Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 PRESEASON 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA P anic is for fan bases. Not programs. Matt Balis stepped down as Notre Dame's strength and conditioning coach on July 25, one day before the first practice of Fighting Irish fall camp. Social media posters and message board goers would have you believe the St. Mary statue blew off its post atop the Golden Dome and tumbled all the way to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex where it incapacitated the entire Notre Dame football team. No, it didn't. Everyone who works out of that building, which is situated a half-mile southeast of the Golden Dome, still woke up early on July 26 and walked across the street to the Irish Athletic Complex for 9:30 a.m. practice. Business as usual. St. Mary stayed put, too. "Although he was a very important man, it's still us as a program," senior tight end Kevin Bauman said of Balis. "We are what run this place. It's our program." That's the message Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman wanted to get through to his players prior to fall camp. But first, Freeman himself had to come to terms with the reality of Balis leaving. That might have been even more dif- ficult for him than it was for the stu- dent-athletes. THE FALLOUT There will always be a special link be- tween Freeman and Balis. When Freeman was given the reins as Notre Dame's head coach in Decem- ber 2021, Balis was on the short list of assistant coaches who were marked as "retain at all costs." Balis and former Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees were probably the top two. When it finally came time to an- nounce Freeman as Notre Dame's suc- cessor to Brian Kelly to the entire team, Balis was the one to give the formal in- troduction in a locker room address. It was one of the most seminal moments in Freeman's life, and Balis played an integral, unforgettable role in it. "I was as hurt as anybody by losing somebody I respect and enjoy working with," Freeman said shortly after the conclusion of the Irish's first fall camp practice. "That hurts." It hurts even more when it comes as a surprise, like when your first high school love tells you he or she needs to talk when you thought everything was going along perfectly. Freeman basically endured the college football coaching staff version of that conversation when Balis called him on July 23 and said he planned to resign. "We met [July 24] and talked about it," Freeman said. "And, ultimately, his rea- son was that he couldn't serve the play- ers in the capacity that he felt he should in his position. It's a personal matter. And that's how he left it with me." Freeman was like a sorrowful sig- nificant other on the wrong end of a breakup, while the Notre Dame players were like consoling friends who don't know what to say at first. "It was really shocking," sophomore tight end Eli Raridon said. "No one saw it coming." Freeman said he tried to talk Balis out of the decision. Balis didn't budge. Whatever it was that pushed him to the point of walking away from a job in which he had become larger than life was serious enough for him to leave it all behind. Freeman said he did not pry to learn more about Balis' circumstances. They are what they are, and they have to be respected. There was nothing Freeman UNDER THE DOME THE SHOW GOES ON Matt Balis' resignation stings, but interim strength coach Fred Hale, Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame can power through Balis abruptly resigned the day before fall camp after six seasons on the job as Notre Dame's strength and conditioning coach. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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