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UPDATE: Notre Dame landing Washington for key defensive assistant position

There's no shortage of coaches trying to join the first-year staff of new coach Marcus Freeman

Marcus Freeman might be a first-time head coach, barely through his first month atop the storied Notre Dame program, but Freeman nonetheless is taking a rather judicious approach as he seeks to fill out his first full Fighting Irish staff.

Freeman has made a run at a couple different defensive coordinators, and he’s steadily conducted additional phone and zoom interviews with candidates in the past few days.

Likewise, per sources, Freeman has found himself fielding a number of calls for the Irish’s vacant defensive line coaching post, vacated last week by the not-unexpected-move of Mike Elston to Michigan.

But a trio of candidates have emerged from a crowded field that’s sought to find a spot on the inaugural staff of Freeman, whose personality has resonated on both recruiting trails – those of prospects and those of potential coaches.

Per sources with direct knowledge, the Irish have homed in on Ole Miss’s Randall Joyner, Ball State’s Tyler Stockton and former Ohio State assistant Al Washington.

Multiple sources on Friday and Saturday told FootballScoop that all three coaches had emerged in the Irish’s crowded field, but also indicated that all three coaches had heard from additional potential suitors.

Washington is the most decorated of the bunch, having nearly been named the defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee just 11 months ago. Washington, however, turned down the Vols and reupped with Ryan Day’s Ohio State program.

Day then made seismic changes on the defensive side of the bowl on the heels of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl-winning season.

UPDATE: Sources Sunday tell FootballScoop that Washington has emerged as both Notre Dame's top target and also that Washington is expected to speak to University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who last Monday led the Bulldogs to the national title, about Georgia's defensive opening. It appears this is the coaching battleground for Washington's services. 

Freeman's past relationship with Washington -- the Ohio State connection, their work together at Cincinnati -- was key in this one; Georgia had interest in Washington as outside linebackers coach, per sources. 

Joyner has proved a fast-riser in the coaching world. A former SMU player, Joyner spent three years on staff at his alma mater and then made the leap to the Southeastern Conference a year ago when he joined Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss staff.

A 2013 Notre Dame graduate, Stockton got his first full-time, on-the-field assistant’s role in 2016 and by 2019 had risen to co-defensive coordinator status.

Stockton assumed full control of the Ball State defense in 2020, and the unit responded when it allowed barely 136 rushing yards per game.

Freeman, a former Broyles Award finalist for his work atop the Cincinnati Bearcats’ defense who ran the Irish defense in 2021 before he was named Brian Kelly’s replacement, earlier this week landed Chansi Stuckey, widely heralded as one of college football’s hottest young coaches, to lead the Irish’s wide receivers under Tommy Rees, the Notre Dame offensive play-caller who’s led the Irish to the College Football Playoff and a New Year’s Six bowl in his first two seasons as coordinator.