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Sources: Notre Dame on verge of filling special teams, offensive line roles; DC targets emerge

Marcus Freeman is moving swiftly to build his first full Notre Dame staff

New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman is wasting no time in putting together his own Fighting Irish coaching staff.

Multiple sources tell FootballScoop that among the first order of business is the impending hiring of Brian Mason as the Irish’s special teams coordinator replacing Brian Polian.

247Sports also has reported Mason is expected to join Freeman’s staff. The move could be formalized in the next 24 to 48 hours, per sources.

It’s an expected significant first addition for Freeman and the Fighting Irish after Mason played a crucial role in the Cincinnati Bearcats’ run to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Mason, a five-year veteran of Luke Fickell’s Bearcats’ staff, had served as the program’s special teams coordinator for the past four seasons, and also as the team’s “snipers” coach.

But Mason also has deep Big Ten experience at both Purdue and a lengthy run at Ohio State, where he worked with both Freeman and Fickell.

The move to add Mason comes on a day when the Irish also are parting ways with incumbent wide receivers coach Del Alexander and offensive line coach Jeff Quinn.

Sources tell FootballScoop that Quinn could be in line to join Brian Kelly’s inaugural LSU staff in an off-the-field role but that Quinn, a finalist last month for the offensive line position at Nebraska, also could have additional on-field opportunities to explore.

At Notre Dame, multiple sources tell FootballScoop that veteran offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, considered one of the foremost coaches at his position in the sport, with experience at both the highest levels of college football and in the NFL, is expected to rejoin the Irish coaching staff to oversee the offensive line.

Hiestand, with a couple of different NFL stops with the Chicago Bears and major-college football background at USC, Tennessee and Notre Dame, among others, spent six seasons at Notre Dame from 2012-17.

Amidst the transition from Kelly to Freeman, the Irish lost a pair of key wide receiver commitments, signed just one wideout in their 2022 class – at least the early portion of the class – and also on Sunday saw Kevin Austin elect to forgo his final season at Notre Dame.

But Alexander also helped the Irish develop a number of NFL wideouts during his five seasons in South Bend, Indiana. Most notably, the Irish trio of former wideouts in the NFL consisting of Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown went from Notre Dame stars to NFL starters.

Perhaps most pressing for Freeman among staff moves is at the defensive coordinator position.

Mike Elston, who largely handled play-calling duties in Notre Dame’s 37-35 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday that marked the first game of the Freeman era, has a guaranteed spot to remain on the Notre Dame staff. Elston was heavily pursued to join Kelly in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at LSU, but despite visiting the LSU campus, elected to make both a family and career decision to remain on staff with the Fighting Irish.

So who are among Freeman’s top candidates? Multiple sources tell FootballScoop that Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason, Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks, current Jacksonville Jaguars safeties coach and former college defensive coordinator Chris Ash, and current Cincinnati Bengals linebackers coach Al Golden, the former Miami and Temple head coach are all under consideration and that Freeman also is holding some options close to the vest. 

Though they were not on staff together there, both Ash and Freeman have the obvious Ohio State connection. It’s Freeman’s alma mater and where he broke into the coaching ranks under former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel; Ash was on Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes’ staff in 2014-15 before Ash became head coach at Rutgers.

Offensively, Freeman has some flexibility. Lance Taylor, widely considered among college football’s brightest young coaches, has been serving as the Irish running backs coach but has positionally flexibility to coach wideouts.

Multiple sources also tell FootballScoop that Freeman could target his former college teammate and close friend Brian Hartline, who much like Freeman, has emerged as a flat-out star in the coaching profession who is viewed to have future head-coaching potential. 

The next days and weeks are certain to be fascinating as Freeman continues to mold this program into the version of Notre Dame football he sees for the future.