Colin Capece | Tuesday, December 7, 2021
I was down so bad until you came along. Feeling confused after the news that broke last Monday night out of nowhere, angry about the fire Notre Dame players, coaches and fans were thrown into and most of all, completely on edge for the next big story. I was waiting for the next card to be pulled out of the tower, hoping that it wouldn’t be the one to completely collapse this football program. It was safe to say that at that moment, I had pushed the panic button.
This was the first Tweet I saw on Tuesday morning. And it sure didn’t make me feel much better. At that point, I had irrationally convinced myself that not only the season but the next half-decade of Notre Dame football, was all but done for. This group of players that was still alive for the College Football Playoff was about to lose its entire coaching staff in the most disrespectful way possible.
Brian didn’t believe they were good enough, so why should anyone else?
Knowing how essential you are to the future of this program, your exit would have twisted the knife all the way through my heart. In my mind, I pictured the No. 2 2022 recruiting class in the nation disappearing into thin air. Not to mention the inevitable gut punch the locker room, fanbase and administration would take after placing their trust in such a promising young coach.
But then I saw this tweet from junior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey, and I quickly retweeted my thoughts. And then I saw this tweet from sophomore defensive lineman Jordan Botelho. And this one from your first ever commit, four-star defensive end Tyson Ford. And then this one from fellow class of 2022 commit four-star linebacker, Jaylen Sneed. I saw your name everywhere I looked on social media. It didn’t matter if it was players on Twitter, moms on Facebook or 13-year-old superfans on Instagram. #FreemanEra took over the entirety of my timeline.
I knew then that it was a done deal, that Notre Dame football wouldn’t spontaneously combust. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick was hesitant to provide the names of any potential candidates for the head coaching vacancy in his Tuesday press conference, but there was just too much momentum, too much positivity behind your name from every corner of Irish nation, for this agreement not to be made. And sure enough on Friday morning, after a wild three days, Swarbrick, University president Rev. John Jenkins and the Notre Dame family officially got their guy.
This is hands down the most monumental event in my time as a student at Notre Dame. I can’t remember a time when I walked through the hallways in Debart, and every single conversation I overheard excitedly discussed the same thing. Oh wait … ah actually … let’s let bygones be bygones, shall we, Irish nation?
It’s the Freeman era now.
It’s taken me the last few days to formulate my opinions and collect my thoughts. But, now that you’ve become the 30th Dick Corbett head football coach, I hope this piece somehow makes its way to you. This column includes my personal reactions to you taking the job, an analysis of your coaching career at Notre Dame, what your promotion means for this year’s Irish moving forward and what I think your future holds. To help me out, I’ve enlisted none other than Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo.
“On a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again”
These lyrics from Swift’s “Begin Again” perfectly describe the sentiments I have about you right now. I guess it was Friday when I was really in the feels, but I was sipping my coffee in Hesburgh Library’s Au Bon Pain when the news broke, so we can meet in the middle, Taylor. This song is about the hope of starting a new relationship after a breakup, and there is more hope around this program right now with your promotion than there has been in a long time.
Everyone is beginning to recognize exactly the kind of impact you have had in just eleven months in South Bend, and I can’t wait to see how you will raise the standard of this football team and this university now that you are the head man. As you said in your introductory press conference on Monday, as far as national championship aspirations are concerned, “We’re close, and it can be done right away.” Say no more to fire up the players, recruits, coaches, administrators and fans.
There is also a buzz around this program that I have never experienced in my lifetime. Before your promotion, things were starting to feel a little vanilla and big bowl games were always easy to predict.
After a highly successful regular season, the world would peg this team as a lamb headed for slaughter. Questions about how to overcome these failures were always deflected. The team was unprepared to play against quality competition, and excuses were made after inevitably getting run out of the stadium. But I finally have confidence that this vicious cycle is going to end. There is a swagger and charisma in the air that has not characterized Notre Dame for the last 12 years. The haters counting us out come bowl season are not going to be a distraction, but will instead be your motivation. You seem to have embraced the underdog mentality, and the fans seem to have embraced you.
I’m sure it has been a heck of a week for you and your family. I think I speak for everyone when I say it has been a heck of a week for us as well watching all of this unfold. Thank you for stabilizing this program following its most uncertain period in recent memory. Notre Dame didn’t just find its next head coach. It found the guy who could restore confidence in the upward trajectory this program has been on since the abysmal 2016 season.
Amidst all of the chaos of the last week, I almost forgot that the Irish are in better shape than they ever have been. Notre Dame has had five straight 10-win seasons, has lost one home game since the start of 2018, currently has a top 10 recruiting class for each of the next three years and recently opened a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility. Not to mention, players have continued to meet rigorous academic standards and regularly give back to their communities. All of the pieces are in place. I know you are the right guy to take us to the promised land.
“I know we weren’t perfect, but I’ve never felt this way for no one”
Another standout from Rodrigo, these lyrics from “driver’s license” perfectly encapsulate your Notre Dame coaching career so far. It wasn’t the most ideal circumstances that brought you to be our next head football coach, but now that you’re here, I can’t stop thinking about what a perfect fit you are for this job right now. I’ll use three words to describe your abilities: Youthful, energetic and humble.
Youthful of course describes one of the only alleged knocks I’ve heard on you as a coach, so let’s get it out of the way first. I understand you’re 35 years old and will be the youngest Notre Dame head coach since Terry Brennan took over as a 25-year old in 1954. You are also a first-time head coach, and Notre Dame has typically not been a place for first-time head coaches. People say that this is one of the toughest coaching jobs in America, and someone with no head coaching experience is destined to fail.
Last time I checked, age is just a number. It has nothing to do with your ability to lead as you have proven time and again, at every step of your coaching career. From Kent State to Purdue to Cincinnati to Notre Dame, you have shown that you are a winner who’s up for any challenge put in front of him. As Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator in 2020, you led a unit that ranked 8th in the country in total defense. You were a finalist for the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
This season, you have piloted the Irish defense that is currently one sack away from tying the school’s single-season record. Your track record of success speaks for itself. But, it’s your age has also helped you relate to recruits when you visit them and their families. They see themselves in you because you’re young enough to have a Rivals profile from your high school playing days. That is a valuable strength that not many other programs in the nation can claim.
Energetic also describes your coaching style. You brought a different kind of vibe to the locker room since you arrived here eleven months ago. You’re not a scowler or stonefacer, and don’t have the personality of a rock. Instead, you’re a hugger, a high-fiver. You’re a look-your-players-in-the-eyes, a dare-them-to-not-believe-in-you, kind of coach. That was certainly evidenced by the outpouring of support they gave you leading up to last Friday, and the way they welcomed you on your first day.
The caption on the Instagram post says it all. Notre Dame finally has a player’s coach. The guys in that locker room are, in fact, ready to run through a brick wall for you. Coach Freeman, you will make them better players and better people in every way with your unwavering focus and drive.
Finally, humble is the one word I keep coming back to. Especially after I voraciously devoured every piece of media I could find from your first few days as head coach. It speaks volumes about you that your first words upon receiving the LSU defensive coordinator offer were “Can I talk to my wife?” You walked into your introductory press conference accompanied by your wife and six children. You thanked your parents for instilling in you the values that have brought you to this day. Marcus Freeman is first and foremost a family man. You will fit right in here with this Notre Dame family.
You have managed to direct every question begging you to take credit for yourself back to your players. Speaking directly to them on Friday, you said “You are the reason I am standing here today.” In your Monday press conference, you looked directly at them and said, “You are my why.” You showed me in three days that you don’t care about money or status. Instead, you care wholeheartedly about the young men you serve. Great leaders never ask to lead, but always do what’s best for the team. I couldn’t be happier that the right people recognized that what’s best for this team is to have you as the head coach.
“I’ll take my time. Are you ready for it?”
Back to T-Swizzle and these lyrics from “…Ready For It?”, the opener of her 2017 “reputation” album. From the moment you accepted this job, your focus has been on the here and now. You honed in on finishing out this season strong for this dedicated group of seniors. The Irish are about to bring that mentality to the Fiesta Bowl in four weeks. No one in that locker room cares about anything except beating the brakes off a very beatable Oklahoma State team. Are you ready for it Cowboys fans? I really don’t think you are. This is an Irish team that is both unified and extremely pissed off. Marcus, you are going to lead them to absolutely destroy the Pokes on Jan. 1 and take all of that momentum into 2022.
“Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”
Oh, I’m sorry thoughtcriminal…were you expecting more Tay-Tay? Maybe even some Cardi B? My bad, but this lyric from U2’s “New Year’s Day” just feels too right to not use considering the date of the Fiesta Bowl. Marcus, I’m abundantly confident that you will succeed as the head coach at Notre Dame. You expressed how surreal it is for you to take this position as the head of a program steeped in tradition and excellence. But you have also expressed that the feeling is only temporary. Instantly, you’re back to work making this program the absolute best that it can be. You are the right man for this job. The right man to win Notre Dame’s first national championship in more than 30 years.
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
Your new friend,