Notre Dame has been carried by its defense in recent seasons, and that was especially true this past season. The Irish defense fueled the 10-0 regular season, but the unit took a hit when coordinator Clark Lea departed for Vanderbilt.
To keep the great play on defense going, and perhaps make it even better, head coach Brian Kelly needed to hit a home run with his next hire. That's exactly what he did, landing former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
Freeman was the biggest name on the market, and despite the soon to be 35-year old coach interviewing with Notre Dame on Tuesday, reports surrounding his decision were all about him heading to LSU.
According to FootballScoop.com, early on Friday he informed the linebackers at Cincinnati that he was going to LSU, who reportedly offered Freeman $2.5 million to become their next DC.
Kelly and Notre Dame didn't give up, making another run at Freeman by upping their initial offer, and according to sources making other commitments to Freeman that made the job even more attractive.
The move by Notre Dame not only helped land an outstanding young coach, it also signaled a shift. The perception for years is that Notre Dame was unwilling to compete financially with the "football powers," especially those in the SEC. There were some things working against LSU for Freeman, but there is no way he turns down $2.5 million from LSU if Notre Dame didn't make him a competitive offer.
Landing a talented and intelligent defensive coordinator isn't new for Kelly. He's hired three during his 11 years in South Bend (Bob Diaco, Mike Elko, Lea). What makes this hire unique is that Kelly fought as hard as he did to get Freeman, and that Notre Dame was able to be competitive financially to make this move.
These two aspects of this hire should excite Notre Dame fans, and give them hope that Kelly is willing to swing a big stick if it means giving the program a chance to improve, which means getting closer to truly competing for a title.
Losing Lea and possibly improving at the position was going to be extremely hard, but a case could be made that Freeman is in fact an upgrade when you consider his coaching success with his reputation as a recruiter.
This hire means Notre Dame should keep rolling on defense, if not get even better. If Kelly now turns his attention to the offense and makes a commitment to make the necessary changes on that side of the ball, this hire could go down as the first move that got Notre Dame over the final hurdle.
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