They turned the dogs loose. Left them out on the road.
As Notre Dame absorbed a somewhat-unexpected-but-perhaps-it-was-time split as last November froze its way into December, the Fighting Irish were left to find a new head coach and hold together an elite recruiting class – not necessarily in that order.
But while veteran Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick worked to retain strength guru Matt Balis, wunderkind young offensive play-caller Tommy Rees and, ultimately, elevate Marcus Freeman to the head coach’s office inside the Irish’s fabled Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Freeman unleashed the single person he had brought with him from Cincinnati to South Bend, Indiana, some 11 months earlier: Chad Bowden.
This week, Bowden – son of former Major League Baseball general manager Jim Bowden – was formally named by Freeman as Notre Dame’s Director of Recruiting.
“He’s awesome, he’s awesome. He has, and I don’t want to give him too much credit (laughing), but Coach Freeman and him, they really transformed the way we recruit at Notre Dame,” said Irish safeties coach Chris O’Leary. “It’s been a great experience for me personally just to see the level of energy, the relationships going to a deeper level, the constant communication with recruits. It’s special. And there’s a reason that we’re pushing for the No. 1 class in ’23, and those guys are a huge reason why.”
O’Leary recalled Bowden’s unwavering missives to keep coaches on the road recruiting while much of Notre Dame football remained in flux.
“(Bowden) kept, we said he kept the dogs out on the road,” O’Leary said. “He was telling us where to go, and then the second that Coach Freeman got the job, he was the first one to call me and tell me to get back because we’ve got work to do.
“He did a great job during that time.”
Bowden’s star has quickly risen in college football – after an impressive coaching start in Cincinnati-area preps.
He was, after all, a full-time assistant coach on Evan Dreyer’s Oak Hills staff, working with linebackers, and also the junior varsity squad’s defensive coordinator.
Perhaps because of that in-your-mug background, Bowen has a precociousness that stretches beyond his 27 years – unafraid to push everyone in the Irish organization to remain hyperfocused on recruiting every single day.
“He is relentless, he’s a relentless recruiter,” Freeman told FootballScoop. “He has such a good connection with these young people. The ability to connect with them and communicate with them, I haven’t seen anybody better. So he’s great.
“He pushes coaches. He pushes us. And there’s times when we want to think about football and he says, ‘No. Recruiting, recruiting. Let’s go.’ He does a great job of making sure we keep important things, in terms of recruiting, important. When it’s recruiting time, it’s recruiting time and he keeps us on schedule.”
Bowden, through nothing beyond his sheer-force-of-will approach, has emerged central to Notre Dame’s 2023 recruiting class that has rested for some time at No. 1 in the current Rivals.com and 247Sports team rankings.
"He's a big part of it with Coach Freeman; I love talking to Chad,” heralded Notre Dame commitment Drayk Bowen, a composite five-star prospect, told Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman. “He keeps everything laid-back and funny, but when it's time to be serious, he's the first one ready."
Deland McCullough had no clue who Bowden was when he encountered Bowden – already NCAA-eligible to recruit, having passed the recruiting exam at Cincinnati and maintained eligibility -- on the trail with the Irish complement of coaches less than full.
The impression was such – think Tasmanian Devil in Notre Dame’s Under Armour gear – that McCullough asked the prep coach for more info on the young dude from Notre Dame.
“I ran into him out recruiting, and I was just seeing his energy,” McCullough said. “I didn’t know who he was. I asked the person whose school I was at, ‘Hey, who’s that?’ He told me, and we actually exchanged numbers there, not knowing any of this was going to happen.
“I just like this guy’s energy; he had a charisma to him. Been impressed with him for sure, working side by side with him. Just the way he goes about his business and bringing prospects to the table and the way the recruiting process works here at Notre Dame, it’s legit.”
At the behest of Freeman, and with Bowden running point, Notre Dame has more widely embraced being … Notre Dame on the recruiting trail.
They floated digital billboards literally from the East Coast to the West Coast last summer for recruiting purposes, spotlighting individuals in their hometowns and regions.
There is no bemoaning what it takes to gain admission into Notre Dame but rather of what gaining that Notre Dame distinction means – in college and in life.
“It’s important to (Bowden) to bring the right guys to the table, put us in positions to get players that can help the program and he’s providing the fuel for that engine,” McCullough said. “When he hands me the phone and tells me, hey, here’s whoever on the phone, I’m fired up because he’s fired up. Then obviously you’re looking at film of great guys. So it’s exciting. It’s a good system, very good system.”
The system breeds competition. Two of the three recruiting classes prior to the arrivals of Freeman and Bowden at Notre Dame were ranked in the teens, but they helped bond together a consensus No. 7 2022 haul despite transition.
They aren’t consumed with recruiting rankings, but, hey, the chance for that kind of unprecedented top-ranked class is in front of them.
“We talk about it all the time, we want the best class in our eyes,” O’Leary. “As competitors, we always want to win. So if we’re going to get ranked No. 1, let’s go get that No. 1 ranking.
“We always recruit based off talent that we see on film, character of the kids, that’s what we recruit on. But hey, why not be No. 1.”
Igniting that charge is Bowden.
“He has a relationship with every kid we recruit,” Freeman said. “I know that by the interaction they have, and you get a chance to meet a kid and Chad’s around, or when you talk to a kid, and they talk about Chad, so that was so important because he could be the middle person in the introduction to these kids.”
It’s Notre Dame’s chance for a different style of recruiting, and Bowden’s letting the dogs out.