Notre Dame hires Marcus Freeman as next coach: Ireland listens to players, also keeps Tommy Rees to lead attack

Notre Dame has promoted defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to replace the departed Brian Kelly as the Fighting Irish’s next head coach, the school announced on Friday. Freeman, 35, took over the show less than a season after joining Notre Dame from Cincinnati.

Maintaining continuity during a period of resounding success is a priority, especially since Notre Dame has potential College football Team Playoff, according to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.

The Freeman enhancement that comes with the program also retains offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Having served as an Irish full-back under Kelly from 2010-13, Rees is said to have been invited to join Kelly at LSU. Retaining Rees to lead the assault is said to be key for Notre Dame if it decides to promote Freeman from within.

Rees announced his decision to stay with the Irishman during a team meeting on Wednesday night.

Although Freeman is one of the youngest head coaches in Notre Dame history, he’s had a significant impact on the show since arriving before the season even began. The Irish have held out their last four opponents with a combined score of 23, and the show is also finishing in its first 5th place since 2013 in large part thanks to Freeman’s lead on the recruiting road.

Before Notre Dame, Freeman served as defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, where he helped develop the Bearcats into the College Football contenders they are today. He is a player at Ohio State and was selected in the fifth round of 2009 NFL Drafts.

Freeman is the club leader who is clear about the work between the players. Following Kelly’s shocking departure to LSU, Notre Dame players and rookies began a public campaign for Freeman to get the job using the hashtag #FreemanEra on Twitter.

Notre Dame won 11-1 and was in 6th place in the latest College Football League Rankings when the regular season ended. With a few shuffles, the Irishman could return to the playoffs for a second straight season and a third in four years. Notre Dame has a 44-6 record in the past four seasons.

Notre Dame goes young

Few coaches at the national level recruit better than Kelly, especially when it comes to ball-holding defense. Clark Lea, defensive coordinator against Freeman, is currently head coach of Vanderbilt. However, 35-year-old Freeman and 29-year-old Rees are the new faces of Notre Dame football.

Rees – a former Irish defender – was appointed full-back coach in 2017, shortly after Notre Dame’s uncertain 4-8 campaign. The Fighting Irish have won 10 games a year for the past five seasons and are in the top 12 every year (until 2021). Midfielders Ian Book and Jack Coan gave the Irishman the best quarterback play of the Kelly era. Keeping him in the rush when he can leave for LSU is quite a message on the recruiting road.

Notre Dame is one of the most traditional programs in America. Freeman and Rees fit the mold of coaches who will bring both youthful energy as well as respect and insight into what Notre Dame stands for. It’s rare to find that combination.

Freeman has golden contact

Almost everywhere Freeman trains has improved dramatically. After a 4-8 season in 2016 at Cincinnati, the Bears have won 31-6 of his last three seasons. After the Fighting Irish won 10-2 in 2020, they jumped to 11-1 with Freeman doing a great job defensively despite losing a key product.

Now, Freeman will try and reshape the Notre Dame program that has reached near – but not – a decade high. Since Freeman took over the show, Notre Dame has been much more active on the recruiting path. Hopefully that will continue. If public expressions of support are any indication, players and players love him.

Going against the trend

Several key college football programs have chosen to advertise to build on their success, including Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, Ryan Day at Ohio State, and Dabo Swinney at Clemson. However, Charlie Weis, Bob Davie and Gerry Faust were the three head coaches that eventually led Notre Dame for the first time, and all struggled in their own way.

Freeman was poised to become head coach after that success, but Notre Dame is one of the biggest jobs in America. The speed with which he can adjust to the pressure and expectations of the corner office in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex will define his coaching career. Don’t bet against him. Having the backing of highly regarded sporting director Jack Swarbrick would help a lot.

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