Turns out, Brian Kelly hired his replacement at Notre Dame less than a year ago.
Multiple sources tell FootballScoop that Marcus Freeman, the Irish's defensive coordinator, is being elevated to the head coaching position at Notre Dame – less than 11 months after Kelly hired Freeman away from Cincinnati as his defensive coordinator.
A former standout linebacker at Ohio State who became an NFL Draft pick, Freeman has been on a steadily ascending track for the past five seasons – four of them as Luke Fickell's defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, where Freeman became a finalist for the Broyles Award given annually to the nation's top collegiate assistant coach.
Per sources familiar with the process, Freeman is poised to receive a five-year deal from Notre Dame. Another, perhaps critically important component, is that sources told FootballScoop that Freeman had virtually total alignment within the current program – an of extreme importance also would be able to retain the in-demand Tommy Rees as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator.
Since his arrival, Freeman has greatly energized Notre Dame's recruiting efforts – with high-energy, innovative senior analyst Chad Bowden, with whom Freeman worked with at Cincinnati and brought to South Bend, Indiana.
Notre Dame has a top-5 consensus 2022 signing class – the majority of its members are scheduled to sign with the Irish in two weeks – and is already in strong position in 2023 with a consensus top-3 class – including heralded in-state, top-40 national prospect Drayk Bowen. A gifted two-sport player who has also shined in baseball, Bowen's other top potential suitor is LSU.
Freeman, however, has maintained a head-down, everyman-approach to his task.
“If you consistently work at something, you're going to get the reward,” Freeman said earlier this fall. “And that's what we've been doing; we've been working. We're going to try to outwork everybody.”
Irish players gleaned just that first-hand view of Freeman throughout the fall.
“We see Coach Freeman, Coach (Mike) Elston staying late,” said Jayson Ademilola, a breakout-performer on Freeman's Irish defense. “I get in in the morning sometimes super-early, 7, and they're here. I leave sometimes after I do my homework, 10 o'clock, they're here. It's only right for us to go dive in 150% into that game plan and execute for our coaches.”
Freeman additionally has cultivated – and maintained – lasting relationships throughout his coaching journey.
Still remarkably popular in his home state of Ohio, Freeman has drawn praise from former recruits – such as ex-Notre Dame standout Drue Tranquill about his authenticity – as well as high school coaches – even if Freeman has not necessarily recruited that school every year.
“He's just genuinely a great guy about recruiting and relationships,” Evan Dreyer, one of Ohio's top prep football coaches, told FootballScoop about Freeman. “Marcus is genuine, real. He's worrying about the health of players, checking on them, and helping out high school coaches.
“Even at Purdue and then to Cincinnati, his door was open. If you had a question, no matter what he always called back, always answered a text.”
Per sources, the inside-the-locker-room push from players and support staff also has been significant.
Now, Notre Dame positions itself to keep together the nucleus of a promising, potentially program-elevating recruiting class by elevating Freeman – and also denies multiple other interested parties, including Duke, which sources said had Freeman on its short list of head coaching candidates, as well as LSU and an additional Power 5 program that sought to make Freeman one of college football's top-three highest-paid defensive coordinators.
The final technical details of Freeman's contract continue to be parsed, and Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, serving the university abroad this week in Rome, is expected to return to campus before the Irish formally introduce th