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Football

‘You are my why’: Freeman thanks family, players, Notre Dame culture

| Tuesday, December 7, 2021

If nothing else, the chaotic happenings within the Notre Dame football program over the past week, made it clear that the Irish are built from a culture. 

And as athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at the introductory press conference for new head coach Marcus Freeman, it was his job “not to screw it up.” 

Swarbrick met with the seven Notre Dame football captains in a meeting that he said led him to believe he had two objectives: to protect that culture and hire the best coach for the program. He said those objectives brought him down parallel paths: “They and I believe so strongly that Marcus is the perfect guardian of the very special culture that [the players] have built.”

Following the athletic director’s opening statement, University President Father John Jenkins doubled down on Swarbrick’s words.

“He lives the educational ideals that are the heart of this university and program,” Jenkins said. 

But while Swarbrick and Jenkins offered their compliments, the calm and (mostly) composed 35-year-old Freeman remained at the center of attention on Monday afternoon. It was nothing short of a stellar first impression. 

Continuing the Culture

Freeman started his press conference with a confident statement.

“I am ready for this challenge,” he said. He referred to the chance to lead the Fighting Irish as the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

After a brief introduction, Freeman dove into the details of what the program was going to look like under his watch.

“I plan on leading this team with an unwavering standard. It’s called the Golden Standard,” Freeman said on Monday. “Number one, it’s challenge everything. Challenge everything is a mentality to find a better way. Number two is unit strength. Unit strength means love. It’s making a choice to love your teammates. It’s what turns players into a team. And number three is the competitive spirit. It’s creating a winner’s mindset.”

Freeman expressed confidence in this standard as he continued his opening statements.

“I believe that leaders are born but winners are created. This standard is unwavering, and this will be the standard that will drive this football program to its twelfth national championship.” 

“You are my why.” 

As the press conference continued, Freeman discussed his motivation as a coach.

“To my current and former players. You are my why. You are my motivation,” Freeman said. “The reason I get up and work as hard as I can. To see you all set a goal, to live out a dream. It gives me inspiration to do what I do.”

For Freeman, building those relationships starts long before players are suiting up for his squad. As a coordinator over his coaching career, Freeman has built a reputation as a relentless recruiter. That reputation became clear in South Bend.

Upon arrival, he quickly helped build an Irish recruiting class ranked in the top 5 for 2022. Freeman’s impact on recruits became even more evident immediately after the Brian Kelly news broke as “#FreemanEra” began trending on Twitter. Recruits began voicing their support for Freeman as head coach. Now that he received that promotion, Freeman doesn’t intend to change his mentality as a recruiter. 

“I better be the #1 recruiter, the lead recruiter in every kid we recruit,” Freeman said. “If I’m not the lead recruiter, we’re cheating them.” 

Embracing the Notre Dame culture, family and opportunities 

When he came to Notre Dame, Freeman said it was easy to have ideas about changing Notre Dame. But, he said, he quickly came around.

“You have to embrace this place, the things that make this place different,” he said. “If you embrace everything that comes with the University of Notre Dame — you are going to be better because of it.”

Throughout his remarks, Freeman also praised the family-first culture at Notre Dame. At 35 years old and with six kids, Freeman repeatedly thanked his wife and children throughout the press conference, becoming choked up on multiple occasions. Answering a question about balancing work and family, the new head coach responded: “You have to have people around you that are willing to tell you to go home and spend time with your family. We’re going to build a culture that reminds each other what really matters.”

Consistently a humble presence at the podium, Freeman also took the time to thank Swarbrick and Jenkins for the opportunity.

“Thank you for believing in a 35-year-old first-time head coach. I vow to work tirelessly to never disappoint you,” Freeman said. 

While officially the 30th Dick Corbett head coach, Freeman is also the second Black man to hold the position at Notre Dame, after Tyrone Willingham. Willingham was head coach from 2002-2004. When reporters asked Freeman about being hired as a young Black coach at Notre Dame though, he didn’t lean into it. Instead, he redirected the conversation to discuss creating your opportunities. 

“You can be whoever you want. You just have to do it the right way,” Freeman said, “You have to treat people with respect. If you treat people the right way, the opportunities are endless.”

Irish fans will get an early look at Freeman as head coach when Notre Dame takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1. The Irish will attempt to win their first New Year’s Six bowl game since 1994. It’s something Kelly never did during his tenure in South Bend, and Freeman has his opportunity to put an immediate stamp on his tenure. 

“We will be disciplined, we will be tough. We will work tirelessly,” Freeman said. “But we will do it with the understanding that no one person, no one coach is more important than another. As a team and as a family, we’ll accomplish all of our goals.”

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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