Notre Dame held its introductory press conference for new head coach Marcus Freeman, and the energy we've seen from Irish nation since he was hired was on full display today. The Notre Dame band played the fight song as Freeman and his family into the Irish Athletic Center, and the Fighting Irish team captains followed closely behind.
The entire event was full of pomp and circumstance, and it was fitting of the excitement that oozes through the program from both a player and fan standpoint.
Freeman earned this opportunity due to his excellent work as a defensive coordinator at both Notre Dame and Cincinnati, but also for the character he put on full display. Freeman has embraced what makes Notre Dame unique, and dare I say, special. It's something his predecessor never full did, and it's part of the reason Freeman is now running the program.
That press conference is over and now it is time to get to work.
Freeman has a number of very important objectives in front of him, and it's time for him to take the final steps to getting the Irish program over the hump and onto the championship stage.
Here are the tasks in front of Freeman, both short term and long term.
1) Embrace Notre Dame - I've already alluded to this before, but one of the flaws of the previous head coach was that he never fully embraced Notre Dame. He didn't embrace the things that made Notre Dame so special, and often used those unique aspects as a stumbling block, or a reason why the program wasn't where it needed to be. That means taking what makes Notre Dame different, and in some instances harder, and turning those into strengths.
2) Build an elite, championship caliber staff - Notre Dame has had good coaching staffs the last decade, but there were always too many mistakes made at key positions. Whether it was a past defensive coordinator that wasted the program's best offense of the last decade (2015), not having an elite offensive line coach, or having too many coaches who either weren't good coaches or weren't dogged recruiters. It is harder at Notre Dame, no one denies that, and winning a championship at Notre Dame requires an elite staff that embraces everything the head coach must embrace.
3) Demand recruiting excellence - Freeman's comments about recruiting in the press conference make it clear he understands the importance of recruiting in a way that his predecessor did not. The head coach at Notre Dame must set the agenda on the recruiting trail. For some that is being a dogged recruiter himself, which Freeman clearly will be. But the absolute must is that recruiting is made a priority and that recruiting excellence is demanded from every part of the program, and it starts with the coaching staff. It means making sure the program is putting the resources into the recruiting operation. It means creating a level of accountability that permeates through the entire program in a way that no one would even dream of not making recruiting a very, very high priority.
4) Embrace the passion that makes football great - My hope is that with this hire the "business" approach that was emphasized under the previous head coach is gone. Yes, college football is a business, and in many ways it's good that players and coaches understand that. But football is also a game where passion is so vitally important. Far too often in the previous decade we saw Notre Dame lack the emotion necessary to play at a championship level, especially on the big stage. I want to see a Notre Dame football team that is once again the most confident, passionate, physical, energetic and passion-filled team on the football field no matter who the opponent is.
5) Understand the need for an elite offense - I fully expect Freeman to build an elite, championship defense. It's basically already there in most regards. What he needs to truly be a legitimate title team is to complement that outstanding defense with an elite offense. It means letting OC Tommy Rees know that being the nation's best offense is the objective, and that whatever is needed to make that happen from a coaching hires and resources standpoint will be provided to him. Then go out and hire elite coaches and recruiters to fill the staff.
6) Big game excellence - The previous head coach went 4-11 against Top 10 teams. The previous head coach went 0-2 in the College Football Playoff, was blown out in the BCS national title game and also lost his third New Year's Six Bowl (2015). There were far too many embarrassing defeats on the national stage, and that must change ... now.
7) No excuses - There were far, far, far too many excuses made the previous 12 years about why Notre Dame couldn't compete with Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, etc. So far Coach Freeman has resisted the urge to place lowered expectations on the Notre Dame program. He talks about championships, and does so with passion, and confidence. That must continue, and every time you fall short of that standard you have to look at why and made the adjustments needed to do it next time .... and no more excuses.
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