Notre Dame officially introduced Marcus Freeman as its new head football coach on Monday afternoon, and just as he’s won over the Notre Dame players over the last eleven months, he won over everyone watching simply by being himself and embracing Notre Dame. He didn’t use a lot of cliches or coachspeak. Hell, he didn’t even have to fake an accent to try to fit in. He was just himself, and in the process, he absolutely nailed his first official press conference as the head coach of the Fighting Irish.
Authenticity is hard to fake. Marcus Freeman exuded it on Monday afternoon. He entered his arena flanked by his wife and six children and was followed by the seven captains of the 2021 Fighting Irish, who led the internal charge to have Freeman elevated to head coach. Family is important to Freeman, as we found out as he spoke.
He thanked his parents – his dad, a 26-year member of the Air Force, and his mom, a Korean immigrant who came to America in the 1970s. “I get my discipline, my work ethic, my honesty from my father,” Freeman said. “I get my unselfishness and other-centered focus from my mother, and that’s exactly how I will lead this football program.”
“I’ve kind of told you their story, but I just want you to know, when others say just be yourself, I am me because of you,” he would later add.
He thanked his family. “I want to start with my wife Joanna,” Freeman said. “My wife, my partner, thank you for your unselfishness. Thank you for always being there and your support most of the time. You can be my toughest critic, but thank you for just being there.”
Then he turned his attention to his children, and that’s when he and a lot of people watching got a bit emotional. “To my kids — Vinny, Siena, Gino, Rocco, Capri, Nico — I got all six?” he said. “You didn’t ask for this. You didn’t ask to share your dad, but you have to, and I love you.”
After thanking his kids, Freeman thanked Father John Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick for this opportunity. “Thank you for challenging everything,” he said. “Thank you for making a decision to believe in a 35-year-old first-time head coach. And I vow to work tirelessly to never disappoint you.”
That’s when Freeman got emotional and started to shed a tear. He tried to fight it and even said, “dang it,” but he couldn’t hold it back. He was being himself. The crowd cheered him on as he regained his composure and continued.
He also thanked his players, both past and present. “You are my why,” Freeman said of his former players. “You are my motivation. You are the reason I get up every day and work as hard as I can to see you all reach your goals. To see you all set a goal and live out a dream is what gives me my inspiration every day to do what I do.”
At that point, it was impossible not to think back to Brian Kelly’s meeting with his team at LSU that the Tigers posted online, where Kelly told a room full of his new players that his why was more about him wanting to coach the best players and have the best facilities. But enough about the old guy. Today was all about our new guy.
Throughout his remarks and even when he was answering questions, there was just a feeling of authenticity emanating from the podium. Freeman spoke passionately and honestly about his expectations for the program and his players but spent very little time talking about himself. We didn’t hear about his glory days as an All-American linebacker or the other coaching stops he’s made that prepared him for this challenge. We did hear a lot about his players and this program, though.
“The people here make this opportunity special,” Freeman said. “The people that are currently here — the students, the faculty, the countless other people that step on this campus, the people that have come through Notre Dame and have planted themselves throughout the world, the Notre Dame network that at any moment for any reason will find you a solution.”
Today was not a day for X’s and O’s, schematic advantages, or hearing about someone’s 20 years of head coaching experience. Instead, it was about getting a glimpse into who Marcus Freeman is and understanding what made it so clear to Jack Swarbrick that this 35-year-old without head coaching experience was exactly the right man for the job. We saw that because Marcus Freeman was just himself.