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Notre Dame candidates

Welcome, Chaos, our old friend.

Meet arguably the wildest College Football Coaching Tilt-a-Whirl, aka the coaching carousel, of all time.

Yes, ever. That’s the landscape when openings, in order, happen at football royalty programs USC, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma … and now Notre Dame.

Yes, the boys of Knute Rockne and George Gipp, the “Gipper,” and Tim Brown and Rocket Ismail and, well, you get the idea.

Notre Dame is a first-name basis job. You know the tradition because the program’s legends are first name guys, like Joe as in Joe Montana. Lou as in Holtz.

So Brian Kelly is off to LSU, and Lincoln Riley has bolted Oklahoma for USC, and Florida’s tabbed the proven Billy Napier for its post.

So where does Notre Dame turn? What does Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick do with what arguably will be his defining moment under the Golden Dome?

Let’s all dive in, shall we?

LUKE FICKELL, CINCINNATI HC: Fickell’s bona fides are quite established here, and guess what? He’s the only coach with a regular-season win over Notre Dame since … Jim Harbaugh did so way back in October 2019. Fickell has been patient, and he seems primed for this type of opportunity – be it now, or whenever the top post back at his alma mater, Ohio State, eventually comes back open.

MATT CAMPBELL, IOWA STATE HC: Campbell’s quietly got some serious supporters in the Notre Dame crowd, and despite some disappointment this season – relative only to the levels to which he previously raised Iowa State – Campbell has rich Midwest ties and has built and sustained success.

DAVE CLAWSON, WAKE FOREST HC: Yes, sure. Clawson was Virginia Tech’s top choice, and some thought he was headed to the Hokies, before the Demon Deacons stepped up with a huge new deal.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter if both sides decide to get this done, and per someone who Monday spoke directly with Brian Kelly prior to his exit, Clawson also has some support in Irish circles. And Clawson, with a 10-win season at Wake Forest, never has been more attractive.

TOMMY REES, NOTRE DAME OC: One of the cornerstones of Kelly’s early years building the Notre Dame program, the former Irish quarterback Rees has been a brilliant hire for Kelly as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator. And let’s remember that Rees stepped in for Chip Long, the former Broyles Award finalist whom some ND insiders believe saved Kelly’s job with his offensive work from 2017-19.

Rees is a Notre Dame man through and through, and he’s THE reason the Irish have their quarterback of the future in Tyler Buchner – if, of course, Buchner sticks around South Bend, Indiana, in the wake of Kelly’s departure. That largely hinges on Rees’ status.

But this is more than a single player; Rees is beloved by those on campus and inside the program. Moreover, a college coach texted FootballScoop this weekend, “I see what Rees is trying to do at Notre Dame. He does a really good job. You can tell he doesn’t quite have the horses he wants, but he works around.”

MARCUS FREEMAN, NOTRE DAME DC: If Freeman doesn’t ascend at Notre Dame, there’s a 50/50 shot he might be Duke University’s replacement for David Cutcliffe. Yes, really.

Like Rees and Long, Freeman’s got some Broyles Award history to his resume – not to mention some significantly good work this year for an Irish defense that has missed All-American Kyle Hamilton the entire second half of the season and likewise battled multiple other injuries. Even so, Freeman engineered a defense that almost went the entire month of November without a touchdown allowed.

Sources also tell FootballScoop that Freeman is believed to have considerable on-campus backing and potentially also from key alumni – think the type of folks with their names on buildings.

A FEW OTHER NAMES WORTH MONITORING: John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens’ coach. Harbaugh has direct ties to some members of the Irish staff, has visited campus and talked ball with Notre Dame coaches in recent years and … oh yeah, his daughter, Alison, is an all-conference member of the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team. Maybe casually keep an eye on … Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule and Penn State coach James Franklin. 

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest news.