Notre Dame is set to take an enormous gamble on an unproven head coach by promoting 35-year-old defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to the big job. It's a crazy move for a typically conservative athletic department and university. It could be an absolute disaster, as Freeman has never been a head coach at any level. But it could also wind up paying off in a big way.
An Ohio State product, Freeman was a two-time Second Team All-Big Ten selection at linebacker. He entered the 2009 NFL Draft and was a fifth-round selection of the Chicago Bears. He was quickly waived, then was signed by the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans before it was discovered that he had an enlarged heart in May of 2010. He retired and returned to his alma mater as a graduate assistant that same year.
Freeman quickly made an impression. He was hired as Kent State's linebackers coach in 2011, then took the same position at Purdue from 2013 to 2015. In 2016 he added the co-defensive coordinator title at Purdue. Then from 2017 to 2020 he was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Cincinnati where he gained a national reputation for excellence on that side of the ball. Notre Dame swooped in and hired him in 2021 and he's been excellent during his first year on campus.
Clearly the administration at Notre Dame saw enough over the last 11 months to feel comfortable hiring Freeman as the school's next head coach. And when you talk to those around college football, many believe he's a future star. He's an ace recruiter who connects with people instantly. His 3-3-5 defense can be awkward to face and difficult to recruit for, but he's figured out the right mix and kids love him.
That's all well and good, but Freeman has never been a head coach at any level. He's never run a college football program. He's never dealt with the politics that will certainly surround him at Notre Dame and that tired Brian Kelly. Notre Dame isn't just any college coaching job. It's one of the most difficult places to coach in the country. The expectations on the head coach and the program are astronomical and few have been able to find the balance and succeed -- especially in the last 25 years. Many have tried and few have been successful.
Freeman definitely has something. He's already one of the best young coordinators in all of football and has the smarts and personality to be a great head coach. But this is a shot in the dark for the Irish.
With successful head coaches like Luke Fickell, Matt Campbell and others out there, Notre Dame decided to roll the dice on Marcus Freeman. We'll see if it was a good bet or a terrible gamble.