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Insider Pete Sampson Talks Notre Dame Football

Last week, Pete Sampson of The Athletic took time out of his busy schedule to participate in a two hour Zoom Q&A with the Notre Dame Club of Philadelphia. Pete shared some very interesting information about what’s happening currently at Notre Dame. Let’s take a look at some of the topics covered that night.

Coaching Transition

Sampson discussed the coaching situation which was the burning question of the hour. He characterized the new Marcus Freeman coaching staff as creating an immediate “durable culture” especially with the retention of OC Tommy Rees and Director of Football Performance, Matt Balis. Pete offered his opinion on what he thinks may happen as Coach Freeman firms up his staff. With the departure of Brian Polian, Sampson suggested the possibility of the promotion of Nick Lezynski as Special Teams Coordinator. Lezynski is extremely popular with team members. Other potential coaching changes could take place on the offensive line as well as the wide receivers position. Many people are hoping against hope for the return of someone like Harry Hiestand, but another name being thrown around is former ND lineman, Chris Watt, who is currently coaching the offensive line at Tulane.

With regard to the resignation of Brian Kelly, Sampson stated that he wasn’t as surprised by it as many others were. The relationship between Kelly and Jack Swarbrick has been deteriorating over the past couple years particularly since the administration imposed a spending freeze during the pandemic. Kelly wanted to see facility and staffing improvements on his own timeline while Swarbrick didn’t see these as urgent changes.

Sampson sees the transition from Kelly to Freeman as being most advantageous to the players and recruits. Despite Kelly’s recent expression of “love” for his players, his actions often belied those feelings. Coach Freeman was on the field with his players during recent practices while Kelly was far more aloof and frequently stood off away from the action, talking to other coaches instead of his players. Kelly even had limited contact with his starters, most of whom didn’t even have Kelly’s cell phone number. Freeman will be far more accessible to his players and recruits than Kelly ever was. Many recruits have stated that they had very little contact with Brian Kelly except for their actual commitment day. Sampson emphasized how important it is to get recruits ON CAMPUS! He stated that if coaches can get recruits on campus for at least 3 visits, they will usually commit. He feels Freeman can do this.

2022 Player Roster

When asked about next year’s roster, Sampson believes that certain players will return to South Bend. We already know we’re losing Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams, but Pete feels that Braden Lenzy will return along with Isaiah Foskey and Jarret Patterson. Receivers Kevin Austin and Avery Davis are huge question marks. Sampson would love to see a possible grad transfer in the mold of a Ben Skowronek to shore up the wide receiving corps. Current wide receivers Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie have been voicing their discontent with playing time since the offense has been concentrating on the running game as well as the main receiving target, tight end, Michael Mayer. Tyler Buchner will most certainly start at quarterback. He is starting to show the productivity in practice that was characteristic of his excellence at the high school level. Even though Drew Pyne had some flashes of brilliance this season, the coaches feel that he’s just not strong enough to win the big games.

Miscellaneous Topics

A myriad of other topics was posed to Sampson during the Q&A session. When asked about the impact of NIL, Pete believes that Notre Dame is not likely to set up deals with players as seen with the #1 recruit, Travis Hunter, who flipped from FSU to Jacksonville State just recently. Sampson stated that Notre Dame needs to push the value of their alumni network and the national brand of the school. Attending UND is not about short term rewards, rather it’s about adult decisions regarding life and careers.

Many people were concerned that the Irish 2022 season starts off with a BANG at Ohio State. When asked if ND might still set up a buffer type of game (possibly vs UNLV) in Week 0, Sampson was doubtful that this could happen. It appears to be highly unlikely.

When asked if Notre Dame could realistically win another National Championship considering the academic restrictions placed on its student athletes, Sampson said that the Irish could possibly achieve this goal, but they would need the “perfect storm” of a five-star quarterback supported by a strong supporting roster of players that could be attained through outstanding recruiting.

Finally, Sampson predicted that the Fiesta Bowl could be another nail-biter for the Irish faithful. The OSU Cowboys have a powerful defense similar to those of Cincinnati and Wisconsin. You’re not going to see our offense putting up 55 points on them. On the other hand, the Cowboy’s offense can be wildly erratic with a quarterback prone to throwing INTs. The Irish defense needs to pressure their QB to ensure a victory on January 1, 2022.

Much thanks to Pete Sampson for sharing his information with the members of the Notre Dame Club of Philadelphia. This is the second year that he has given his time to address the group. Perhaps next year, he will be able to meet with the club in person.

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