Marcus Freeman needs to avoid the Jimmy Lake timeline at Notre Dame

·3 min read

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are preparing for a Pac-12 team this week, when the California Golden Bears come to South Bend, but the Irish need to look at another Pac-12 team to learn more about their present situation.

The Washington Huskies have a new coach who seems to understand how to run a program. We will see if the Huskies are for real this coming weekend against Michigan State, but even though their two wins have come against weak opponents, Kalen DeBoer is demonstrating noticeable competence on the job in Seattle.

The relevant comparison between Notre Dame and Washington refers to the coach DeBoer replaced: Jimmy Lake.

What got Lake fired at Washington? In an immediate sense, he shoved an Oregon player at the end of a loss to the Ducks. He got enmeshed in some non-football controversies which represented a tipping point. However, on a deeper level, the root cause of Lake’s implosion as Washington head coach — the reason why his tenure lasted only two years, one of them the truncated 2020 pandemic season — is that he made a terrible hire on the opposite side of the ball.

Pac-12 fans know this. Notre Dame fans need to know this. Lake was elevated from his defensive coordinator position to succeed Chris Petersen. Athletic director Jen Cohen clearly did not vet Lake’s offensive philosophy (at least not enough). She allowed him to hire John Donovan as offensive coordinator even though there was no marketplace, no outside demand, for his services. Donovan was a total disaster, and he dragged down Lake and the UW program.

Translated: Lake did not seek the best of the best on offense. He is a brilliant defensive tactician, but he dramatically underestimated the value of having a strong, top-tier coordinator on the offensive side of the ball. Head coaches with expertise on one side of the ball have to hire a top-shelf coordinator on the opposite side.

This is the connection between Jimmy Lake and Marcus Freeman.

Look, we know Tommy Rees can recruit, and that Notre Dame’s staff is an excellent recruiting staff. There are lots of things Freeman understands about the business … but at the coordinator level, you can’t do things on the cheap. You need a star play-caller. Tommy Rees could be a quarterback coach, but the keys to the offense needed to be handed to a master chess player.

Barring a remarkable turnaround, Notre Dame needs a better offensive coordinator to launch the Freeman Era in 2023 and beyond. I know this is a USC site, so giving some friendly advice to Notre Dame might seem weird, but hey: We want Notre Dame to be good so that wins over the Irish carry maximum College Football Playoff benefits. We know our friends at Fighting Irish Wire feel the same way about us.

Get an elite OC if you know what’s good for you, Marcus Freeman. Don’t become the next Jimmy Lake.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire