Notre Dame is looking for a new head football coach after Brian Kelly shocked the sports world by bolting to take the LSU job. Coaching the Fighting Irish is a marquee job and Notre Dame should have no trouble finding an excellent replacement. What follows are five candidates to replace Kelly as the school's head coach.
Candidates to replace Brian Kelly at Notre Dame
This is the obvious choice and should be Notre Dame's first call. The job Fickell has done turning Cincinnati into a legitimate college football power has been stunning. He has the Bearcats 12-0 this season and they should be in the College Football Playoff especially due to their big win over (*checks notes*) Notre Dame.
Fickell is in his fifth season at Cincinnati, in the last four his teams are a combined 43-6, with three division title, a conference championship and a Peach Bowl appearance in 2020. He's a Midwest guy born in Columbus, Ohio and has coached at Cincinnati, Ohio State and Akron. That's it. He's all heartland, which means moving to Notre Dame won't be an issue.
Cincinnati is poised to move to the Big 12 in a few years and Fickell is known to walk to the beat of his own drummer. But a chance to coach the Fighting Irish may be too much to pass up.
Similar to Fickell, what Campbell has done at Iowa State has been remarkable. The 42-year-old has made the Cyclones relevant in his six years in Ames. That came after a successful five year run at Toledo. Campbell's teams are tough and disciplined and while this season's 7-5 record isn't thrilling, last year's 9-3 mark that included an 8-1 record in the Big 12 and a Fiesta Bowl win is the stuff of legends at a program like ISU.
Campbell was heavily involved in USC's search for a new coach before the Trojans landed Lincoln Riley. It might be time for him to move up and Notre Dame would be one hell of a step. A Massillon, Ohio native, Campbell has only coached in the Midwest in stops at Bowling Green, Mount Union, Toledo and Iowa State. He knows the region and knows what the Notre Dame name means. He'd be an excellent fit.
A good Catholic boy from Chicago's South Side could be just what the Irish need. The 46-year-old Fitzgerald has done wonders at Northwestern when you consider how little that school cares about athletics. During his 16-year tenure he's posted a record of 109-90, has finished the season ranked in the top 25 five times, and has won five bowl games. Before a down year this season, he had a record of 46-28 in the previous six campaigns. At Northwestern that kind of success is unheard of.
A former Northwestern linebacker, Fitzgerald is tough, he's smart and he knows what it takes to win at a school that values academics the way Notre Dame does. Like the first two guys on this list, he's a Midwest guy through and through and grew up a few hours from South Bend.
It might be hard to leave his alma mater behind but no one would blame him for moving on to Notre Dame. It's a top college job and a special place with unbelievable tradition. He has to be in the mix and would be a great fit.
Here's a wild card for you. Notre Dame's current defensive coordinator should at least get a look. Freeman is a former NFL linebacker who has quickly risen up the coaching ranks. He's only 35 but he's dynamite on the recruiting trail and has already endeared himself to many at Notre Dame in his first year on campus. He spent three years at Cincinnati as defensive coordinator helping Fickell build an excellent defense before taking the Notre Dame job last offseason.
Freeman would be a first-time head coach, which is always a dicey proposition, but the Ohio State product is already a phenomenal recruiter and seems to have the poise for the big job. He's coached at Ohio State, Kent State, Purdue and Cincinnati before Notre Dame, so he's fully plugged in to the region and knows the responsibility of being the head coach of the Irish. If Notre Dame goes off the board, this is the hire to make.
We're throwing this one out there because it has to be considered. For years it was whispered that Meyer's dream job lay in South Bend. Taking the Notre Dame job would may be the only excuse he has to get away from the Jacksonville Jaguars, if he could pull on heartstrings by saying it's a gig he's dreamed about.
The issue here isn't Meyer wanting the job, it's whether Notre Dame's conservative administration would welcome him. We all know about the crazy stories from his days at Florida, his issues at Ohio State, and his off-field problems this year during his first NFL season. Would Notre Dame's higher-ups be willing to look past all of that for the chance to win football games?
In the end he's an elite head coach who went 187-32, with a 12-3 record in bowl games and three national titles during 17 seasons coaching college ball. Maybe that would outweigh the bad for Notre Dame. Maybe not.