One of Notre Dame’s coordinators is a nominee for the Broyles Award, and surprisingly it’s not defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Instead, it’s offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Freeman was a finalist for the award last year at Cincinnati, but Rees is the only Notre Dame assistant to make the initial cut for the award a year later.
In his second year as offensive coordinator for the Irish, Rees could be seen as somewhat of a surprise inclusion in the nominee list, given the struggles the Notre Dame offense faced earlier in the season. Rees’s ability to pivot in mid-season, however, is an excellent display of coaching. Of course, one could argue it was only needed because of a miscalculation initially, but the improvement from the Irish offense during the season has been significant.
While the Irish’s offensive rankings are overly impressive – Notre Dame ranks 69th in total offense and 40th in scoring offense – they have overcome a lot of personnel losses that might have derailed other teams. Notre Dame started the season replacing four starting offensive linemen from 2020 who are all collecting NFL paychecks at the moment. They’ve used four different left tackles. They are down to five scholarship wide receivers. Speedy sophomore Chris Tyree was out or limited in several games with a turf toe injury.
The Broyles Award is given out annually to the nation’s top assistant coach. Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco won the award in 2012 after producing one of the best defenses in Notre Dame history. Last year, former defensive coordinator Clark Lea was a nominee but did not make the cut to be a finalist.
The exclusion of Freeman is significant in that most pegged Freeman as the most likely Irish assistant to be recognized as one of the nation’s best in the pre-season. Freeman has had to overcome injuries to some of his best playmakers – namely Marist Liufau and, more recently, Kyle Hamilton – which has severely limited how Freeman’s been able to call games week to week.
An argument could be made that Freeman’s ability to overcome personnel losses and adapt his scheme week to week is just as impressive as what Rees has done. Unfortunately, Freeman hasn’t had the kind of corner play needed to be as aggressive as he’d like while injuries have ravaged his safety and linebacker rooms.
Freeman was a finalist in 2020 but lost out to then Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Former Notre Dame assistant Mike Denbrock, now the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, is also a nominee.