Marcus Freeman’s first staff at Notre Dame is finally completed – at least unofficially at the moment – after adding Al Golden to fill its open defensive coordinator position. Pete Sampson of The Athletic was the first to report the hire on Tuesday morning.
The holdup in completing the staff was Golden’s presence on the staff of the Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati Bengals. Golden was rumored to be the favorite to replace Freeman as defensive coordinator ever since Notre Dame’s recruitment of Jon Heacock of Iowa State ended up with Heacock getting a raise the Cyclones after negotiations with Notre Dame broke down.
Cincinnati’s longer than expected playoff run prolonged the process, however, with reports of Golden preferring to wait until the Bengals’ seasons concluded to complete the process officially. Notre Dame already announced a press conference for Wednesday to make all of the new assistant coaches available to the media suggesting that the overly long and drawn-out background check process the University completes had started long before Tuesday’s news.
Unlike many of the assistant coaches Freeman has added, Golden is not an up-and-coming coach who hasn’t turned 40. Golden’s been a head coach twice before and is 52 years old. That experience is something many felt Freeman’s staff needed after adding Chansi Stuckey (WR), Al Washington (DL), Brian Mason (ST), Deland McCullough (RB), and Gerad Parker (TE). Golden joins Harry Hiestand as one of two “old guys” on the Irish staff.
Because Golden’s years removed from being a head coach and is currently in his 50’s, he could add stability to the Irish staff along with his experience. A successful few years as a DC at Notre Dame may get Golden some head coaching opportunities again, but the trend in college football isn’t to hire coaches in their mid-50s these days. If the Freeman/Golden pairing is successful, it seems likely that Golden could be a fixture on the Irish staff for years to come. In contrast, it seems likely that many of the young up-and-coming coaches Freeman added are likely to have opportunities to advance their own careers, like Lance Taylor and John McNulty did this off-season.
Freeman replaced himself with an accomplished defensive coordinator who can also serve as a sounding board for him as a previous head coach. Finding a coach that was a “fit” for the staff was the most crucial factor in this hire for Freeman. Finding that fit wasn’t as easy as identifying the next up-and-coming defensive coordinator since the belief is that Freeman wants the defense to remain mainly intact given all of the changes defensively over the last few years. Golden will be the fourth defensive coordinator for the Irish in six years in 2022.
Golden coached linebackers for the Bengals the last two seasons after two seasons, with the Detroit Lions coaching linebackers there as well. He also coached tight ends for the Lions for two years after being let go as head coach for Miami. Golden’s experience at Miami and before that as head coach at Temple gives the staff some good recruiting ties in both Florida and Pennsylvania.
Golden also spent one season as the recruiting coordinator for Penn State in 2000. In January, Notre Dame lost its recruiting coordinator when Mike Elston made the lateral move to Michigan. Golden is one of three Irish coaches who have held that title at a previous stop. We may find out who will hold that role at Notre Dame at Wednesday’s press conference.
Like almost any hire, the addition of Golden does come with some risk. Golden hasn’t the role of defensive coordinator since 2005 while at Virginia. However, his success running the Cavalier defense earned him the head coaching job at Temple, which then led him to Miami. That risk is mitigated somewhat because the defense will likely stay largely intact from what Freeman installed in 2021. Golden won’t be tasked with coming in and installing a completely new defense.
With Golden’s addition, Notre Dame’s coaching staff is finally full once again. It’s been over two months since Brian Kelly decided to take the money and run down to Baton Rouge, but Notre Dame came out on the other side with a staff that is if nothing else, decidedly stronger on the recruiting front. Whether or not this newly formed staff can deliver the same stability on the field the previous one did remains to be seen.