Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2022

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

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6 JUNE/JULY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I n the moment, the comment sounded like something any other Notre Dame coach would say. But coming from the lips of Marcus Freeman, it resonated dif- ferently. And looking back on his words five months later, they re- ally hit home. "We can't break the rules. And we won't break the rules." Similar stances have been taken by other head coaches in regard to recruiting. Not that they wanted to explicitly break rules and boast about doing so. Even college bas- ketball coaches caught up in cor- ruption scandals don't put that upon themselves. Have you ever heard Bill Self gloat about what it actually took to get some of the best basketball recruits in the country to pledge to play in Lawrence, Kan.? Some things are better left unsaid. But no longer does there appear to be a melancholic cloud hanging over the Notre Dame football program rain- ing down reminders that while the Irish aren't skirting NCAA statutes, other schools might be. And those other schools, whether breaking the rules or just simply playing by different ones, are certainly reaping the rewards of putting all their eggs — rotten or otherwise — in the recruiting basket. It's a new era at Notre Dame. Accord- ing to the On3 Consensus Football Team Recruiting Rankings, the Irish boasted the No. 1 class in the country during the 2023 cycle as of May 23, and yet when anybody mentions that, rarely, if ever, is name, image and likeness (NIL) used in the same sentence. The same cannot be said for most other schools, all of which are still staring up at the Irish in the rankings. Take SEC schools Texas A&M and Alabama, for instance. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban attacked the in- tegrity — or in his eyes, lack thereof — of the Aggies' No. 1-ranked 2022 class. He claimed they "bought all their players." Roughly 12 hours later, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher called an im- promptu press conference. In 10 min- utes or so, he managed to call Saban — winner of seven national champi- onships as a head coach and widely deemed to be the best to ever do it — a narcissist, among other things. "Some people think they're God," Fisher said. "Go dig into how God did his deal. You may find out about a guy a lot of things you don't want to know. You make him the czar of college foot- ball. Go dig into his past or anyone who's ever coached with him." Hand up, Coach Fisher. You coached with him. For five seasons at LSU (2000-04). While former coworkers and friends bickered back and forth, the Notre Dame coaching staff was on the recruit- ing trail trying to make the current class — one that could finish as one of the Irish's best ever — even better. Nobody is calling Freeman out for wrongdoings. Nobody is keeping a watchful eye on the Irish for potential misdeeds. Instead, they're watching Freeman and his assistants absolutely clean up in recruiting rather quietly considering the vociferous nature of the NIL era. Have Saban and Fisher both cheated like the other alleges they have? Who knows? Certainly not the keyboard warriors who will claim everything under the sun just to get some clicks. Those key- board warriors have been awfully quiet on the Notre Dame front, though. That says everything about how Freeman operates. "We do things the Notre Dame way," he said. "I've told this staff that we're going to do everything we do with integrity and do it the right way." Even the NIL collective oper- ated independent of the univer- sity, Friends of the University of Notre Dame (FUND), has taken a similar approach. Former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn helped found it. Its mission is simple: reward student-athletes for the charitable work they do. Players will be compensated for volunteering in the community and getting the word out about their work. That's a whole lot different than re- ceiving six, or even seven, figures for simply showing up on campus to play football. Go dig into how other NIL col- lectives do their deal. You won't find many, if any, going about it like FUND. But that's the point. Notre Dame is different. And the Irish aren't going to cave into what has become the norm outside of South Bend. "We're going to win by outworking people," Freeman said. "That's going to be our mindset in football. It's going to be our mindset in recruiting. We're go- ing to outwork our opponents. I don't want to do anything that has to do with breaking the rules." Ah. Just as profound the second time he said it, too. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Freeman pledged to do things "the right way" in recruiting, and the Irish still had the nation's No. 1 class in the 2023 cycle as of May 23. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Marcus Freeman's Compliant Recruiting Approach Is Working Just Fine

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