait until like, “Okay, this is the perfect situation. Now we’re going to make a move.”
I think Oregon, Washington, I don’t know if you can convince the Big Ten to take Stanford as well, but if you did that, then I think Notre Dame would look at that and be like,
“Okay, these are schools we’d like to associate with competitively, academically. It’s a good fit.”
Geographically, yeah. I mean, look, if another shoe were to drop and the Pac-12 goes bye-bye, if Oregon and Washington go into the Big Ten in short order, which seems like it’s very much on the table, at that point, the writing’s on the wall.
At that point, it seems inevitable that another round of more massive tectonic conference realignments is going to go down.
And Notre Dame, if you’re Jack Swarbrick, if you’re the university president, this is a conversation among presidents, not so much ADs.
You have to start sussing out, “All right, what is our place in all this?”
That’s got to be a conversation that goes on on a regular basis, especially in today’s day and age.
I think it’s worth keeping in mind, I realize everyone gets overheated about what’s next, when’s this going to happen.
Notre Dame can be last. They can move last in this. They’re not running away from anything.
It’s not like UCLA where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, how are we going to meet our debt obligations? We have to join the Big Ten,” almost as a cost savings measure.
Notre Dame can take its time. It can evaluate, “What does the Big Ten media rights world look like? How big is that conference? What happened to the ACC?”
And then it can make a decision. Because once you join a conference, you can’t unring that bell if you’re Notre Dame.
So make sure it’s exactly how you want it to be, because the Big Ten is never going to be like, “You know what? We’re full.
We just took Oregon and Washington, and Notre Dame, there’s just not any room for you.”
Notre Dame is such a guaranteed moneymaker for them that they’re open for business all the time for Notre Dame.
So Notre Dame can sort of pick its spots if that spot, if it makes sense for them to do it.
Pete Sampson of The Athletic, I’ve got one final question for you, then we’ll let you run.
I know you’re a busy guy these days. What are you watching for in spring camp?
What are your top three things that you’re watching for as Notre Dame starts their spring practice?
Well, Sam Hartman for sure. I mean, that’s number one. You want to make sure he’s there. So that’s important.
I think that Notre Dame’s defensive line is going to potentially take a pretty big step back this year.
So how do they mitigate that? They took a grad transfer from Ohio State, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, which is a great name.
Can he be sort of the Isaiah Foskey light? They need help up front.
And I’m not sure that their recruiting class is going to be sort of an instant impact group,
but how that position shakes out would be top of my list after Sam Hartman.
And then the receiver group, they had three midyear enrollees.
Tobias Merriweather is a sophomore or will be a sophomore in the fall that they had big expectations for.
Had one catch last year. It was a touchdown.
They think he’s got like big time number one receiver type ability. So that’s high on my list.
And I think after that, I would say that probably the offensive line as well.
I mean, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, they’re two tackles. They’re both NFL guys.
But the inside of the line is going to have to be rebuilt a little bit. Zeke Corral’s back at center.
No Harry Hiestand, no Chris Watt, who is a very popular sort of assistant offensive line coach here.
He departed for the Colts. So how that gets rebuilt, those sort of the two trenches and the quarterback and the receiver,
like Notre Dame should be good on both lines all the time.
They should. Then they definitely will on the offensive line.
But can the defensive line get caught up and then, you know, can we see a flash?
Can we just get a Kevin Austin again at wide receiver?
Somebody you’re like, you throw the ball up and good things are going to happen because they just didn’t really have much of that last year outside of Michael Mayer.
So those that’s where I’m most curious to see Notre Dame and how they look during spring ball.
Pete, where can people find you? Just as an important reminder.
Yes, many places. The Athletic dot com would be the biggest.
But then also my friend and colleague Matt Fortuna and I, we host our own Notre Dame podcast called The Shamrock.
It’s currently on a bit of a hiatus as Fortuna is on paternity leave.
And then also on Twitter, if you want to if you’re still into that thing at @Pete Sampson_.
So many places, but The Athletic and The Shamrock, those print and podcast, that would be the two best spots.
Very good, Pete. Thank you so much for your time, as always.
We will absolutely have to connect at some point here in the near future to provide an update as the year rolls on.
A lot to talk about. Thanks, Ty. All right.
There you go. Pete Sampson of The Athletic of The Shamrock podcast.
Go and check out all Pete has to offer a great source for all things Notre Dame.
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Again, as I said at the top, spending some much deserved time away with his family in sunny Southern California.
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