When I started here at Fighting Irish Wire in the fall of 2019, I used to do a weekly “Nick’s Notre Dame Mailbag” feature. Yeah, I spent all night thinking of the name, but I was thinking back to it for two main reasons over the last couple of days.
We’re going to bring the mailbag premise back this offseason via comments to posts or responses to social media questions.
More significantly – one of my old mailbags played right into the news on the college football field this weekend.
Back in November 2019, Peter in Cary, Illinois, asked: “Who would be the top-three realistic candidates to replace Brian Kelly, IF, he decided to take an NFL job or leave for something else?”
My top two choices at the time:
Matt Rhule – Baylor
Luke Fickell – Cincinnati
I can’t tell you how much I think Nebraska nailed their head coach selection, and I don’t think Wisconsin is very far behind in theirs, either. However, just over three years after I originally wrote that post I can’t help being ecstatic that things ended up the way they did for Notre Dame.
If the program needed rebuilding then these two would have been great selections. Notre Dame is well-established, however, and needed someone to get it over the hump. I’m not sure Rhule or Fickell’s recruiting abilities would get them there. Trust me, I think the Irish would have been more of the same as they were under Kelly (which was really good relatively speaking), but the closing of the talent gap would still need significant addressing.
It’s not just recruiting with Freeman, who has shown a solid ability so far in hiring assistant coaches. Brian Mason is a star as the special teams coordinator, and Chansi Stuckey at the receivers post is doing things recruiting-wise in Texas that Notre Dame hasn’t done in decades. It’s only a matter of time until that group is developing talent like the running back group is.
I still think either Rhule or Fickell would have been safe, solid hires as they come with proven collegiate success. However, the ceiling is the highest with Freeman, something we saw flashes of over the last 12 games.
Now if you’d like to laugh please know my third choice was Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson. Nothing against him but upon further review, Wake Forest has gone 23-19 since my original post.