Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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24 JANUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL A s cleanup crews took down the camera bays, the folding chairs, the stage and all the other ac- couterments of a mass celebra- tion, Jack Swarbrick stood around the 40-yard line of the Irish Athletic Cen- ter's indoor practice field and admitted to a small group of reporters that, yes, there are still some nerves about the momentous choice he made. For as clear and easy a decision as Swarbrick made hiring Marcus Free- man seem, Freeman is still a 35-year- old first-time head coach, after all. "I think he's phenomenal and I have all the confidence in the world in him," said Swarbrick, Notre Dame's director of athletics, "but you don't know until you do it." Indeed, in the crapshoot practice of picking a coach, nothing is a sure thing. Hires unanimously praised as home runs have turned into feeble groundouts. Those panned for endless reasons have become successes. No matter how Free- man fares in his time as Notre Dame's head coach, there will be missteps and a growth period on fall Saturdays next year. It's the other six days of the week and time off the field, though, that pointed Swarbrick toward the Brian Kelly re- placement candidate who was on campus all along. Notre Dame's seven captains helped steer him in Freeman's direction during a Nov. 30 meeting fol- lowing Kelly's departure. In that meeting, Swarbrick did not float candidates past them. He did not ask for names. He inquired about their preferred characteristics in a head coach. Their answer was loud and unified. "What they insisted I understand was that they had built the best cul- ture in college football," Swarbrick said in his opening statement introducing Freeman. "They have friends playing at other places around the country, they have a way to make that assessment. "They also wanted me to know that they owned that culture. They built it. It was theirs. And their message, stat- ing clearly and convincingly, was, 'Jack, don't screw this up.' I got the message. In short, they convinced me that I had two separate tasks in front of me. One was to select the best possible coach to lead the program. The other was to pro- tect the culture they had built." Notre Dame's players spent the 48 hours after Kelly's sudden southern exit campaigning for Freeman on social me- dia. Swarbrick, though, didn't make his choice because of their #FreemanEra tweets or swaying from the captains. But it was influenced by the feeling Freeman was the best defender, pro- moter and enhancer of that culture. A MOVE FOR CONTINUITY Marcus Freeman's immersion into Notre Dame's precious culture made him stand out as a candidate Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick hired Freeman in part because he was able to form a strong under- standing of Notre Dame football's culture in just 11 months as defensive coordinator. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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