Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman on Tommy Rees' tough coaching: 'Little ones are watching'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman walks off the field after the team's 26-21 loss to Marshall in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

SOUTH BEND – Marcus Freeman downplayed the national reaction to NBC’s camera shot of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees screaming a profanity at first-time starting quarterback Drew Pyne over the press-box phone in Notre Dame's Sept. 17 win over Cal.

“It’s something that might have been a bigger issue to those outside the football program than it was to us inside the program,” Freeman said his Thursday update via Zoom. “That tough coaching is what you get every day.”

Rees said during his Tuesday availability that he was “not proud of the language I used” but defended his intense reaction to Pyne’s fumbled snap in Irish territory that led to a second-quarter touchdown for the visitors.

“Certain guys need certain types of coaching in certain moments,” Rees said. “I know with Drew, he can handle tough coaching and the things that light a fire and create a sense of urgency. In that moment we felt it was the right thing for the right player.”

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Freeman echoed that sentiment while adding his regret about the blue language that was shown on a national broadcast.

“Obviously Tommy and myself and everybody in this program, we’ve got to be cautious on the language we use,” Freeman said. “I have to remind myself. I have six kids and I’m sure little ones are watching."

Pyne went on to complete 14 of his final 15 passes on the afternoon, including the go-ahead scoring pass to tight end Michael Mayer with nine minutes left.

“That’s an intense moment that we had to try to find a way to get Drew to snap out and to be able to perform at the level we expect,” Freeman said. “I’ve always had the strong belief you can push guys as far as they trust. … I hope people understand that is a reflection of the relationship they have and plenty of other coaches have with their players.”

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Since replacing Brian Kelly in December, Freeman has laid out his vision of a “teammate” approach to leadership, one that encourages players to “challenge everything” through an open dialogue with the coaching staff.

The Rees-Pyne harangue, brief as it was, seemed to suggest the old-school football approach was alive and well.

“You don’t treat every player the same in terms of how you coach them,” Freeman said. “You treat them in terms of what will help them respond in the right way. For that moment, that’s what Drew needed, and Drew would be the first to tell you that.”

Across the board, Freeman said, Notre Dame players are able to process “tough coaching” because of the time coaches take to build trust.

“(Players) know it’s not personal because of the relationship we have,” Freeman said. “There’s a trust. If you don’t trust your coach and all of a sudden he’s screaming at you to do your job, that’s not going to get the results that you want. If you have a strong relationship with the guys in the room and they trust you, those moments that are intense are never personal. It’s all about making sure we get the job done.”

Rest not in the plans for bye week

Notre Dame will have an open date between Saturday’s game at North Carolina and the Oct. 8 Shamrock Series meeting with BYU in Las Vegas.

That doesn’t mean the Irish plan to take it easy during the bye week. Coaches will spend the early and latter parts of the week recruiting, with three or four practices sandwiched in between.  

“I hope after four games we’re not tired,” Freeman said. “I don’t plan to rest them a lot. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to develop in that week.”

Kelly’s teams won 12 of their last 13 games coming off a bye week, with the lone loss a 45-14 blowout at Michigan in 2019. Kelly’s stated emphasis for bye weeks seemed to be on self-scouting of tendencies, recruiting and giving players time to study for midterm exams.

Freeman, while noting injured players will get a chance to recover, wants to keep it business as usual.

“It’s not like (the bye) is after Week 6 or toward the end of the year,” Freeman said. “We’re talking about the first third of your season as we hit our bye week. If guys are banged up, obviously we’ve got to be smart and try to get them to return to play. The majority of guys it’s development time. That’s the only way you get better is out there in practice.”

Kevin Bauman's status in question

Backup tight end Kevin Bauman “got twisted up” in Wednesday’s practice, Freeman said, and his status for Saturday is unclear.

“Still waiting to see how he feels (Thursday),” he said.

Bauman, who missed the bulk of last season after suffering a fractured fibula in the opener at Florida State, has three catches for 44 yards. A solid run blocker, the redshirt sophomore wasn’t targeted in the Cal game while playing 21 snaps on offense and 12 more on special teams.

Sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans, progressing well in his return from mid-July foot surgery, could return for the BYU game “or soon thereafter,” Freeman said.

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for NDInsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

Notre Dame (1-2) vs. North Carolina (3-0) 

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium (51,000), Chapel Hill, N.C. 
  • TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame favored by half a point 
  • Series: Notre Dame leads series 20-2 
  • Last meeting: ND 44, North Carolina 34, Oct. 30, 2021 in South Bend