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Notre Dame Football

Q/A | Notre Dame Football Head Coach Marcus Freeman Part I

June 8, 2023

Marcus Freeman is well into year two as the head coach at Notre Dame and he sat down with ISD on Thursday morning to discuss the latest happenings in his program and what he’s learned over the last year. 

Note: The interview was done before Notre Dame announced Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick was stepping down in 2024. 

ISD: Where is your team better now compared to last June and where is it better coming out of the spring?

Marcus Freeman: I think there is a sense of closeness. You always want to believe the talent has improved. Every year, I want our talent to be better. That’s the whole point of recruiting. You want to improve talent. I think the expectations from the coaches to the players, the standards are very clear and the ability to hold them accountable ultimately makes me believe we’re in a better position this June than we were last June. I feel we’re in a better position.

ISD: What have you learned about Sam Hartman as a person, but also as a competitor over the last six months? 

Marcus Freeman: He’s a great individual. He’s just a great human. He comes from a great family. I’ve been really intentional about spending time with him at his home in Charleston and here in the office. Our relationship continues to grow. From January until now, it’s grown tremendously. 

I think he’s a great human being. He’s a natural leader. He’s a guy that you want to be around. He’s a guy people like to hang around with, but he’s also a great leader. He has the ability to hold others accountable and to make others better. That’s what I really enjoy about him. He’s an ultimate competitor. 

You look at Sam Hartman and you wouldn’t think he’s as elite as he is, but his competitiveness is through the roof. That’s why he’s able to maximize his skill set.

ISD: How long did it take for Hartman to feel comfortable to lead as he stepped into a new locker room: 

Marcus Freeman: It’s a unique process, right? You can’t come in here and be this alpha male without earning the trust of your teammates. He needs those guys. He did a great job of earning trust the first couple of months and then as we got through the spring, he became more and more of a vocal leader in terms of holding guys accountable. Now that he’s back this summer, he’s brought it to a whole other level.

ISD: You added safety Antonio Carter II and running back Devyn Ford through the portal after spring ball. What do you like about them and what was the process of landing their commitments?

Marcus Freeman: At the safety position, we were lacking depth in numbers. We had a kid we were going to sign out of high school and it didn’t end up working out. We were low in numbers at safety. We were looking for the right one though. I didn't want to just take anybody and Antonio came on the radar during the spring. 

I think he was close to committing somewhere else and he came on a visit here and I think he had another visit scheduled after us and we were able to convince him this is the right place. He committed to us while he was here and I’m glad he’s a part of the team. 

With Devyn, when Logan (Diggs) left, we knew were at a deficit in the running back room, but we also didn’t just say we have to go replace Logan. We said if there was a guy that fit Notre Dame, but had an elite trait that maybe we didn’t have currently in that running back room, then let’s look at it and pursue it. 

Devyn has special teams value, but also speed. He’s a fast, fast guy. He can run. We thought he brought that element of maturity, experience, speed and special teams value to our running back room and to our team. 

He didn’t commit while he was here. He said he was going to go home and think about it. He called and committed the next day. I’m glad we have both of those guys.

ISD: Given Devyn’s game experience and the lack of game experience in the running back room will that be beneficial as well? 

Marcus Freeman: There is no substitution for game experience, but we’re really trying to create competition. Ultimately, competition helps those elite competitors rise to the top and that’s what we’re trying to do.

We know what Audric (Estime) can do. Gi’Bran (Payne) had a really good spring. Jadarian Price was a guy we had high expectations for going into last season before he tore his Achilles. You add Jeremiyah Love to the room - I think it’s going to be a great fall camp and a competitive fall camp to see how it shakes out and to see who is the next group of guys after Audric. 

ISD: How close is Jadarian Price to being 100 cleared if he’s not already? 

Marcus Freeman: He’s clear. He’s ready to roll. 

ISD: Are there any specific guys who have caught your eye physically or have found a new comfort in the scheme since the end of the season:

Marcus Freeman: Rylie Mills. We had a recruit in town and I saw him last night at dinner. I’m like, ‘Geez, man.’ He’s already a big dude, but he’s bigger. He looks really good. (Nolan) Ziegler - his body continues to mature. I expect to see some things out of Ziegler this year - special teams but also at linebacker. 

The wideouts have continued to mature, but also mature physically and mentally. Those are a couple guys who stick out in my mind physically that have shown growth. 

ISD: The first 22 guys on the roster are important, but where are you at depth wise and how close are you to where you want that depth to be? 

Marcus Freeman: I feel good about the depth of our team. There are certain positions you don’t feel as comfortable with the depth, but that’s college football, especially with the Transfer Portal, injuries and things, so you lose some of the depth you aspire to have. I feel really good about it.

ISD: You mentioned you’re never going to have depth at every position in college football and with the Transfer Portal, it’s hard to get to 85 scholarships. Do you see Notre Dame or any team getting to that mark with the challenges of guys entering the Transfer Portal after the spring? Or do you have a number you’d ideally like be at? 

Marcus Freeman: I want to be at 85. I don’t want to waste scholarships. I’m very intentional about making our coaches understand we’re not filling scholarships to fill scholarships. Let’s fill them with guys who have value and will help us. We obviously have our challenges to fill all of our scholarships because of our process into adding transfers to our program. 

It’s about getting the right guys here. 85 is the cap, but it’s about getting the right 85 here.

ISD: The Butler Benton (Assistant AD for Player Personnel) hire was followed closely on from the outside. What made him a good fit for Notre Dame? What has he brought and how has he fit into your staff? 

Marcus Freeman: He’s familiar with Notre Dame being he was already here for a period previously. He has experience. He has experience coming from the SEC being a GM at Arkansas. I love the vision he displayed in his interview and really the experience he’s shown and the familiarity he has with Notre Dame. 

He’s really kind of seeing how he makes this whole personnel department work and how it’s going to be structured and organized. As I told him, he’s almost like the head coach of the personnel department. You have your coordinators with Chad (Bowden) running recruiting and then we’re hiring a Director of Scouting sometime soon.  As the Director of Player Personnel, you oversee all of that. 

Chad Bowden is one of the most dynamic Directors of Recruiting. How do we make sure we structure this the right way, but still empower those talents we have on our staff? That’s what I think Butler has been doing. Observe and interjecting when he feels strongly about something, but it’ll take a little bit of time to see how we get this whole thing structured. 

ISD: Another new addition is Max Bullough (LB GA) He comes from the SEC too, but what made him a good fit and what did you see out of him during spring ball: 

Marcus Freeman: I worked with Max at Cincinnati and I actually knew him when he was in the NFL and obviously watched him in college. Max is a ball coach, man. When he went to Cincinnati, it was right out of the NFL and then he went down to Alabama. 

I think he learned the other parts of being a college football coach that have nothing to do with coaching. Recruiting, teaching progression and other things you learn through experience. He’s great. Our linebackers really enjoy him. He helps them and brought some great technical ideas that will help our defense from his experience at other places. 

He’s been a great addition to our staff. 

ISD: Many of the coaches at Notre Dame were with you at Cincinnati. What has allowed you guys to find some of those hidden gems like Sauce Gardner, Desmond Ridder, Myjai Sanders who were overlooked in the recruiting process? Is there an athletic or personality trait that these guys have in common? 

Marcus Freeman: They all have different stories. Des Ridder was committed to Cincinnati when we got there. I don't even know how strongly a lot of us felt. I was a defensive guy so I didn’t have an opinion. With Des, he had great leadership skills and he is very talented, but Gino (Guidugli) really developed him to be as you see being able to start as a rookie and being the starter going into his second year. 

Sauce Gardner was a guy (Mike) Mickens probably felt more highly of than I did about him. Mick is a great evaluator. He really is. Sauce is a very confident individual. His confidence isn’t easily taken away. His elite trait was his length. They all have elite traits. 

You look at Myjai Sanders and his elite trait was his ability to rush the passer. He was undersized, which was probably why he was under-recruited. I know academically, he qualified late, but all those guys have elite traits. Des, with talent and leadership. With Sauce, confidence, but also length. Myjai was really his get-off and ability to rush the passer and he’s a competitor too. 

I think that’s what you look for. Don’t worry about the rating or how many stars, you gotta look for elite traits. That’s something I’ve been studying. You look at guys who have been drafted to the NFL and maybe they weren’t highly-ranked high school prospects, but a lot of those guys have elite traits that you have to look for. 

ISD: It might be obvious, but some of the recent linebacker and safety offers, you have prioritized the ability to run. Is that something fair to say?

Marcus Freeman: An elite trait is the ability to run. We want to continue to increase our overall team speed. We’re looking for verified times - 40 times, track times. We need guys who have proven they can run because this game has continued to get faster and faster. 

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