SOUTH BEND — It’s official: Marcus Freeman is the head football coach at Notre Dame.
The university announced the news in a press release Friday morning. The news of Freeman replacing the departed Brian Kelly was first reported as early as Monday night, but multiple media outlets were reporting it was a done deal late Wednesday night.
Freeman is the 30th head coach in Notre Dame football history. He has spent the last season as the Fighting Irish’s defensive coordinator.
“It is an honor to be named the head coach of Notre Dame Football,” said Freeman in a statement. “I am eternally grateful to both (Notre Dame president) Father John Jenkins and (Notre Dame athletic director) Jack Swarbrick for giving me the opportunity to lead the exceptional men who make this program what it is. Notre Dame is a very special place, and I look forward to pursuing a national championship with the most outstanding student-athletes, coaches and staff in college football.”
Freeman, 35, becomes one of the youngest Division-I head coaches in the country. He replaces Kelly, who went 113-40 in 12 seasons in South Bend. Kelly left Notre Dame early Tuesday morning for the head coaching job at LSU.
Once news of Kelly’s departure started being reported Monday night, a huge social media push came to promote Freeman to the head coaching position. Current and former players, incoming recruits and plenty of Irish fans tweeted their support for Freeman to get the job. Freeman is regarded as a “player’s coach” and one of the top recruiters in the country.
“Marcus’ ability to connect with people, his fit at Notre Dame and the way he coaches young men set him apart as we went through our search process,” Swarbrick said in the statement. “I can’t wait to see how the culture created by these remarkable student-athletes continues to grow under the tutelage of Marcus and his staff.”
The timing of naming Freeman the head coach is critical for multiple reasons. The early signing day period for recruits is Dec. 15, and the Irish currently have one of the top-ranked incoming classes of any school across all of the recruiting websites.
Notre Dame is also in a position to potentially make the College Football Playoff as well, being ranked No. 6 in the latest poll with its 11-1 record. The Irish are off this weekend, however, so they will need teams around them to lose if they are to move up to one of those top four spots and play in the CFP semifinals for the third time in four seasons.
After a shaky start on the defensive side of the ball for the Irish this season, Freeman has turned Notre Dame into one of the nation’s best defenses in the second half of the campaign. That has led them to earn top-20 national rankings in such categories as interceptions (15), scoring defense (18.2 points per game) and total sacks (40th).
Maybe the biggest indication of Freeman’s impact as a coach is the number of assistant coaches that are staying on his staff and not joining Kelly in Louisiana. The entire defensive coaching staff — including defensive line coach Mike Elston, who’s been part of every coaching staff of Kelly’s since 2004 — are remaining in South Bend. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is also staying on board, along with running backs coach Lance Taylor.
As of Friday morning, the only coaches whose status is unknown are offensive line coach Jeff Quinn and special teams coach Brian Polian.
“Marcus Freeman has not only proven himself a superb football coach, he has shown – both in his time at Notre Dame and in my conversations with him this week – that he is a person of highest integrity who cares deeply about our student-athletes and is committed to their success in the classroom as well as on the field,” Jenkins said in the statement. “I am excited to welcome him as our new head football coach and to have his wife, Joanna, and their six beautiful children in the Notre Dame family.”
Freeman played college football at Ohio State and was selected in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears.
After his playing career ended, Freeman transitioned into the coaching world. He spent time as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2010, two seasons at Kent State from 2011-12 and then four years at Purdue from 2013-16 before becoming a household name amongst college football fans as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati from 2017-20.
Specifically in the 2020 season, Freeman’s defense with the Bearcats was one of the best in the country, earning him a nomination for the Broyles Award (nation’s top assistant coach). Cincinnati went 9-0 in a shortened regular season last year before losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
Freeman’s name came up for multiple head coaching positions last offseason, but he instead chose to take the defensive coordinator job at Notre Dame. He replaced Clark Lea, who took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt.
Freeman will be officially introduced as the head coach of Notre Dame at a press conference Monday afternoon.