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Photo by Matt Freeman
Notre Dame Football

Freeman's Hiring a Unifying Vision

December 6, 2021

There was a meeting of the captains.

A move to ensure Matt Balis remained right where he’s now been for almost five years, orchestrating Notre Dame’s cultural and physical enhancements in its football program.

Followed by reassurances with Tommy Rees, a fixture in this Fighting Irish world for much of the past decade.

Ultimately, there was Jack Swarbrick trusting his instincts. Hiring Marcus Freeman as Notre Dame’s 30th all-time head coach.

The 35-year-old Freeman was introduced Monday inside the Irish Athletics Center.

“It was an unusual situation to be in, and it took me down two parallel paths,” said Swarbrick, a Notre Dame alum who’s operated the Irish’s athletics department since July 2008. “It was, for example, the protection of the culture that led me to make the unusual decision to make a commitment to our director of performance Matt Balis that, regardless of who became the head coach, he, the minister of culture, if you would, would stay in his position. It was the same motivation that caused me to begin parallel negotiations with the critical part of this team and this culture, Tom Rees, before I knew for sure who the head coach would be.

“To be sure, the perspective that those seven captains offered to me put a heavy finger on the scale in favor of Coach Freeman, but that was only because they and I believe so strongly that Marcus is the perfect guardian of the very special culture you, the student-athletes, have built.”

Barely 11 months ago to the day, January 4, 2021, Freeman and family traveled to South Bend, Indiana, to interview – or, perhaps, to conduct their own queries – of the Notre Dame program and then-head coach Brian Kelly, whose abrupt departure last week to LSU set in motion the events that made the 35-year-old Freeman Irish head coach.

“The chance to lead the football program at the University of Notre Dame is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Freeman, his wife, six children and parents seated in the front row. “And I would never take that for granted. Being this leader of this program, it isn't about one person, and it never will be.

“Being the leader of this program is about understanding to be successful on this journey, it's going to take others, and we're going to have to do this as a team. That's why doing it at the University of Notre Dame is so special.”

What appeared to be virtually Notre Dame’s entire football team filled row after row after chairs behind Freeman’s family, and a trio of leaders – Kyren Williams, Drew White, Kurt Hinish – spoke with reporters after Freeman’s introductory session.

“It’s really exciting,” said Hinish, the program record-holder for most career games and whose final game in the Jan. 1, 2022, Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State will mark Freeman’s first as head coach. “Me and Drew have had a relationship with Coach Freeman for his 11 months here. It’s exciting.

“It was in this team’s best interest, and we all felt that way, from top to bottom.”

Added White, “I think (Swarbrick) was floored by the way we had conviction. I think we were all confident; we all knew what we wanted.”

Freeman immediately set a standard for his own expectations and vision for the program; he boldly mentioned that thing for which Notre Dame used to be synonymous – but has not won since 1988.

“I believe that leaders are born, but winners are created,” Freeman emphasized, “and you're created through intentional actions.

“As I previously stated, this standard will be unwavering, and this is the standard that will drive this football program to its 12th National Championship.”

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