Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

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

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Page 4 of 63 JANUARY 2022 5 Y ou can look at Notre Dame's history and worry. Bob Davie. Gerry Faust. Charlie Weis. All three were first-time head coaches — just like newly tabbed boss Marcus Freeman — and each were fired after five seasons. You also can scan recent blue- blood programs' hires and the top 15 of the College Football Play- off rankings and see examples of coaches thriving despite prior in- experience. The No. 3 team, Georgia, is led by first-time head coach Kirby Smart. Fellow first-timer Lincoln Riley pi- loted No. 16 Oklahoma to 55 wins in five seasons before heading to USC on Nov. 28. Ryan Day is 33-4 in three full years and a partial sea- son at No. 6 Ohio State. Oklahoma hired Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who also has no head coach- ing experience, to replace Riley. Riley and Day had a combined three years' experience as their schools' of- fensive coordinators before their ele- vations and, like Freeman, got the job before they turned 40. Smart came to Georgia, his alma mater, after spending eight seasons as Alabama's defensive coordinator. Those three coaches combined for a 112-19 record and six College Football Playoff appearances from 2017-20 (Day started full-time in 2019). Each led his team to a 10-win season this year, with Georgia in the CFP. It doesn't stop there. Mike Gundy, the 17-year Oklahoma State head coach with seven 10-win seasons to his name, was promoted from offensive coordinator. First-time head coach Dave Aranda led No. 7 Baylor to the Big 12 title in just his second season. Elsewhere, No. 12 BYU first-time head coach Kalani Sitake has delivered consecutive 10-win seasons. Then, of course, there's two-time national champion Dabo Swinney, the former Clemson interim head coach who earned the full-time job and whose No. 19 Tigers are having a relative down year … at 9-3. All told, what Notre Dame did by nam- ing the 35-year-old Freeman its leader is neither unique among the sport's most successful programs nor a move destined to fail based on recent trends. Giving Freeman the job after just one season as the Irish's defensive coordi- nator isn't even rare, as Day and Riley illustrate. Like Freeman, both took over perennial top-10 teams and were tasked with keeping them at that level, if not pushing them higher. Freeman pre- decessor Brian Kelly's standard — five straight 10-win seasons and two CFP berths — will be his basis of judgment. Ideally, he's there to take it a step or two further. Yes, picking Freeman is a risk. Ev- ery coaching hire is a risk. There have been recent first-time head coaches who were flops. Jimmy Lake, himself a defensive coordinator promoted to head coach, didn't last two years at Washing- ton. Miami jettisoned Manny Diaz after three seasons. Both were considered smart hires at the time. The list of sitting head coaches to dis- appoint in a new job, though, is lengthy itself. Every profile of coach represents a gamble because the very practice of hiring a coach is exactly that. There's historical evidence to use as concern about Freeman's inex- perience and evidence to not worry. On the former, Freeman isn't Davie, Faust or Weis. Just as Weis wasn't Davie or Faust. Every coach is different. Every unsuccess- ful coach of the same background doesn't fail for the same reasons. Plus, it's hard not to look at that trio's post-Notre Dame ventures and wonder if they just wouldn't have been successful head coaches no matter where they earned their first shot. That's not to say Freeman's tenure is guaranteed to go differ- ently than theirs. Nothing is ever a sure thing in coaching hires. Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick candidly admitted as much when I asked him about hiring a first- time coach following Freeman's Dec. 6 introduction. "No one knows until they do it," Swarbrick said. We will surely see Freeman suffer missteps and make decisions he'd like to have back. He will grow in the job, just like fellow first-time coaches have. Even established coaches who take on big-time jobs have growth periods at first. It's not like Kelly coached a flaw- less first season at Notre Dame. The Irish were 8-5 that year, after all. Every great head coach starts as a first-time head coach somewhere. And many of the traits that make a great head coach great are usually on display before he gets that first shot. Freeman's charisma, passion, ability to connect with players on a personal level and un- derstanding of the place where he works are worthy of the mighty wager Notre Dame made on him. ✦ ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Notre Dame is betting that Freeman has the ability to produce the same kind of success that other first-timers such as Kirby Smart (Georgia), Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma) and Ryan Day (Ohio State) have achieved in recent years. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Marcus Freeman Joins Growing List Of First-Time Head Coaches In Major Jobs

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