When Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis called for a 7 AM workout on Friday, he had a surprise.
After a glowing speech about how focused the team had been in the midst of five days of mayhem after Brian Kelly left to coach LSU, Balis introduced the next head coach at Notre Dame.
That’s when Marcus Freeman burst through the door and ran headfirst into his overjoyed players. There was no workout. The frenzied players and hugged and slapped their new coach with authentic exuberance. It was all captured on video.
And that genuine love that was shown for Freeman was the culmination of an organic, week-long, persistent campaign from players, current and former and prospective recruits, to hire the Notre Dame defensive coordinator.
Seriously exploring another candidate for Notre Dame Athletics director Jack Swarbrick would have risked an uprising.
Swarbrick enthusiastically got on board for a search that officially lasted about 72 hours, which is about as quickly as Notre Dame can hire a football coach. In reality, the decision was made for Swarbrick the moment Kelly switched his Twitter avatar from blue and gold to purple and gold.
He had no choice.
The players had spoken.
Freeman was their guy, and they were not going to be denied.
Freeman acknowledged that it was the power of the players that got him hired in a video that was posted of him talking to the team by the Notre Dame football multimedia department.
“The reason why I’m standing here is because of you,” he told them. “It’s unbelievable how powerful you guys are right? It’s unbelievable how powerful your voices are. That’s why we are going to do great things. When you want something done, you get it done.”
How did the players voice their opinion? Mostly through Twitter.
Some of their support for Freeman was subtle, like defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey posting a series of pictures of Freeman interacting with his teammates in an airplane and on the football field. One tweet Foskey posted was a picture of him shaking hands with Freeman that said, “You know what to do!!”
Some of the support came from former ND players who were recruited by Freeman at different schools.
Former Irish captain and current Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill tweeted that Freeman had texted him in January when he took the job as the ND defensive coordinator to tell him how excited he was to be at Notre Dame. Tranquill was recruited by Freeman when he was at Purdue. He said the text “meant a lot to me.”
All-American safety Kyle Hamilton threw his public support behind Freeman on his podcast.
And 2023 linebacker recruit Drayk Bowen from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana tweeted his support of Freeman after Kelly had left, ending the tweet with a hashtag #Freemanera.
Other recruits from the 2022 and 2023 classes chimed in with similar tweets.
The Notre Dame multimedia department amplified the love for Freeman by producing a series of videos and tweets that foreshadowed his hiring.
They included Balis telling the team he wasn’t leaving in an emotional meeting on Tuesday.
Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees giving a pointed speech about his love for Notre Dame on Wednesday at the Guglielmino Athletic Complex Wednesday, where he also said he was staying.
There was a tweet from defensive line coach Mike Elston that said, “Notre Dame is home!! 12 years and counting!! Let’s ride fellas!!
It culminated in videos of Freeman on the job for his first day, starting when he woke up at his house and said goodbye to his wife and kids in the morning and ending with him reminiscing about how it’s a day he’ll never forget.
In an obvious shot at Kelly, the video where he ran to the meet the team in front of Balis introduced him as a “players coach.”
Freeman’s weeklong introduction was brilliant.
For now, the Irish have won the messaging war.
Ultimately, though, the game has just started.
Freeman will be judged by how many football games his teams win.
That’s always the hard part.
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