Notre Dame Head Coaching Search Reportedly Included 3 External Candidates

According to SI’s Pat Forde, Jack Swarbrick’s swift but thorough coaching search last week that no one ever imagined he would have to conduct reportedly included at least three external candidates. Swarbrick quickly realized that Marcus Freeman was his man, delighting Notre Dame players and fans near-universally, but it’s an interesting insight into the details behind Swarbrick’s warp-speed process.

Sources familiar with the quick search said Notre Dame had eight current head coaches on its initial list. Two declined to participate, one had timing issues, two others were eliminated by the school. The list was quickly whittled to three head coaches and Freeman. As previously mentioned, the player input was significant in pushing Freeman to the forefront.

Notre Dame embraces Marcus Freeman with Unanimous Excitement After Transformative Week,

For a guy who said he didn’t keep a list of potential head coaching candidates on the ready like most ADs, it sure seems like Swarbrick had at least a pretty good idea of his list pretty quickly. Remember, Notre Dame only found out that Kelly was leaving late Monday night. By Wednesday evening, reports surfaced that Marcus Freeman was the guy, and most of the staff was staying with him.

The only head coach linked to Notre Dame by the national media was Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. He was mentioned several times by national media as a possible candidate. The other name that popped up a lot was Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, but if Forde’s report is accurate, you almost have to assume he would have been the one with a timing issue.

Who the other head coaches are that were viable are fun to speculate about. Was former Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin one of those coaches? He’s been a head coach at Miami of Ohio, the cradle of coaches, with some mixed success the last few years. Last week, I threw his name out on the podcast as someone that might have been worth a call if it wasn’t Freeman.

It would also be fascinating to know who the two were that declined to participate. Did Jack swing for the fences and reach out to some of the big boys just to see if there was any interest? You would hope so just so you could say you tried, right? Hell, that’s how USC ended up with Lincoln Riley, and LSU ended up with Brian Kelly.

We will likely never know who all was involved in the search. Swarbrick moved so fast that there wasn’t time for too many leaks. I wrote last week that Notre Dame coaching searches tended to be filled with rumors, but that never materialized this time around since Notre Dame was reportedly finalizing details with Freeman within 48 hours.

Regardless of who the other candidates were, Notre Dame got the hire right with Freeman. The amount of positivity and energy within the program right now is palpable, and Freeman only amplified that yesterday with his grand slam presser.

Still, it would be fascinating to know the inner workings of everything that happened last week and the timeline Swarbrick was working with. It very much felt like Notre Dame was on tilt there for a little while only to come out with the winning hand. I guess we’ll need to wait for the 30 for 30 to be produced eventually.

What if I told you the winningest coach in program history left for another program, and it energized a fanbase?

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  1. It was an inherently flawed hiring process and it is eventually going to blow up in their face. It looks like AD Swarbrick implanted a time bomb within HC Freeman regime and it immediately started ticking. I am talking about how the rest of the coaching staff was hired. Coach Freeman did not hire coach Rees et al. It was Swarbrick. In terms of organizational dynamics, that will become a source of tension and friction some time in the future, maybe not today or tomorrow, not even next year, but give time and it will. HC must be the one who hires and gives out the job, but as Swarbrick confirmed, he HIRED Rees and Balis and others before Freeman was given a HC job. So, who’s the boss? It may or may not be Freeman according to some assistants, and that will make all the difference when going gets tough and tempers flare. They may feel like they are one among equals in the chain of authority, and that is not an ideal way to run any organization. There is a reason why two headed monsters have become extinct. The two heads fought each other to death for the ultimate authority. And that is what Swarbrick has inadvertently set up from parturition. It’s a Cinderella feel good story with Freeman at the moment, but once that rubs off and Freeman’s coaching staff progresses through puberty and into adulthood in terms of organizational behavior, that fight will inevitably break out all because Swarbrick made the mistake of handing out the contracts of Freeman’s assistants well before Freeman’s. Even just for formality sake, Swarbrick should have had Freeman recommend the same staff for extension, and it would have set straight the hierarchy of command. Now, the coaching staff owes their loyalty to Swarbrick and not necessarily to Freeman. Therein lies the seeds of discontent, revolt, and growing pains, planted right underneath HC Freeman’s first footstep, and it’s going to trip him up one day. But for now, we are all happy and will have fingers crossed praying for this fairy tale to last a long time. By the time those seeds have grown large enough to disrupt Freeman’s regime, we can only hope that he will have sharpened his management skills to aptly overcome those obstacles.

  2. There are definitely pros and cons to the MF pick. I can believe they reached out to 3 externals (Fickell is undoubtedly the “timing one, Campbell assuredly was one…the other…..?).

    The only con I see (or others have really mentioned) with Freeman is the lack of HC experience. But all agree he was likely to get a head coaching gig very soon. Would it have been as high profile as ND? Probably not (see Clark Lea at Vandy) but he was the up and coming assistant coach everyone was sure to get a shot. That shot being on such a huge national stage is worrisome but the fact that ND isn’t in need of a complete rebuild and the vast majority of the staff is staying helps tremendously.

    And, in my opinion, the Pros far outweigh the Cons. Freeman’s recruiting ability has been spoken of ad nauseum. And, he is a truly gifted coordinator so I am confident, at least defensively, in his ability to game plan and do the actual coaching part of the job. Where i think his biggest pro lies is with what many see as a weakness. He doesnt have longstanding ties to ND. ND is like a pepperoni pizza. Some like it, some love it, some hate it. But all agree its a classic. As such, people are often afraid to alter a classic. They may add extra cheese or change up the crust, but in the end its still a classic pepperoni pizza. And its best argument is that its the one you know and trust. ND relies on its history. The national championships, in the past, the Heisman winners, in the past, the legendary coaches, in the past. Hell, they just started pumping in some music and got a jumbotron in the last few years. People almost had a coronary over the turf change. ND will always have its loyal fans that want it to stay the same….they just want the pepperoni pizza to taste the same as it did in 1968. And all too often we get coaches that promise change and we get some extra cheese or maybe a little garlic seasoning. The diehards eat it up. But new customers, the kids we need to compete, they see those flashy new offerings at other places. We have been giving the same pitch to recruits for decades. Come to ND where we are champions (well, not since 1988). We get the Heismans (not since Tim brown and he was retired before any of these kids were born). It a 40 year decision not a 4 year decision (but you can play at Stanford, Northwestern, Vandy or any number of places with as good academics and alumni connections as ND and, they have as many Nat Championships and Heismans as ND has this century). Come to ND, we are on TV every week (Just like every other FBS school).

    Freeman doesnt have that ingrained connection to ND greatness of bygone eras. he can certainly call on the schools grand history if he needs it to convince a recruit or a recruits family. He knows ND is different and special and can sell that. But, he also knows what kids that end up signing with Ohio State need to hear. He knows what it takes to make an intimidating home field advantage in todays NCAA football (yall notice the crowd at Cincy during the AAC Champ game….ND stadium hasnt been that loud since…i dunno, maybe 2005 USC?).

    ND wasnt going to pry a Saban away from somewhere. They could have gotten an up and comer from a smaller power 5 like Campbell but the records on those that make it versus flame out isnt great. Instead, they went with a radical youth movement. A young guy that wont rest on the schools past achievements and has a lot to prove to himself and the world. That just might well be the ingredient they most needed to take that final step from good to great. A coach that doesnt look at the job at ND as some fulfillment of their dream career. Instead, one that looks at it like the next challenge.

  3. Totally believable coming from one of the great clowns in sports media. He is filled with atrocious ideas and illogical arguments.
    Most ADs are great at running organizations but they’re terrible at hiring.
    We all hope this works out but let’s not dress this up as some stroke of mastery. They were blindsided and panicked. Signing day and a potential playoff bid forced the issue.

    1. Agree re the stroke of mastery opinion, but partial credit is due for crisis management. The other credit goes to the fact that Freeman was already in-house and had the backs of assistants and players.

      1. This was not a ‘crisis. This is one of the predictable, occasional duties of an AD.
        It is, by design, almost always undertaken under duress.
        This is why AD’s are vetted so carefully, and why they are paid so handsomely.

        Credit can only be given eventually…..when it’s proven Swarbrick “got it right so fast”.
        And he’ll get none if it turns out he “quickly blew it”.
        …well, none except for his $3.5 million a year.

  4. Willingham was a HC at Stanford before coming to ND so he did have some HC experience. You may have been thinking of Davie who was promoted from within.

    Anyway, I see this hiring as a risky and a safe move at the same time. Risky because Freeman does have a lack of experience. In years to come we’ll know if Swarbick made a genius move and Freeman is the next Saban like coach. Or maybe he follows the same pattern as his predecessor. Good, but not elite. Winning the games we’re predicted to win but falling short in the big time bowl games. Or maybe he’s like Weis, a bust. Weis was a good recruiter as well but that just didn’t translate on the field because he wasn’t a good HC.

    It’s also safe because really the only significant thing that changed was the HC. Most of the assistants are staying on and by all accounts almost the entire recruiting class remains.

    And like I noted before, there are times you want to clean house and basically rebuild, like when Weis was fired. We needed a fresh start at that point so it made sense to go outside and basically rebuild from the bottom up. This time ND has been just outside the elite bubble. We make it to the big bowl games regularly now but just can’t get over the hump. We have a really good recruiting class coming in as well, and decent assistants mostly we want to hold on to if possible. So this was a time when I think you want to maintain and hopefully build on what we got. Rather than tearing it down with a new coach and starting from scratch.

    We’ll see. I’m more optimistic than I have been in several years. But I know the proof will be in the final game results.

  5. I love the energy and optimisim the selection of Freeman has created. I personally understand the risk and I’m fine with it.
    However, Freeman is still totally unproven as a head coach.
    JS took the low hanging fruit. -#1 He protected the incoming class of new recruits #2 He hired a fantastic recruiter.

    Yet I recall the optimism that surrounded the Weis, Faust and Willingham hire (all w/ zero HC college experience)
    The safe long term hire was Luke Fickell. Long term simply because you would sacrifice the loss of new recruits if
    Freeman & Rees left. Long term however, there’s a coach w/ a 88% win pct., proven track record as HC.
    Perhaps Fickell wasn’t interested. We will never know. If Freeman doesn’t exceed the level achieved by BK,
    many who applaud his hire now will blame JS for not playing it safe.

    1. Tyrone Willingham was Stanford’s HC for six years before ND winning one Pac 10 title. His first year at ND, 10 wins, before the slide began. Anyway, most ND fans will not miss “big game” Kelly and are excited about someone who truly loves the program becoming the HC. Fingers crossed for the best!

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