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Kelly touts Freeman as a future head coach, tackles race in hiring on NBC Sports

A comment during an unrelated interview shows just how much Kelly thinks of his new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.

When Notre Dame announces the program's next head coach, it will be the grandest of grand celebrations. A press release, sure. But a press conference, a tour to get him in front of key stakeholders, meetings with donors, parents. It'll be the college football version of a presidential inauguration.

What it won't be is announced through an offhanded comment in a TV interview totally unrelated to Notre Dame football.

But that's what we're discussing today, because that's what Brian Kelly said on the NBC Sports series Race and Sports: A Candid Conversation.

Kelly appeared on Episode 2 of the series, alongside figures such as Dell and Steph Curry, Vince Carter, Justin Tuck, CC Sabathia and others to discuss "social justice in the year since George Floyd’s death and the ongoing push for racial equality in this country."

There, Kelly got to talking about his new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. He said this (via Fighting Irish Wire):

“My defensive coordinator is Black, and he’s going to be the next head coach,” Kelly said. “This is not about color or race. This is about the things they [Steph Curry, Dell Curry, Vince Carter] just talked about.

“Steph just talked about the most important things to be a CEO, and that’s understanding how you make people around you better. Please. That simple.”

Again: "My defensive coordinator is Black, and he's going to be the next head coach."

Watch for yourself here.

Now, this is a comment made during an interview having nothing to do with the succession of Fighting Irish head football coaches.

The most likely answer is Kelly cut himself off before finishing the thought. "My defensive coordinator is Black, and he's going to be the next head coach to come from my staff." 

Two of Kelly's defensive coordinators, Bob Diaco and Clark Lea, left for head coaching jobs, and it doesn't take an expert to see Freeman as a potential third. Much of my write-up for his entry in our Most Important Assistant Coaching Hires series touched on that. 

Would Notre Dame really anoint Freeman as Kelly's heir apparent before he's coached a single game in blue and gold?

Possible, sure, but unlikely. In fact, sources tell FootballScoop Kelly was talking about Freeman's future in general, not specifically at Notre Dame.

What we can say is that Freeman has been exactly who Kelly thought he was getting upon hiring him away from Cincinnati last winter, and that's someone who was "Future Head Coach" tattooed across his forehead. And perhaps that future includes remaining in South Bend.