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Notre Dame Football

The Landing of the "It Guy"

December 2, 2021

As I sit here dutifully at my desk getting ready to pound out the next round of consciousness about Notre Dame football, I feel an increasing feeling of hope. What a great feeling to have again! It’s been a long, long time since I have had real hope about Notre Dame football.  

I don’t know about you, but I never really had much hope that Brian Kelly could lead Notre Dame to a National Championship.  I just didn’t believe in him, most likely because I knew more about the situation than most ND fans because of my situation.

I have to wonder how many Irish players and recruiting prospects felt the same way?  

To get to the very top, you need someone who works hard.  Someone who is committed.  Someone who wants to succeed more than anything else.  Someone who will fight for it.  I think we finally have that guy at the helm.  

If you were following along the past few days, you saw an overwhelming response to the open head coaching job at Notre Dame.  There was a lot of speculation about who would be the ideal candidate, who could possibly take the job, and who shouldn’t get the job.

However, there were a couple things that really stood out to me, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  

The first thing that really stood out to me was how much the tide had turned on the idea of hiring a head coach with no head coaching experience.  Yours truly had been battling an unrelenting current of Irish fans who would point out the failures of past Irish coaches without head coaching experience.  The countless times I’d hear the names Gerry Faust, Charlie Weis and Bob Davie when I would bring up this idea would overwhelm me with frustration.

Why?  Because I knew what the right guy would look and sound like - the type of person who could succeed at Notre Dame with no prior coaching experience.  Or, I should say, would have a really good chance to succeed.  I had met such a guy early in my career who I knew could do the job even with no coaching experience . And when you run into one of these guys, you just know it.  I call them “It guys”.  They have “it,” and if you have “it,” it can take you a very long way.  

And “it” guy commands your attention.  An “it” guy is a natural leader.  An “it” guy just has this something about them, and you can’t really put your finger on what it is, but you just know it when you are near it.  

Urban Meyer was that “It guy”. And I knew then. I told many people at the time he was the next great head coach.  Many people laughed at me because he was just a lowly wide receivers coach at Notre Dame.  They were wrong.  It was one of the few times I’ve been right.  Ha!  

So it was interesting to read  how many heels-dug-in Irish fans suddenly didn’t seem to mind the idea that Notre Dame would even consider, and possibly even hire, a coach without head coaching experience.  And I have a theory as to why.

They have had the same experience I had with Urban Meyer.  Probably not as up close and personal, but they see the same things in Freeman as I saw back then in Meyer. And I do too.  

Is Marcus Freeman the next Urban Meyer?  I don’t know, but he sure has a lot of the same energy and drive.  You believe him when he speaks.  You understand that he had a bright NFL future, like many of the players he leads, and then injury took it all away. He knows what that felt like, and the crushing disappointment that came with it.  You also understand that he picked himself up, brushed himself off and pushed himself to be one of the youngest head coaches at one of the most storied football programs in college history.  That is a singular accomplishment.  

You don’t get to where he is so quickly unless you’re willing to do a tremendous amount of hard work, learning, and you have something about you that allows you to rise above others who have far more experience than you do.  He’s an “it guy”.

Just being an “it guy” doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed.  You have 10 other coaches, countless staff people, 85+ players, and a mountain of other responsibilities that you have to manage.  It’s an overwhelming amount of responsibility, and there is a good reason for people to believe you better hire someone with a lot of experience to try to manage it.  

There is no question there will be bumps in the road.  This will not all be smooth sailing.  We’re going to get angry at times, and his inexperience will likely cost a game or two..or more.  Irish fans will have to be patient.  

But the thing that really stood out to me about the past few days was the overwhelming amount of support Marcus Freeman had in this coaching search.  Countless current and former players took to social media to stump for his candidacy.  I was really surprised by the number of former Irish players who felt compelled to voice an opinion on this.  Many of these former players have barely met Freeman and some never have at all.  Do you know why they did?  Because they know an “it guy” too.  Many of them played for at least one along the way, many while they were at Notre Dame.  

The vast majority of Notre Dame’s 2022 and 2003 recruiting commitments also voiced their opinions loud and clear.  You had ESPN basketball announcers, recruiting gurus, coaches at other places…all kinds of people came out of the woodwork to support a guy who had been at Notre Dame just one year.  That was remarkable.

Now, the skeptic in me felt some of this was probably orchestrated a bit, and at first I thought, is this all orchestrated?  Is it fake?  But then I realized, it takes a tremendous amount of personality to get people to go to bat for you publicly, especially a bunch of people you’ve only met briefly or maybe never at all.  

Even if some of it was orchestrated, doesn’t that say something about Freeman’s work ethic?  His commitment to getting what he wants?  His drive to be the very best and climb the mountain?  Add that to the fact that so many were willing to do that?  Would Brian Kelly ever even think to do that?  And would anyone offer to do it if he did?  I think the answer to that question is down in Baton Rouge all alone right now.

I also think we need to give credit to Jack Swarbrick on this hire.  He was well aware of the situation.  There were only three realistic candidates in this race, I felt - Freeman, Luke Fickell and Matt Campbell.  I think any of them could’ve been a great hire for Notre Dame.  Both Fickell and Campbell were probably the safer choice, and I think both would’ve gladly come to Notre Dame, but maybe the timing wasn’t right, particularly for Fickell.  

Regardless, one person worked their butt off to get the job, and I think Swarbrick recognized that.  One person put themselves in a position to get this job, even though he wasn’t the most qualified.  

A long time ago my Dad told me the best way to make sure you always have a job is to make yourself invaluable to someone.  Make yourself irreplaceable, and even if you are replaced, make sure it’s going to hurt them dearly to lose you.   

That’s the position Freeman put Swarbrick in.  If he wasn’t the guy, it was going to cost Swarbrick and Notre Dame a lot by not hiring him, and I mean a lot.  This guy is smart!

Swarbrick also did the smart thing.  If you keep many of the best people around who are responsible for having this current success, it will make the transition much smoother, and he did just that!  It was one of the best decisions Swarbrick has made since becoming Athletic Director at Notre Dame.  He out-dueled Kelly for all his best assistants, and he worked very quickly to get it done.  

So here we are, at the place that many Irish fans said we would never be again, and I’ve haven’t seen this much hope since the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I can see everyone’s joy and faith jumping off the screen.  I think everyone finally comprehends that Notre Dame has an “it guy”!

That doesn’t assure success, no question, but it does give you belief that the Irish could’ve finally found the guy to get them their next National Championship

This is going to be fun!  I can’t wait to see how this all unfolds.

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