- Notre Dame is expected to promote Marcus Freeman to take over the vacant head coaching position.
- Former head coach Brian Kelly accepted the vacant position at LSU earlier this week.
- The expectation is that Notre Dame will retain offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.
While the tenure of Brian Kelly gets underway at LSU, his former employer–Notre Dame–is in the process of filling the vacancy he left. Although there was some initial chatter about finding a high profile replacement for Kelly it now appears that the Irish will promote from within. Specifically, they’re expected to promote defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to become the 29th head coach at Notre Dame. This number does not include the five day run of George O’Leary in 2001 who managed to get fired five days after he was hired for lying about his academic credentials. It also doesn’t include Kent Baer’s one game stint as interim coach after Tyrone Willingham was fired in 2004.
The certainty of the Freeman promotion depends on where you’re getting the news from. Some sources such as CBS Sports are reporting it as all but a done deal–though they do provide the caveat that ‘the deal is not yet official’. Yahoo Sports has a similar report indicating that Freeman is in the process of ‘going through the Irish’s formal hiring process.’ ESPN is taking a more cautious approach to the story, saying that Freeman is the ‘leading candidate’ to become the head coach at Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Insider is already referring to Freeman as the ‘expected new head coach’. On Twitter, Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated says that an offer is expected in the coming days and that an announcement could come over the weekend or next week:
Obviously, something could happen in the meantime but it sure looks as if Freeman will get the nod. He’s already indicated that he’s staying at Notre Dame after coming over from Cincinnati before the season. In addition, Notre Dame is expected to retain offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Some reports suggest that Rees’ presence as offensive coordinator is a prerequisite for Freeman to accept the permanent head coaching job. In any case, Rees was reportedly approached by Kelly to join him at LSU–a development that some outlets are portraying as similar to Darth Vader trying to lure Luke Skywalker over to the ‘dark side’–though he’s made it clear that he wants to stay at Notre Dame. The official Notre Dame football Twitter event sent out a Tweet to that effect:
Freeman would be a good hire for the Irish–it will avoid much of the transition that occurs when you bring in a new head coach from the outside. He’s an excellent recruiter and has done a nice job with the Irish defense. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Cincinnati helping transform the ‘also ran’ program into a CFP contender. CBS Sports notes that the Irish is in the process of putting together their first ‘Top 5’ recruiting class since 2013 with Freeman getting much of the credit.
There’s no doubt that Freeman has the qualifications to be head coach of Notre Dame and he’s reportedly the overwhelming choice of the players on the Irish roster. What isn’t known is Freeman’s ability to deal with the pressure of holding one of the highest profile college football coaching jobs in the sport. This will be Freeman’s first head coaching job and at 35 years old he’ll be the youngest head coach in Notre Dame history. At least Ty Willingham’s otherwise disastrous run as Irish head coach will spare Freeman from all of the media attention as ‘first ever African American head coach’ at Notre Dame. That shouldn’t matter at this point in history, but you know the media would flog this storyline mercilessly if they could.
What *is* important is that by all accounts Freeman is a damn good coach and an extremely solid dude. He’s something of an ‘anti-Brian Kelly’ in that the more you read about him the more you like him. It’s significant that in the span of less than a year he went from a ‘new hire’ in the program to the locker room top choice for the next head coach. That’s an impressive impact in a short amount of time–not only as a coach but as a leader. After former coach Kelly was eviscerated by Brady Quinn over the move to LSU it’s also significant that another former ND quarterback–Joe Theismann–is already on board with the Freeman hire. Smart of Notre Dame from a variety of perspectives. The temptation for an elite program is to bring in another ‘big name’ but that’s not necessarily in the best interest of a team with a record of 11-1 this season. Furthermore, a good percentage of the coaching staff is staying put with some turning down Kelly to go to LSU. While some of that is no doubt due to the Notre Dame mystique it’s also a strong endorsement of Freeman as the presumptive new head coach. There’s still the question about how he’ll handle the ‘public’ duties of being Notre Dame head coach but he strikes me as a guy that was ‘born for this’. He’s definitely in a position to succeed and with the rancor over Kelly’s move to LSU will have strong support from the Irish faithful.