Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2022

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 18 of 47

BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM FEBRUARY 2022 19 Dame separates into position drills and special teams work. Freeman oversees punt drills with cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens one day and kickoff practice the next. The horn sounds to end the period. "Tempo!" Freeman yelled. Everyone shuttles to new locations in mere seconds. Freeman has new areas to oversee, but he takes a moment to stop by his old position group — the linebackers — during position drills to dish out a cou- ple pointers. No players spent as much time around him the last 11 months than the linebackers. He played the position himself. It's hard to stay away. "He still comes around and makes sure — he always says he's a linebackers coach," White said. "He makes that known. "You look over, and he's watching the drills and he's giving you pointers. Just the other day in scout periods, he comes over in my ear and he's talking about my blitz line. His teaching and his tech- niques are still there and still prevalent. But he has a bigger role now." Like setting a competitive tone. Notre Dame didn't hold its "opener" competi- tive drill period in the open portion like it did in his first few practices back in South Bend, with some scripted 11-on-11 work replacing it. Freeman stands right beside it, blowing the whistle and evaluating. "He really likes the competitive peri- ods where it's either 11-on-11 or seven- on-seven," White said. "He's trying to foster a competitive mindset." MILD-MANNERED ON GAME DAY Like the start of practice, Freeman keeps the first items on his game-day routine the same. He strolls off the bus and onto the field with players, huddles with them at the 50-yard line for a pre- game chat and prayer and disappears to change out of his suit. When he re-emerges about an hour before kickoff, though, he has more places to be and people to see than be- fore. He chats with tight ends coach John McNulty as players come out of the tunnel in uni- fo r m fo r se co n d warm-ups. He then meets with defen- sive analyst Nick Lezynski, who's filling in as linebackers coach. Then, he stays loose by playing catch with Mickens for about 10 minutes. As position drills go on, Freeman talks with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy for several minutes at midfield. They shake hands. Freeman then moves on to a conversation with two referees. The number of people he manages and needs to interact with has doubled. Meanwhile, Lezynski puts the line- backers through their pregame work, as Freeman used to do. During the game, Freeman stands out not because of sideline animation, but a lack thereof. The contrast to Kelly, even in Kelly's recent mellower stages, couldn't be sharper in that regard. Free- man alternates between standing up- right and placing his hands on his knees. When Notre Dame takes a 7-0 first- quarter lead, he remains subdued. He hands out high-fives to the offense with a straight face, moving right along to the next phase that needs his atten- tion. There's always something next for a head coach. He claps as sophomore running back Chris Tyree crosses the goal line on a 53-yard catch to push the lead to 14-0, but that's it. On the other side, he's stoic when mistakes are made. He offers little reac- tion after two straight pre-snap penal- ties on offense. The missteps pile up as the game goes on and Notre Dame squanders a 21-point lead. Freeman's demeanor remains the same collected one he displayed at first, sometimes seeming even non-feeling. Freeman understands there's much to learn and much to study after exam No. 1 in his new job. There are aspects he barely dabbled in as a coordinator he must mas- ter as a head coach, and quickly. There's power of decision he didn't previously have. There were big decisions he made that are worth thorough re-evaluation. "Look at every situation, say, 'Hey, is there something you can do differ- ently?'" Freeman said. "Is there a time- out you could have c a l l e d ? I s t h e re something defen- sively you could've done? Maybe a sug- gestion offensively w e c o u l d h a v e done? It's a learn- ing situation." No matter the outcome, there would be one. The next time to judge how much he has learned won't come for nine months. Those nine months will carry some more skepticism toward him from the fan base after the way his debut un- raveled. Freeman understands that. For now, he's unbothered by the weight of it. "It's not about, 'Do you know the pres- sure that's on you?'" Freeman said. "It's about you know what? [Doing] every- thing in my power that I can do to make sure this team improves every single day and that we improve as an organization." He will attack it the same way he's ap- proached everything in his prior roles. Those contained growth, too, after all. They featured the same eagerness he brought to his prior coaching jobs. And brought to that postgame Zoom. ✦ Freeman's usual stoic sideline demeanor remained the same in his head coaching debut. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER "His teaching and his techniques are still there and still prevalent. But he has a bigger role now." LINEBACKER DREW WHITE ON MARCUS FREEMAN

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - February 2022