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Notre Dame Notebook: Quotes From Marcus Freeman At His Introduction

Comments from Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman at his opening press conference

Irish Breakdown was there for Marcus Freeman’s first press conference at Notre Dame as the head football coach. Here are some of the key quotes.

Marcus Freeman on being hired

"To Father John and Jack Swarbrick, I am forever grateful for this opportunity to lead this football program. I'm ready. I'm ready for this challenge, and I'm ready to lead this program to the greatest heights. The chance to lead the football program at the University of Notre Dame is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I would never take that for granted. Being this leader of this program, it isn't about one person, and it never will be. Being the leader of this program is about understanding to be successful on this journey, it's going to take others, and we're going to have to do this as a team. 

"That's why doing it at the University of Notre Dame is so special. It's special because of the people. The people here make this opportunity special. The people that are currently here - the students, the faculty, the countless other people that step on this campus, the people that have come through Notre Dame and have planted themselves throughout the world, the Notre Dame network that at any moment for any reason will find you a solution. 

"The players. I was looking for a term to describe you, and Katy [Lonergan] helped me come up with one that really, really exemplifies what you are. You're exceptional thinkers, you're exceptional thinkers. You never look for the easy path. You never take short ... most of you never take shortcuts. You're tireless workers, and you're committed to excellence in everything you do, and that's what separates you. 

"Over the past few days, I've spoken to a lot of leaders that I respect for any advice on being a first-time head coach, and the answer has all been the same; just be you. 

"So who is Marcus Freeman? Well, I'm the son of a man who was in the Air Force for 26 years. I'm the son of a woman who was born in Korea that came over here in 1976, but I tell you that because that's who I am. I get my discipline, my work ethic, my honesty from my father. I get my unselfishness and other-centered focus from my mother, and that's exactly how I will lead this football program. We will be disciplined. We will be tough. We will work tirelessly. But we will do it with the understanding that no one person, no one coach is more important than another. As a team and as a family, we'll accomplish all of our goals. 

"I plan on leading this team with an unwavering standard. We will call it the golden standard. So what is the golden standard? Number one, it's challenging everything. This is why I'm here. Our leaders challenge normalcy. Our athletic director, our president challenge normalcy. Challenge everything is a mentality to find a better way. Number two is unit strength. Unit strength means love. It's making a choice to love your teammates. It's what turns players into a team. And number three is the competitive spirit. It's creating a winner's mindset. I believe that leaders are born but winners are created and you're created through intentional actions. As I previously stated, this standard will be unwavering, and this is the standard that will drive this football program to its 12th National Championship. 

"Lastly, there's a few thank you’s I want to give. I want to start with my wife Joanna. My wife, my partner, thank you for your unselfishness. Thank you for always being there and your support most of the time. You can be my toughest critic, but thank you for just being there. To my kids -- Vinny, Siena, Gino, Rocco, Capri, Nico ... You didn't ask for this. You didn't ask to share your dad, but you have to, and I love you. To Father Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick, thank you for challenging everything. Thank you for making a decision to believe in a 35-year-old first-time head coach. And I vow to work tirelessly to never disappoint you.

"... To the board of trustees and countless others that approved my hire, thank you. My current and former players, you are my why. You are my motivation. You are the reason I get up every day and work as hard as I can to see you all reach your goals. To see you all set a goal and live out a dream is what gives me my inspiration every day to do what I do. Last but not least, my parents. I've kind of told you their story, but I just want you to know, when others say just be yourself, I am me because of you. In closing, I am ready to get to work. My sense of urgency is for right now. It's to make sure that this team is prepared on January 1st in the Fiesta Bowl to be victorious against Oklahoma State, and that's where our focus will be."

Q: You convinced Jack Swarbrick and the University of Notre Dame to have confidence in you. How does a 35-year-old guy who's never been a head coach have the confidence that you can uphold the vast tradition of Notre Dame football?

"I've got to be myself, and that's what I told him. Here are the things that I believe we can do to raise the level, to raise the standard, but I'm going to do it the only way I know-how, and that's being myself. That's doing it as a teammate. That's doing it with others. We're going to achieve greatness as a group, as a team. They accepted it. They accepted it. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to do this thing together as a team."

Q: Are you planning on calling the plays in the Fiesta Bowl?

"I have not decided that. I have not made that decision. I think this week when I'm on the road, I'm ready to get recruiting, and I'll kind of figure out what's going to be the best for our staff, where I can put my attention to. Because what I won't do is I won't cheat those players. If I can't give them my full attention, if I can't make sure they're prepared, then I'll have somebody else call the plays."

Q: I wanted to ask you was about National Championship aspirations .... At three different junctures, I wonder how these align with your belief in Notre Dame's ability to win a National Championship. When you were a recruit when Tyrone Willingham was trying to get you here, as an outsider before you started coaching here, and then today?

"As a recruit, that's 2002 or 2003, they hadn't won one, but you still know the history and tradition behind Notre Dame and probably every year that Notre Dame had a chance to win it. As an outsider, before I got here, Notre Dame was in the playoffs two of the past three years before I got here. So if you're making the playoffs, you have a chance to win it all. Now that I'm here, we're close. We're close. We're not there yet, but we're close. It can be done right away. We're not talking about a future long-term plan. This is talking about the urgency I said, for now, to finish this season off, and then next year we have to have intentional efforts to make sure we're doing whatever it takes to put this team in a position to win a National Championship."

Q: When you came in recruiting, right out of the gate you had very high expectations of the kinds of players you could go get. What clicked with you that you felt like maybe Notre Dame needed to aim higher in recruiting? 

"Well, I think it's the ability to communicate with the best players in the country that this place is special, and that's what, people keep saying what's the difference? What do you understand about this place now that you're here? It's just that whatever these -- maybe at 16 or 17, when I was a recruit, I was looking for, hey, where can I go win a National Championship? If that's all you're looking for, you can look right here at Notre Dame because we've been in the playoffs two of the last three years. 

"But it's the ability to show these young people, get their minds to think past football. Get their minds to think whatever that point is, as these guys will tell you, whatever that point is when you're done playing -- it could be after your senior year. It could be one year in the NFL. It could be ten years in the NFL. The minute you're done playing, that's to me where the value of Notre Dame really shows itself. And that's what we've got to be able to do is to get these young people that are the best players in the country that fit Notre Dame to understand there is no better option for you."

Q: In the locker room, you talked about how things are not going to change but you want to enhance. So what do you want to enhance? What comes to mind first?

"When I say that, the goal is to win. The goal is to win it all. The goal is to win the National Championship. That's the ultimate goal. But how you get there, it's going to take a process. It's going to take enhancing whatever we've done to get to this point. It's going to take looking at every single thing we do as an organization and find a better way to do it. That goes back to challenging everything. We have to find a better way to do everything we do. We have to coach better. We have to teach better. We have to recruit better. We have to perform better. Everything we do, we've got to find a better way to do it."

Q: You also talked about how Notre Dame has changed you if you let it. In what ways? How have you sort of changed as a person over the last 11 months? 

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:I think coming in from, being an outsider coming in, there are times you think you can come to Notre Dame and say, I'm going to change who can come in here. I'm going to change who can have success here. You won't. You have to embrace this place. You have to embrace the things that make us different. You have to embrace the people here that are different. You have to embrace the competitive thinkers, the individuals that are on this football team. If you embrace everything that comes with the University of Notre Dame, you're going to be better because of it. And it's better, you can put a line there. Better person, better football player, better student, better mother, father. But if you embrace this place, you're going to be better because of it."

Q: I think it was almost 11 months to the day, January 4th, that you were here on a Monday interviewing for the defensive coordinator position. Now you stand here today as Notre Dame's head football coach. How do you reconcile with yourself what the last 11 months have been like for you? And maybe what are some of the moments along the way that let you know not only that you wanted to be a head coach but you wanted to be a head coach at Notre Dame? 

"I wish I could point out every moment that led to this point, but you just look and you think about -- I told the defensive unit in a meeting towards the end of the year, the ability to love a group of guys in 11 months, that's to me what shows you the power of Notre Dame. The ability to be around a group of guys and to fall in love and trust them -- and that's what -- I want to make sure everybody understands. I've been asked this question a couple times. Your players were really happy. They're really excited. That doesn't mean it's all warm and fuzzy. They understand the expectation. They understand to achieve anything it's going to be really hard and they're going to be pushed. They're going to be pushed real hard. 

"But they've got a leader and they have leaders around them that care about them and have their best interests at heart. And that's how we're going to create success here. We're going to push each other, but they know their leaders trust them, they know their leaders love them. That, to me, is what has gotten us to this point? It's that over 11 months you feel that way about a group of guys, and I hope the feeling's mutual most of the time. The other part of that question, did I ever think I'd be the head coach of Notre Dame in 11 months? No, that's not realistic. Well, I guess it is now. (Laughter.) I guess now it is. But it is, it is a dream come true, and every once in a while, I sit back and say, whoa, you are the head coach of the University of Notre Dame. Once that second goes up, it's about getting back to work, get back to work."

Q: Your candor shows that it resonates. I wonder if you would provide us a glimpse into maybe the 72 to 96-hour window from last Sunday through Wednesday and what that was like for you, how much you leaned on your wife, and how late some of those nights might have stretched for you? 

"Yeah, we haven't got a whole bunch of sleep. Again, when Coach Kelly calls and says, hey, I'm going to LSU. He says, will you go as my defensive coordinator? I said, yeah, I need a job, but can I talk to my wife? That's all I said, can I talk to my wife? He said yeah. From that moment, it's been a whirlwind. Just the conversations you have, the people you have to talk to, the conversation you have with players, it's all crazy. I don't want to get into the details of what the next 48 hours or 72 hours were like, it was pretty hectic, not a lot of sleep, but the end result is you're the head coach of Notre Dame. So I will take it any time."

Q: You mentioned preparing them for life after, not just football, but beyond football. How do you go about doing that? 

"I think back to the lessons I learned, and maybe not as much as the things people said, but the actions they did. How am I going to help influence this group of young men? It's not going to be always what I say. It's going to be my actions. I want them to see me as a husband. I want them to see me as a father. I want them to see me as a leader, as a friend, as a colleague. I want them to see physically with their eyes my actions because that's, to me, what's going to be the most lasting impact they're going to have."

Q: What example does your hiring set at a school like Notre Dame when we do see the trends in college football when it comes to hiring coaches of color, specifically black coaches? What does this example set for the future? 

"I think it's you can do whatever you want, right? You can be whoever you want. You just got to do it the right way. You've got to treat people with respect. If you work hard and you do the right things, the opportunities are endless. Hopefully, it shows that there can be representation of all colors. There can be representation of anyone, any ethnicity, any background. If you're the right leader and you can make others better, that you can be in a position of leadership."

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