Just days after head coach Brian Kelly shocked the college football world by leaving South Bend for Baton Rouge, the home of “Touchdown Jesus” reportedly has found a replacement.
If Notre Dame actually opened up a coaching search, the storied football program would have a line of coaches vying for one of the most prestigious jobs in all of sports. Rather than make it a spectacle, the Fighting Irish didn’t have to go far to find a proper replacement. The Irish are hiring defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
Ask Brian Kelly.
" .. my Defense Coordinator is Black and he's going to be the next
Head Coach .. "
Brian Kelly re: Marcus Freeman#NotreDame #NotreDameFootball #FreemanEra #FreemanFactor #FreeTheMan #IrishEyesAreSmiling #GoIrish #Rudy #NBCSports #RaceandSportsinAmerica#MustSee ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/8ARgpxz0nM
— Sports Fan (@Sports___Fan) December 2, 2021
Per multiple reports, a deal should be in place within the next 72 hours.
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) December 2, 2021
Freeman is known as a player’s coach who forms strong bonds with the men he leads. Players of the past, present and future vouched for Freeman to land the prestigious job.
Coach Freeman! I was the first recruit you ever spoke to. Your words reminded me how great of a place Notre Dame is. I was with you then, and im still with you now🙏🏾💚 Everybody Show love for #FreemanEra @NDFootball @Marcus_Freeman1 ‼️‼️ pic.twitter.com/kV0xfNs1yK
— Tyson Ford (@T2Cold7) November 30, 2021
Freeman Joins Tyrone Willingham As Only Black Head Coaches In ND History
Freeman, 35, will follow former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham as just the second Black head coach in school history. Willingham posted a 21-15 record during his tenure in South Bend (2002-04). This is significant anywhere in D1 football, but especially at an institution like Notre Dame.
IT’S OFFICIAL. MARCUS FREEMAN. HEAD FOOTBALL COACH OF THE NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH ☘️ pic.twitter.com/SWPEasrzCd
— MARCUS FREEMAN SZN (@BarstoolIrish) December 2, 2021
Tyrone Willingham Was The Guinea Pig
Back when ND hired Willingham it was groundbreaking for the most storied program in college football to take that leap. He was actually the first Black coach of any sport in the history of the Irish-Catholic university. His appointment was the talk of sports radio and shattered racial barriers. It also pissed off plenty of folks.
Willingham received the backing of some prominent people. Former ND graduate Condoleeza Rice who later became the first Black woman to serve as secretary of state, the late Dennis Green (former Vikings and Stanford head coach), and the late Dave Duerson (former ND player and Super Bowl champion with the Bears) to name a few.
Although qualified Black coaches are still being overlooked, Freeman’s appointment is major progress in breaking down systemic barriers to Black employment. When Notre Dame hired Willingham, the historic appointment was met with much backlash. The former Stanford coach was ushered out the door three seasons and two bowl games later.
Freeman Ascended Quickly From Elite Player To Coaching Ranks
Freeman was a four-star linebacker recruit who attended Ohio State from 2004 to 2008. He was then drafted by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft. Following short stints with the Bills and Texans, the defensive standout retired in 2010 due to an enlarged heart condition.
Coaching Was His Calling
He stayed close to the sport and entered the coaching ranks, directing the linebackers at Kent State (2011-13) and Purdue (2013-16) before becoming a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati (2016-20) under Luke Fickell, another former Buckeye.
His defenses with the Bearcats frequently ranked in the FBS top 15 (rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense). Freeman turned down several offers to leave, and he was even a Broyles Award finalist in 2020, given annually to the top defensive coordinator.
Notre Dame was his next destination. After the 2020 season, Freeman was reportedly headed to LSU to become their defensive coordinator, but he instead opted for South Bend. The Irish ranked 11th in scoring defense (18.3 points per game) in Freeman’s first season. Freeman’s coached a top 15 defense every season he’s been a coordinator.
Haters Gonna Hate
Some tried to question Freeman’s age, but don’t forget there are many Caucasian coaches who got their first major opportunities around the same age and nobody had a problem with it. Dabo Sweeney (39), Lincoln Riley (33), and Ryan Day (39) were all younger than 40. If Freeman is the right fit, his age won’t matter.
Getting some texts about Marcus Freeman’s age (35) as a potential concern for #NotreDame.
Dabo Swinney was 39 when promoted Clemson.
Lincoln Riley was 33 when promoted at Oklahoma.
Ryan Day was 39 when promoted at Ohio State.
If Freeman is the right guy, age won’t matter.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) December 2, 2021
Tommy Rees Staying On As Offensive Coordinator
Many believed Rees would jump to Baton Rouge with Kelly, but the rising 29-year-old play-caller loves South Bend, and is staying on with Freeman. Rees’ decision gives the program some major stability after it looked as if it would be starting from scratch with Kelly’s surprising departure.
Reese expressed to the team his reasons for staying.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) December 2, 2021
Irish Still Have Shot At CFP
The Irish came in at No. 6 in the latest CFP rankings, and they’re not out of the playoff race just yet. A couple hiccups by some teams ahead of them and Notre Dame could find themselves in the dance.
The leadership and character of Freeman is evident based on how much support he received from players across the country. Now let’s hope he’s afforded the time to do things his way and build the team in his vision.
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