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Take Five: Marcus Freeman, DC to Head Coach, The Future

Five thoughts on Notre Dame's hiring of Marcus Freeman to be the next head football coach

Five thoughts on Notre Dame's hiring of Marcus Freeman to be the next head football coach.

1. Because I’m always about a good story, and because I’m seriously stoked about Marcus Freeman being hired as the next head football coach at Notre Dame, I’m going to skip the New Year’s Six Bowl game or the College Football Playoff game that the Fighting Irish will play in next month for now and focus on this unbelievable nugget.

Notre Dame opens the 2022 season at Ohio State, Freeman’s alma matter. It’s the irony of great ironies, and it’ll be College GameDay material for sure. Freeman was a Parade All-American at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. He was a second-team All-Big Ten Selection twice at linebacker for OSU, and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2009 in the fifth round. Freeman retired from football because of a medical condition. He worked at OSU as a graduate assistant, Kent State, Purdue, and Cincinnati as a defensive coordinator before he was hired at Notre Dame last year. There will be off-the-charts buzz about that game. Stay tuned.

2. Anyone that makes the mistake of comparing the Freeman hiring to that of Charlie Weis doesn’t get it. Weis was an NFL assistant with zero college experience, who was a boy wonder for two seasons before fizzling out. The Fighting Irish were 9-3 and 10-3 in Weis’ first two seasons. He finished 16-21 over the next three campaigns. The learning curve for Weis, who was viewed as arrogant and unbending early in his tenure, was too steep. He had mellowed at the end but it was too late. 

Bob Davie? Well, if the Freeman era turns out like the Davie era, it won’t be good. Davie turned out to be a good defensive coordinator who was just an average coach. Davie’s biggest problem was finding an offense. His team averaged 19.5 points in 2001 and 21.7 in 1997. Davie, a defensive coach, never figured out how to manage that side of the ball. Or who to use. Former Purdue coach Jim Colletto was his offensive coordinator for two seasons. Freeman should be in good shape with Tommy Rees as his coordinator. And he should be in better shape than Davie because the assistants will largely stay in place. Freeman is coming to a program that is elite. Davie didn’t inherit a great program.

3. In a different world, say one that existed 12 years ago when Brian Kelly was hired, Notre Dame Athletics director Jack Swarbrick would’ve preferred to hire someone with head coaching experience. But this is the reality that the December signing period forces AD’s to deal with.

They really need to have a head coach in place before that date, which is Dec. 15 this year. Do you think all these leaks about Freeman being hired are accidental? Nope. It’s the backdoor way of letting ND’s recruiting class of 2022, which is currently ranked fourth by 247Sports know the head coach thing is covered. And so even if Swarbrick wanted to have a serious conversation with Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, there was just no way to do it without having the program take a step back. 

Why? Because Freeman and Rees would’ve likely left, along with other key assistants. And their recruiting class would’ve fallen apart without a coach in place. So when Swarbrick essentially said he wasn’t in a hurry in his press conference, he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

4. For a look at how not to handle a coaching search in this compressed time frame, turn to Oklahoma, which just brought back Bob Stoops as its interim coach for a bowl game. The Sooners have a shortlist that includes Fickell. While they’re trying to figure it out, former OU head coach Lincoln Riley, who left for USC, took four assistants, and there have been four decommittments from the 2022 Class. That includes 2023 five-star quarterback Malachi Nelson, who followed Riley to USC.

5. Riley has a better chance of winning a national title at USC before Brian Kelly will at LSU. For that matter, Freeman has a reasonable chance of winning one at Notre Dame before Kelly does with the Tigers. Riley will own the state of California in terms of recruiting, and the PAC 12 is weak sauce compared to the SEC. It’s surprising that Kelly didn’t make a play for the Trojans’ job. Maybe, though, even Kelly, who we know now is calculating and a bit ruthless, couldn’t stomach the thought of having to play Notre Dame every year. Kelly will have to deal with Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn, to name a few, every year.

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