Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM AUGUST 2022 49 Kelly's culture," Swarbrick said. "It's the culture built by those young men, and especially the leaders of the team. "They have my commitment that I will ensure that nothing that they built will be diminished or lost as we move this program forward." Highlighted by a second straight na- tional championship in fencing, a first run in 20 years to the College World Series in baseball, a fifth straight foot- ball season with at least 10 victories, a 40-win softball season, two top-10 national finishes in men's and women's cross country, and so much more, Notre Dame landed eighth in the final 2021-22 Learfield Directors' Cup standings. It was the third-best finish for Notre Dame in 29 years of Directors' Cup com- petition — an annual scoring race among schools that measures performances of all varsity athletic programs during an aca- demic year. It was also the best Cup finish since the Irish placed third in 2013-14. • An impressive fifth-place showing for the Irish women along with a disap- pointing but still strong ninth-place run for the men last November at the 2021 NCAA Cross Country Championships anchored a strong start in the fall for the Notre Dame athletics year. • A return to the NCAA Tournament for both the Notre Dame men's and women's basketball teams, along with a fourth national fencing title in the last five tries (the NCAA Championships were canceled in 2020 due to the pan- demic), kept the positive momentum rolling through the winter. • The terrific softball and baseball seasons and a run to the NCAA Tourna- ment by the women's lacrosse team in the spring all provided Notre Dame with its fourth top-10 finish in Directors' Cup history, and its first since 2014-15. Following are the top storylines from 2021-22. HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW All of college football, and especially ND Nation, was blindsided late last No- vember when Kelly abruptly and unex- pectedly left the top job at a program he lifted to new heights over the last 12 years. Reactions to Kelly's covert departure and his lucrative arrangement at LSU were swift and unflattering from fans and former players, calling the move greedy and disloyal. Kelly reportedly signed a 10-year deal with LSU worth $95 million. Swarbrick took the high road following the unadvertised news, thanking Kelly for his years of service, before referenc- ing "a Freudian slip or two" from Kelly that squashed any relocation shock. "I have contemplated for some period of time that there had to be an endpoint coming," Swarbrick said. "We hadn't talked specifically about when that was, but both in the long-term perspective and the near term, this wasn't a surprise." THE FREEMAN ERA A coaching candidacy bolstered by im- mense support — and sometimes even pressure — from current and former Irish players, Freeman was elevated from Notre Dame defensive coordinator to head coach four days after Kelly's departure. The quick and popular promotion calmed the nerves of the Notre Dame faithful and made Freeman, then 35, the youngest Irish head coach since Terry Brennan took the top job in 1954 at age 26. "Notre Dame is a very special place," Freeman said upon becoming the pro- gram's 30th head coach. "And I look for- ward to pursuing a national championship with the most outstanding student-ath- letes, coaches and staff in college football." Respect and recruiting are the founda- tion of Freeman's mission as a first-year head coach. And through eight months on the job, his message and delivery have been embraced and appreciated. "Marcus' ability to connect with peo- ple, his fit at Notre Dame and the way he coaches young men set him apart," Swarbrick said of his brief coaching search. KELLY THE 'GOAT' Kelly left Notre Dame with 113 career wins (not subtracting the 21 victories the NCAA vacated from the 2012 and 2013 seasons), making him the pro- gram's all-time winningest coach. Kelly secured that record on Sept. 25, with a 41-13 win over Wisconsin in the fourth game of the 2021 season. Shortly before that historic victory, he offered some prophetic perspective on his pending program record. "I can tell you exactly where I'll sit in Notre Dame history," said Kelly, who also holds the Notre Dame record with 39 losses. "The coach that won more games that hasn't won a national cham- pionship. That's where I'll sit." Kelly did not capture a national title and posted few wins in marquee games, so his worth as the head coach will for- ever be debated. But his longevity, con- sistency and an ability to protect his home turf, dodge the upset and stock- pile wins secures his place among the best to ever coach at Notre Dame. BACK IN BUSINESS After a five-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament for the Notre Dame men's basketball team and a three-year ab- sence for the Irish women, both programs Sophomore Kaylin Hsieh won an individual national title in women's epee, while helping Notre Dame fencing to its fourth team championship since 2017. PHOTO COURTESY NCAA

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