SOUTH BEND – It’s been quite a year of change for the good for the 30th leader of Notre Dame football, and it all came to fruition on Monday.
With the school’s marching band playing the school’s famed “Victory March” as he walked into the team’s practice facility, Marcus Freeman walked towards the stage with his family, Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and a few players by his side.
It’s the culmination of a career that began as a graduate assistant at his Alma Mater Ohio State eleven years earlier. The event also comes just 11 months after then head coach Brian Kelly hired Freeman to be the Fighting Irish’s new defensive coordinator after four years at Cincinnati.
Now he’s the replacement for him, taking over a program that’s been on the doorstep of a national championship but failed to get one in the Kelly era. The 35-year old Freeman’s never been a head coach at any level in his career, but he won over Notre Dame’s athletic administration to convince him that he’s the one to end the school’s 33-year championship drought.
“I’ve got to be myself, and that’s what I told him,” said Freeman when asked on Monday about having the confidence to take the job having never led a program before. “Here’s the things that I believe we can do to raise the level, to raise the standard, but I’m going to do it the only way I know how, and that’s being myself. That’s doing it as a teammate. That’s doing it with others.
“We’re going to achieve greatness as a group, as a team.”
The standard for that is a title at Notre Dame, which has eluded the school since the 1988 season. The Irish finished second in 1993, played in the BCS Championship Game in 2012, then made the College Football Playoff in 2018 along with 2020.
Each time, the Irish were denied a title, and the school hasn’t won a major bowl game since the 1994 Cotton Bowl. Significant progress was made during the Kelly era where the program experienced success not seen since the Lou Holtz era in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Freeman’s defense added to the latest successful Notre Dame season in 2021 as the Irish defense was tied for ninth in FBS in points allowed per game with 18.3 while giving up 339.8 points per contest. The Irish finished 11-1 and just missed out on a College Football Playoff appearance, ranking fifth in the last poll.
It earned Notre Dame a spot in the Fiesta Bowl where they’ll face ninth-ranked Oklahoma State on January 1st at Noon at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
A title will escape the Irish this year regardless of the result of that game, but the main goal is to pursue ending the program’s longest championship drought. Freeman made that clear during his introductory news conference, using the word “enhance” when talking about how the program will do it
“The goal is to win it all. The goal is to win the National Championship. That’s the ultimate goal. But how you get there, it’s going to take a process. It’s going to take enhancing whatever we’ve done to get to this point,” said Freeman. “It’s going to take looking at every single thing we do as an organization and find a better way to do it. That goes back to challenging everything.
“We have to find a better way to do everything we do. We have to coach better. We have to teach better. We have to recruit better. We have to perform better. Everything we do, we’ve got to find a better way to do it.”
The 30th head coach in Notre Dame history will have the chance to do so to cap off a whirlwind year in his still young career.