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Opinion: Notre Dame's Marcus Freeman 'represents progress and hope' as Black coaches still often ignored

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One of the smartest people in football is Louis Riddick, a one-time scout and team executive for the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles, and an analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football. Riddick explained perfectly why the hiring of Marcus Freeman as coach of the Notre Dame football team is one of the most important moments in the recent history of college football.

"Marcus represents progress and hope," Riddick told USA TODAY Sports. "Progress because he is a minority. Progress because he is a minority, with a defensive background, getting an opportunity to be a (head coach) without having any other HC experience at such a young age (which we thought was only for the young/white/offensive 'genius' types up until now)."

This is what Riddick, who is Black, means about Freeman, who is also Black (and no relation to me because he's too handsome to be related to me).

Almost 100 percent of the time, in order for a young defensive Black coach (Freeman is 35) to get a prestigious head coaching job like Notre Dame's you had to be, well, a Black unicorn. You had to be created in a lab, made of adamantium, almost flawless, a superhero, and even then, you didn't always get hired.

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Meanwhile young white coaches, with plenty of flaws, are deemed geniuses when not always one, and are still easily hired. Especially if they're offensively minded.

Thus the significance of Freeman's hiring isn't just that he's only the second Black football head coach in Notre Dame history, it's that, for once, a qualified Black coach got a job that he usually does not get.

"My defensive coordinator is Black, and he's going to be the next head coach," Brian Kelly recently said on NBC Sports’ "Race in America: A Candid Conversation." "This is not about color or race. This is about the things that he just talked about. Steph (Curry) talked about the important things to be a CEO and understanding how to make people around you better."

Whenever someone says it's not about race, they show a profound ignorance about how so much is about race. If things truly weren't about race, there would've been more than two Black coaches in Notre Dame football's history, which began in 1887.

Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman
Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman

If we lived in the Federation we wouldn't even be having this conversation about race, but we don't, so we do.

"We all hope that other minority coaches that display the level of credibility, competency, and positive impact on others that Marcus has in his career," Riddick said, "and that have earned an opportunity, are in fact given the chance to lead and succeed at big time, prestigious institutions like ND going forward.

"It will serve as to 1) improve the level of representation that there is in the HC ranks, obviously, and 2) keep the dream alive for others and inspire others to keep pushing, keep grinding, and try (to) follow in his footsteps.

"The pipeline, as they like to call it, will replenish itself if/when we are able to reach this point, because others will believe that they can achieve what he has achieved."

Progress isn't always measured in gigantic shifts. It's not always an earthquake. It's more like lurches and fits, forward and back and sideways, with the occasional one leap, even if it doesn't always appear to be a significant jump.

That's what Freeman's hiring is. It is the culmination of decades of shifts finishing in a moment where a Black man is held to the same standard as white counterparts. Not an unachievable standard for Blacks and easily achievable one for whites. But one standard for all.

Not everything is about the first. Sometimes, it's the legion of people who come after the first, who plot a series of courses that aren't as noted or flashy, but just as important.

Freeman represents a shift in college hiring, a notable one, an historic one, and one that we rarely see at this level.

And that shift is a step, even if it's a tiny one, towards true equality. Yes, it sounds corny.

But it's true. It's so true.

Mike Freeman is the race and inequality editor at USA TODAY Sports. Follow him on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Marcus Freeman 'represents progress' as Black coaches often ignored