Marcus Freeman didn’t take too much about X’s and O’s on Monday at his introductory press conference, but he did make it clear that he has a vision for how the Irish will attract the Jimmys and Joes. Recruiting was referenced early and often by Freeman once questions started and his answer was heard loud and clear. There’s a new attitude to recruiting coming to Notre Dame.
From day one at Notre Dame last January, Marcus Freeman immediately impacted defensive recruiting. That impact is now about to be felt throughout the team. One of the first questions posed to Freeman on Monday was about what adjustments he’d make to put his stamp on the program. Recruiting was the first thing Freeman mentioned.
“I think it starts with, we’re going to recruit at the highest level, and we’re going to recruit the best football players in the country that fit Notre Dame,” he said. “You’re not going to change the standards of Notre Dame, but there are certain players out there that fit Notre Dame and they might not know. So our job as a coaching staff is to be able to communicate with these young people what Notre Dame can do for your life, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
He plans on doing that by being front and center of Notre Dame’s recruiting machine, not working behind the scenes, and waiting until an in-home visit or a recruit’s on-campus visit to be involved.
“I’d better be the number one recruiter,” Freeman explained. “I’d better be the lead recruiter in every kid that we recruit, and I plan on doing it. We obviously have to depend on our staff, and I will depend on our staff to make sure we know who and what and why we’re recruiting every individual.”
This is a stark contrast to the recruiting philosophy of his predecessor. Brian Kelly was much more the delegating, CEO-style recruiting head coach who’d come in for the close but wouldn’t necessarily be involved in many recruitments early on. When he was, it was usually noteworthy in those specific recruitments. Kelly isn’t the only coach who does that, but it’s also not the style of a Dabo Swinney at Clemson or Nick Saban at Alabama.
Tom Lemming mentioned last week that unlike Saban and other coaches at big-time programs, Kelly was more hands-off at Notre Dame. He did say that once Kelly was in someone’s living room, he was great, but that he didn’t do enough work before then for the Irish to have top 5 classes instead of top 15 classes with regularity.
Of course, I’m sure the Merriweather family might disagree that Kelly was great once in someone’s living room after reports over the weekend surfaced of Kelly’s last in-home visit as the Notre Dame head coach. For those unaware, Kelly was in their home as the news was breaking but still helped himself to quite a bit of homemade BBQ from Mr. Merriweather and never let on that he was leaving Notre Dame. He even sent a response through his staff that the reports of his leaving for LSU were “BS.” But I digress.
The stories of Kelly not being a relentless recruiter at Notre Dame weren’t new, though. When Kelly said that he wanted Notre Dame to start landing top-5 classes, the general consensus that the biggest thing needed out of Notre Dame that to happen was more work on the trail from its head coach. It sounds like that will not be a problem as long as Marcus Freeman is the head coach at Notre Dame.
Assistant coaches won’t get passes on Freeman’s staff either. When asked about what you need to be an assistant on his staff, the second thing Freeman mentioned was recruiting. “You’ve got to be a relentless recruiter. If you can’t recruit, you probably aren’t going to be the best for our university and our team,” he said.
Again, there were numerous examples over the years of the Kelly Era where specific position coaches either weren’t great recruiters or just didn’t put in the work. Part of the whole post-2016 reboot was about just that – revamping recruiting. We don’t need to name specific assistants to relitigate the past but suffice to say, it sounds as though that won’t be a problem moving forward.
Freeman also talked about recruiting while on ESPN’s bowl selection show as well stating that the biggest challenge with recruiting at Notre Dame is really just the perception.
We’ve heard big talk about recruiting before from Notre Dame head coaches. Heck, Kelly kept saying that he wanted Notre Dame to have top-5 classes. We haven’t seen a whole lot of action from the head coach to make it happen in the past, though. But, if Marcus Freeman’s past eleven months have taught us anything about him as a coach, it’s that he won’t be outworked, and he won’t take the easy way out on the recruiting trail.
Freeman arrived at Notre Dame eleven months ago with the mindset of targeting the best players in the country and aggressively recruiting them even if they might not have been from traditional Notre Dame backgrounds but were still fits for the University. Lou Holtz did this with regularity in the 80s, and he won the University’s last national title.
Only time will tell if Marcus Freeman can deliver the 12th national championship that has been eluding Notre Dame for more than 30 years. One thing is for sure, though. If he isn’t, it won’t be because he and his staff haven’t recruited as hard as possible. Freeman made it abundantly clear on Monday that that would not be the case.