For Notre Dame to take the next step in becoming an elite program, we know that the Irish have to start winning more recruiting battles with elite programs. On Friday night, the Irish did that and then. Notre Dame officially hired Marcus Freeman, one of the hottest names in the college football coaching circuit, as their next defensive coordinator; winning a head to head matchup with SEC powerhouse, 2019 National Champion LSU.
Wow. Just, wow. This doesn’t happen at Notre Dame, or at least it hasn’t happened at Notre Dame since I started working with Kyle on this site in 1999. Notre Dame has made good hires in the past, but they’ve never been able to tap the next up and coming coordinator over a football factory like LSU like this. Usually, if a program like LSU wants someone, they get him because they’ve been willing to throw more money at coaches.
This is a stark contrast to what happened at Notre Dame just four years ago. After one successful season as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Mike Elko left for the same position at Texas A&M and a pile of money. While it was the Irish made a counteroffer that Elko accepted only to use for additional negotiation with the Aggies; in the end, Notre Dame still lost its defensive coordinator to another program in a lateral move.
That’s not what happened here, though, folks. Notre Dame just targetted the next up and coming defensive coaching star and hired him to replace Clark Lea even though he was LSU’s #1 target to fill their vacant defensive coordinator role. After interviewing with Notre Dame earlier this week, Freemen flew to Baton Rouge to interview with the Tigers, only for Notre Dame to announce they hired him shortly after that concluded.
Notre Dame isn’t just getting an elite “x’s and o’s” defensive coordinator with this hire. They are also getting an elite recruiter who could help them attract the kind of 5-star talent that has mostly evaded Notre Dame for the last two decades. Freeman already helped Cincinnati secure commitments from two 4-star defensive players for the class of 2022. Landing 4-stars at a place like Cincinnati is basically the equivalent of landing 5-star talent at a place like Notre Dame.
Freeman’s recruiting prowess was explicitly mentioned by Brian Kelly in Notre Dame’s release announcing the hiring.
“As we looked into finding someone to run our defense, it was important to find the right fit for our program, and Marcus and his family are just that,” said Kelly. “He has had great success on the field, both running a defense and in his direct work with his linebackers. Additionally, he is considered among the elite recruiters in the coaching ranks.
It should also be noted that Freeman is the first African American coordinator hired under Kelly and the first hired at all by Notre Dame since Charlie Weis hired Corwin Brown.
This isn’t a home run hire by Brian Kelly and Notre Dame. It’s a damn grand slam. For those who were worried that Kelly might take the safe route in replacing Clark Lea – the most successful defensive coordinator at Notre Dame since the Lou Holtz Era – those fears can be put to rest. Kelly just zeroed in on the best defensive on the market and aggressively targetted him.
When Notre Dame lost Clark Lea, Kelly was tasked with replacing one of the most successful assistant coaching hires he’s made in his time at Notre Dame. It’ll be nine months until Freeman calls a defensive game for the Irish, but if he doesn’t at least pick up where Lea left off, it would be the upset of the off-season. There is no such thing as a “can’t miss hire,” but this is about as close as you can get to one when hiring a coordinator.
On and off the field, this is a statement hire by Notre Dame. This is the kind of hire that shows the rest of the college football world the Irish are indeed serious about doing what it takes to take the final step in becoming an elite program – the kind of program that not only gets to the College Football Playoffs but does something more than put up an okay fight.
It’s been a rough week of news for Notre Dame with numerous departures for the NFL, but Friday night’s announcement should have every Notre Dame fan very, very excited for the future.