Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Pete Thamel, and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde discuss Notre Dame’s move to make Marcus Freeman the next head coach of the Fighting Irish, and explain how fans should feel about the hire.
DAN WETZEL: We're going to go with the almost certain elevation, the promotion, of Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame. Big thing, who was Notre Dame going to take to replace Brian Kelly? This guy could potentially coach in the playoff, as we'll get to.
35 years old out of Wayne, Ohio, Dayton area, Ohio State player, was an NFL player for a couple of years before they found out he had an enlarged heart, decided to become a coach-- excellent career move. He's now the head-- going to be the head coach at Notre Dame. 29-year-old Tommy Rees, former Notre Dame quarterback, is going to stay on as the offensive coordinator, whole bunch of the staff is staying.
Notre Dame is going big on a youth movement. They're swinging big with Marcus Freeman. These usually work spectacularly or not at all. I don't know. And then there is the additional-- look, I talked to a number of high school coaches the last two days, particularly most of them African-American in major cities, and it is not without notice that Notre Dame-- stayed, conservative, old school Notre Dame-- might have a 35-year-old African-American head coach.
That is a head-spinner and a jolt of attention to that program. And good for Notre Dame. We've given plenty of chances to the assistant coach white guys I just listed. Too often with the African-American coach, it's, well, you got to get a little more experience. So Notre Dame thinks they've got lightning in a bottle here and we're going to find out. Pat, your thoughts on the Marcus Freeman promotion.
PAT FORDE: Fascinating, and everything that goes along with it. That basically, Notre Dame just cut off Brian Kelly's coattails. They shut down the pipeline south to Baton Rouge. Marcus Freeman is not going, Tommy Rees is not going, Mike Elston is not going, Matt Bayless, the strength coach, is not going.
So they're keeping everything but the head coach, just about. And they're hoping, then, that that helps keep that recruiting class, which is one of the best they've ever had and one of the best in the country for 2022. You do not have to look very far or very hard to find Marcus Freeman admirers.
He has been a really impressive guy throughout his college career and in the coaching ranks. He and Luke Fickell basically joined at the hip. Fickell helped recruit him to Ohio State, was his position coach as a linebacker. When Freeman wanted to get out of the NFL and into coaching, he first tried to talk him out of it, but then he brought him in as his GA coaching linebackers.
And then he went off to join Darrell Hazell and coached with him after Purdue, and then he went and joined as the defensive coordinator at a young age at Cincinnati. And that coupling worked phenomenally. And then finally, Freeman went his own way, obviously. All signs are that this could be a great hire, but we'll see when he starts actually leading the program.
DAN WETZEL: Never know.
PETE THAMEL: Yeah. You do never know, right? We could sit here and talk about all the hires we were sure would work that, you know, have backfired. To me, philosophically, this is a really interesting hire. First of all, I'm a big Marcus Freeman fan as a person.
I think there is a great element here in his story-- and it's a good lesson for young coaches on betting on yourself. He could have gone two years ago, after Mel Tucker got the Michigan State job, you know, could have basically tripled his salary-- not quite, but close to it, to go be a DC at Michigan State. Stayed at Cincinnati, leads them on that undefeated team, coached against Georgia in that Peach Bowl last year where they pretty much shut them down.
And then has the decision between LSU and Notre Dame last year-- takes a deep dive, goes on the recruiting trip on the private plane, meets Coach O, goes through both car washes, if you will, and makes one of the great decisions I've ever seen a young coach make, right? He looked at LSU and said, you know what? It's going to be more money, but I don't know if that's the best decision for my long-term trajectory.
So he goes to Notre Dame. And 11 months later, he's the head coach of Notre Dame. My sources told me Wednesday night that was really a key mile-marker in the Notre Dame decision-making process was that the players themselves-- the players didn't run and say, we want Marcus Freeman. The players had a lot of pride in what they built and the culture they'd helped establish.
They're 44 and 6, I believe, the last four years. That's an astounding run, right? It's an astounding run. And the players didn't want a new guy with new slogans and a new-- like, all that stuff. They really feel like at Notre Dame next year, this can be their best team in the last decade.
They basically wanted to keep rolling with what they'd built. And I think that was really interesting that they stepped up and pointed that out. I had never quite heard that rationale. And it makes a ton of sense, right? At a place like Notre Dame, those kids are asked to do a lot. All college football players are asked to do a lot.
At a place like Notre Dame, you've got to take the math classes, you've got to go through-- go through a real college experience as well. And so I thought that was a really interesting window into how we ended up here.