5 things to know about Notre Dame's new head coach Marcus Freeman

Tyler James
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame named defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman as its next head football coach. An announcement from the university early Friday morning confirmed multiple reports of the hiring since Wednesday.

Freeman replaces Brian Kelly, who left for LSU on Monday after becoming the winningest coach in Notre Dame program history earlier this season. Kelly finished his Irish career with a 113-40 record when ignoring the NCAA's vacated wins.

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Freeman has big shoes to fill, with high expectations for the first-time head coach. Freeman will become just the second Black head coach for Notre Dame's football program following Tyrone Willingham (2002-04).

Here are five things to know about Marcus Freeman:

1. He played linebacker at Ohio State

The 2003 Parade All-American from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne was recruited to Ohio State, where he became a four-time letter winner. He finished second on the team in tackles in each of his final three seasons as a starting linebacker for the Buckeyes.

Freeman's first season as Notre Dame's head coach will start at Ohio State on Sept. 3.

New Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman, is shown here playing linebacker for Ohio State Jan 7, 2008 against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game won by the Tigers, 38-24. Multiple reports have Freeman replacing Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

2. His NFL career was cut short

The fifth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2009 didn't last more than one season in the NFL. He was cut by the Bears at the end of preseason camp before spending time on the practice squads of the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans.

During a physical for the Indianapolis Colts in February 2010, an enlarged heart valve was discovered in Freeman. He quickly shifted into coaching and returned to Ohio State as a graduate assistant in 2010.

3. Freeman loves to recruit

Freeman became an aggressive recruiter for Notre Dame soon after he was hired in January. He's attained verbal commitments from four four-star linebackers in the 2022 and 2023 classes and helped attract defensive talent to South Bend.

 "We're going to continue to try to be the most aggressive and hardest working recruiting staff in the country," Freeman said in April. "That's a goal of mine and that's a philosophy of mine. Let's, one, outwork everybody in the country. That's in terms of evaluations. That’s in terms of developing relationships.

Notre Dame tight end commit Holden Staes, second from right, poses with members of Notre Dame's defensive coaching staff during his official visit in June. Pictured from left to right: defensive analyst Kerry Cooks, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, graduate assistant Mike McCray, States and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens.

"We've done a really good job of identifying the guys that we feel are the best players that fit Notre Dame. That's something I said in our first press conference.  At times it can be easy to recruit at Notre Dame because you're Notre Dame. There's a certain group of kids that would die to come to Notre Dame.

"For us to continue to elevate and continue to try to be national champions and be able to close that gap with Alabama, we have to continue to acquire some of the best football players in the country. Those guys might not always be dying to come to Notre Dame, but if we understand that they're the right fit and we do our research and they can be successful here at Notre Dame, our job is to convince them. To let these guys know what makes the University of Notre Dame special.

"It's not hard to do once you're here. It's hard to convince somebody because they're not here. But when you're here, you almost wonder where else would you go. But it's our job as a staff to convince these guys there is no better place to go in the country."

4. Making players better motivates Freeman

Freeman did plenty of that this season for Notre Dame. Despite losing starting linebacker Marist Liufau to a season-ending injury in August, Freeman had fellow junior linebacker JD Bertrand ready to replace him. Bertrand went on to lead Notre Dame in tackles in the regular season with 92. No other player recorded 50 or more tackles.

Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman during the Notre Dame vs. Navy NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Senior linebacker Bo Bauer improved from a niche role on special teams and special packages to finishing the regular season with 45 tackles, fourth-best on the team.

"The biggest thing about coaching is seeing young people reach their goals," Freeman said in June. "That’s why you wake up every day.

"Yeah, do wins and losses matter? Absolutely. If we don’t win enough, we’re going to be fired. That’s the reality of our profession.

"If that’s what wakes you up every day, it’s not, to me, going to be fulfilling. What fulfils me is those times where you see a young person reach their goals, put the work into it and all of a sudden they see the success and they understand that I just learned a lesson that I’ll utilize for the rest of my life.

"That’s what gives me passion.”

Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman greets players during Notre Dame football practice Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 at the Irish Athletic Complex in South Bend.

5. He is the father of six children

Freeman and his wife, Joanna, have six kids: Vinny, Siena, Gino, Nico, Capri and Rocco. Freeman took his sons to watch Notre Dame linebacker commit Drayk Bowen, a 2023 recruit, play a Friday night game in Lowell, Ind., in October.

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.