Three reasons why Marcus Freeman is the perfect hire for Notre Dame
Looking back now, maybe Brian Kelly knew something about his own future in August when the former Irish head coach casually mentioned that his first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was “going to be the next head coach.”
The message became such a hot-button topic, Kelly had to revisit and clarify it in the following days.
“I was talking about him being the next Black head coach in the country,” Kelly explained, adding that he wasn’t referring to Freeman replacing him at Notre Dame.
Freudian slip? Strange coincidence?
Whatever the case, Kelly’s message proved prophetic as indeed Freeman became the next head coach at an elite university when he was promoted from his coordinator position to the Notre Dame top job.
How Kelly survives in the SEC remains to be seen, but at least Notre Dame hit a grand slam when it hired Freeman as his replacement.
And here are three reasons why:
Say what you will about the methods and motives behind Kelly’s covert job swap, but he left the Notre Dame program in the healthiest place it has been since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
With five consecutive double-digit win seasons, a chance for a third College Football Playoff berth in the last four years, a young and talented roster and improving recruiting, Kelly’s former program checks all the boxes.
And that’s why a drawn-out coaching search, an outside hire, and the ensuing massive staff turnover was a formula for disaster and one that Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick needed to guard against.
The increasing ease and growing popularity of players transferring would’ve decimated the current Irish roster, and that’s without mentioning the alarming impact not hiring Freeman could’ve had on the 2022 recruiting class (ranked No. 4 per Rivals) and the 2023 recruiting class (ranked No. 2).
Keeping players and recruits calm, and the program stable and healthy, was paramount with this hire, and Notre Dame knew it.
On a recruiting roll
The steady improvement and November dominance of the Irish defense this season provided plenty of evidence to Freeman’s adeptness as an on-field coach. But it’s his work on the recruiting trail that brought most of the buzz during his first season in South Bend.
Of the six four-star recruits that make up the No. 2-ranked 2023 class, Freeman was heavily involved in recruiting four of those players (all defensive recruits).
With the three-day early signing period opening on Dec. 15 for the 22-member 2022 class, this was the perfect time to promote the man who’s been so heavily involved with assembling it.
Given Freeman’s popularity as a coach and a recruiter, had somebody else been hired, it’s not unimaginable Notre Dame could’ve have faced a similar exodus of future players in the way Oklahoma did this week when it lost six recruits immediately after head coach Lincoln Riley left the Sooners for USC.
Classy, poised and even-tempered, the 35-year-old Freeman is the perfect representative and ambassador for Notre Dame on the field and in front of the camera, and an articulate and engaging young salesman that recruits are finding irresistible.
A perfect fit
Ask anyone close to the Notre Dame program about Freeman and they will all give a similar glowing review.
Smart, tireless worker, an ability to relate to his players as a coach and on a personal level, are a few of the ways those who know Freeman best describe his style and demeanor.
During open practices, the Irish players gravitated toward Freeman. There was a comfort and an ease to these coach-player interactions — which was evident to anyone who watched — not as in buddy-buddy, but as in teacher-student.
Freeman has a way of pulling his players close while still commanding the necessary respect to be a firm and successful coach.
“Since he’s come in here, it seems like we’ve known him for years,” Irish All-American safety Kyle Hamilton said of Freeman.
On the field, Freeman has proven to be creative and adaptable, tweaking strategies throughout this season to best fit his players and personnel groupings.
He’s also a teacher that cares as much about his players’ success on the field as he does in the classroom, and even beyond their time together at Notre Dame.
And keep in mind, when Kelly fled to Baton Rouge, the former Irish coach tried to take Freeman with him, promising to make him the highest paid defensive coach in the country.
Staying true to his character and loyal to his players, Freeman said thanks but no thanks, more evidence as to why he was the logical and the best choice for Notre Dame.
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