top of page

The Freeman Era, Year One In Review


Photo Credit: Irish Tribune


Marcus Freeman was hired one year ago today. Personally, I’ve never been so invested in a college football coaching hire in all my life. I’m a fan of “firing season” as much as I am a fan of the sport itself. It’s a time of renewal and hope, especially for the downtrodden fans who had to endure a losing season if not multiple losing seasons before their head coach was finally shown the door. In the case of Notre Dame, the situation was different. No coach in the history of Notre Dame had ever left to accept another job, let alone their all time winning coach. You don’t leave Notre Dame they said, well, apparently now you do. Welcome to the show Irish fans.


I became obsessed with it. Was Freeman following Kelly to LSU? Was he going to be hired as the head coach? Was the process going to take too long and Freeman was going to get hired by someone else? What’s the deal?! I’m pretty certain I wasn’t alone in this thinking. Most Irish fans felt jilted, almost like a girlfriend who tells you it’s over and then leaves the party with someone else. Where did that come from? How did this happen? Are we losing our relevance? When you’ve suffered through the Davie, Willingham and Weis years, these are all commonplace reactions. No Irish fans want to go back to that dark place, we’ve been there and done that, we’re good to stay relevant thank you very much. The difference between winning a Citrus Bowl, albeit somewhat disappointing, and losing to Northwestern in their opener while finishing 4-8 like once mighty Nebraska has just done, is quite vast. We wanted, no, needed to steer clear of these shoals, and Marcus Freeman was the guy to do it.


Why? Why did so many Notre Dame fans want Marcus Freeman? I think I can answer that by using one turn of phrase, he was refreshing. Seriously, that’s it. Rather than lobbying like a politician or bending the truth to fit some kind of narrative like Brian Kelly used to do, everything we had seen of Marcus Freeman showed the opposite. He was approachable, in a way that no other head coach for Notre Dame had been in my lifetime. His mannerisms, love for his players and ability to connect with recruits was something we had never seen before. Kelly was aloof, sure, he was winning the games he was supposed to win and everyone was fine with him, but we didn’t love him. He didn’t let you love him, he didn’t let you in, it was all very guarded and standoffish. Whereas Freeman wanted nothing more than to let you in, to tell you his life story about his military dad and waking up at 5am to workout, his mom who worked 3 jobs and his time at Ohio State under Jim Tressel. Wow, this guy actually wants to connect with us, the lowly fans!


So, here we are, one year removed from his hiring and what have we learned? He is who we thought he was. He’s a great family man who isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and tell the truth to the media (and us fans), he takes accountability for his mistakes and doesn’t throw his players or coaches under the bus and he's a great recruiter. Let’s stay on this one a minute. According to 24/7 sports, Notre Dame has the #3 rated class in the 2023 composite class rankings. This is a higher rated class than any Kelly had ever had during his time at Notre Dame. Many say Kelly was a lazy recruiter, I’m not sure he was lazy as much as he didn’t live it and breathe it. Marcus Freeman lives it, breathes it and eats it for breakfast when he wakes up in the morning. This is what you have to do to build a championship caliber football team and build your brand in the marketplace. Not a team who can simply make the playoffs, but a team who can win in the playoffs and beyond. Freeman is who we thought he was as a recruiter, that’s a good thing.


Not so good is his lack of head coaching experience. We also knew this coming into the season, but knowing it and living it are two very different things. A loss to Marshall after Ohio State was perhaps predictable in hindsight given all that went into the game against the Buckeyes. But, you still have to figure out a way to win those games, regardless of how down the team may be. Losing to Stanford on the other hand was rough. David Shaw was at his best in this game in many ways. I have no idea why Stanford is now terrible compared to when Shaw got there and had it rolling. Since this isn’t a Stanford site, I won’t opine on the reasons, but the guy can still coach. He certainly out coached Freeman and Rees in this particular game, this was a chance we knew we needed to take. Freeman and the team paid us back with perhaps the biggest win since 2012 in the defeat of Clemson at home. The win was so significant given the brand recognition of Clemson, the proximity in the South and the fact the Irish used a ground game to pulverize their opponent into submission. This was a Holtzian effort and one that was much needed to turn the tide of the season and avoid a 7-5 or 6-6 finish. Bowl game in Detroit anyone?


Photo Credit: Irish Tribune


The Marcus Freeman Era has had its ups and downs, but in the end, the ups (recruiting uptick, Clemson win, growth of the brand) far outweigh the negatives (tough to swallow losses to Marshall and Stanford, not fun losses to Ohio State and USC). Notre Dame is not USC, they’re not going to build a roster with 30+ transfers and a QB who writes “F ND” on his fingernails. I’m perfectly fine with this and Marcus Freeman is too. He wants men of higher character to represent him and ultimately the university in a more dignified manner, except on Saturdays, when the opponent will be throttled with no mercy. Freeman is a coach learning on the job and the Irish finished 8-4 with a backup QB and players he (for the most part) didn’t recruit. I had the thought that this team, in the not so distant future, should recreate his hiring video after they win the National Championship. That’d be a great way to bring it all full circle. That, and Marcus Freeman painting “SC who?” on his fingernails.


Comments


Enjoyed This Article?
Subscribe
For

FREE
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
bottom of page