Former LSU coach Ed Orgeron visits Marcus Freeman after nearly hiring him 15 months ago

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – Fifteen months after nearly hiring Marcus Freeman to be his defensive coordinator, former LSU coach Ed Orgeron was a special guest Tuesday morning at Notre Dame spring practice. 

Freeman even had the gravelly voiced “Coach O” address the team after watching practice No. 12. Orgeron and his three sons, all of them aspiring coaches, plan to be in town all week to observe. 

“Outstanding practice,” Orgeron said. “I walked down the hall and heard the offensive line coach (Harry Hiestand) getting after it early in the morning. I liked that. To be able to see the physicality that they have here, I think that Marcus is going to bring a tremendous program here.”

Orgeron, 60, was fired and received a $16.8 million buyout after six seasons at LSU, including a College Football Playoff national title in 2019. His message to the Irish team was about aiming high. 

“I don’t know them that well, but I know the expectations are one goal and one goal only, I would imagine,” he said. “I can’t speak for them. That’s what I talked to the team about: that standard of performance has to be very high. What I saw out there, I saw a very good football team.”

Orgeron, who called Freeman “a tremendous recruiter,” said he admired Notre Dame’s new coach since watching him run the defense at Cincinnati in 2017-20. 

“Phenomenal,” Orgeron said. “Energy, the way they got after it, the way he had energy on the sideline. That’s just the way I like to coach. When I met him, he just had something about him: character, class. You could tell he was going to be a championship coach. I think he has all the makings of being a great coach.” 

The former Ole Miss and USC coach was asked about the phone call he received from Freeman in January 2021 in which the fast-rising coach turned down LSU in order to join Brian Kelly’s staff at Notre Dame. 

Former LSU football coach Ed Orgeron (center) watches Notre Dame spring practice on April 12, 2022

“I think it was tough,” Orgeron said. “I think he liked LSU. I think it was a family decision to stay up here. Obviously, he’s got six kids, a beautiful wife (Joanna) and it’s hard to move them to the South down there from being up here. I think that was one of the decisions. It looks like he made the right decision to me.” 

Before the year was out, Kelly was headed to Baton Rouge on a $95 million contract as Orgeron’s replacement and Freeman was promoted at Notre Dame. Could Orgeron ever have imagined the coaching carousel spinning quite that way for all three men?  

“No, not at all,” he said. “But you know, that’s football. That’s football.”

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Vizzina picks Clemson

Notre Dame missed out on one of its top Class of 2023 recruiting targets when Christopher Vizzina, a four-star quarterback from Birmingham, Ala., committed to Clemson in a public announcement on Tuesday afternoon. 

The 6-foot-4, 207-pound Vizzina, who reportedly made two visits to South Bend, also listed Ohio State, Georgia, Mississippi and Auburn among his final six. He produced nearly 2,900 yards of total offense and accounted for 34 touchdowns (16 rushing) last fall at Briarwood Christian. 

With Vizzina off the board, the stakes are raised considerably in Notre Dame’s high-profile pursuit of Dante Moore, a five-star quarterback recruit from Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School. Moore and his father, Otha, toured Notre Dame on March 28-29 during a two-day unofficial visit. 

Detroit King quarterback Dante Moore is a top 10 prospect in the 2023 recruiting cycle who the Notre Dame coaches have their eyes on.

“I didn’t know they were going to have a golden chair and all that stuff,” Moore told reporters over the weekend at an Elite 11 showcase in Massillon, Ohio. “I had a great time with them. That was one of the best photo shoots I’ve possibly ever had in my life. That trip was insane, to be honest.” 

Moore, who has yet to narrow the field in his recruitment, spoke highly of his interaction with Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. 

“Tommy and I rarely talk about football,” Moore said. “The type of bond we have is just incredible. I really appreciate that from him.” 

Moore, who was intercepted just three times last season while passing for 3,050 yards and 40 touchdowns, expressed no reservations about the direction of the Notre Dame offense now that Kelly has moved on. 

“It’s a combination of an old-school offense and a modern offense that can run the ball and throw the ball outside,” Moore said in Ohio. “It’s an offense I feel comfortable running.”

Cam Hart returns

Starting cornerback Cam Hart, coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, participated in light drills during an open portion of practice. 

Hart said he returned a few practices ago but remains in a limited capacity. 

“Not really doing much,” he said. “Just trying to get my base under me, get some conditioning down, get my footwork back. It’s been good.” 

Hart, who converted from wide receiver as a freshman, had surgery on his left shoulder in the fall of 2019. He said his spring has been about “really diving into the mental game of football” as he learns to watch practice “from a coach’s perspective.” 

Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens said working Hart into some drills over these final two weeks of spring ball is helpful. 

“He needs that football movement so he won’t be too long away from it and he can get his body adjusted,” Mickens said. “He’s a leader, encouraging guys, and he’s been that way even when he wasn’t in practice.”

Notre Dame defensive back Cam Hart (5) during a Notre Dame spring football practice on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, in South Bend.

Among the missing

With defensive tackles Howard Cross III and Jason Onye among the excused absences for departmental exams and freshman end Tyson Ford riding the exercise bike, freshman linebacker Joshua Burnham jumped in Tuesday morning at spring practice No. 12 to fill out a depleted defensive line group. 

Thirteen players in all joined Tuesday's session in progress due to early-morning departmental exams. 

Freshmen Jadarian Price (running back) and Jaylen Sneed (linebacker) were held out of a kickoff return/coverage period, as was Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph (safety). All three later returned to position drills, with Joseph punishing the big blue “doughnut” used for tackling drills. 

Senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy, cited several times recently by Freeman for his increased practice load, swapped reps on kickoff return with expected first-string return man Chris Tyree. 

Linebacker JD Bertrand was wearing a hard cast on his left wrist following January cleanup surgery but did participate in non-contact walk-throughs with his position group. Bertrand has been limited all spring, but previously had been seen with only a soft wrap on his left wrist.

Receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. had a cast on his left foot following surgery to repair a Lisfranc fracture. 

Freshman offensive lineman Billy Schrauth, coming off left foot surgery, was out of his protective boot and worked on the side with fellow lineman Pat Coogan (right leg). The two used a medicine ball for half-speed work on their blocking technique as rehabbing center Jarrett Patterson, out of his sling after March pectoral surgery, watched closely and gave instruction.

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.