On Wednesday, Marcus Freeman stepped up to the podium on the day where the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally announced the full coaching staff. The last piece of the puzzle for Notre Dame was at defensive coordinator, and they quickly made things official after the Super Bowl with the announcement of Al Golden as their hire.
This wasn’t the staff Notre Dame fans thought would be in place after the crazy set of event withe the departure of Brian Kelly. The buzz was about coaches sticking around and it felt like any new hires would be minimal in number. And yet — Notre Dame now has seven new coaches on Marcus Freeman’s first staff.
Marcus Freeman's golden Notre Dame pin keeps shining out like a beacon from the gods.— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 16, 2022
Even Freeman himself didn’t think this was how things were going to happen:
So, it’s a sigh of relief for me to finally say the full time staff is complete. Obviously, with the hiring Al Golden yesterday, it’s been a learning cycle for me being a first time head coach. You think you have one vision of how this is going to go and you realize it doesn’t always go as smooth and as easy as you think. But ultimately, I did not want to rush this. I wanted to get the right people and there was no timetable on what that was to get the right people. I felt like we did. We got a tremendous amount of energy, of great educators, of great recruiters, of great people, people that love young people, and that are willing to coach and lead them as their own.
The Irish have a very young coaching staff with many of the coaches under the age of 40. The exciting young hires of guys like Deland McCullough and Chansi Stucky do get a little balance from a few older guys in Harry Hiestand and Al Golden.
Of course, one of the key elements to a successful staff is its ability to recruit the best talent across the country. With a younger staff, that ability to recruit is enhanced by a more natural way to relate to high school prospects.
“I think it’s the ability to relate to the young people, the ability to relate to the young people in high school. Recruiting is so important and ultimately, it’s about bringing in the best players you can, in the country, to this place. There is a relatability between sometimes your generation and the young prospects we’re recruiting, but it’s still, to me, the experience and the ability to teach doesn’t have an age on it. The ability to recruit doesn’t have an age on it. Harry Hiestand can come in here and say, I don’t care how old I am, I’m able to recruit, and I know he is. We can’t have nine good recruits. We need 11 great recruiters, relentless recruiters and so I was looking for that, and I think we found that.”
Al Golden and Harry Hiestand are just returning to the college game after stints in the NFL. With Golden, it was a longer process for Freeman to find and make a decision about him while Hiestand has been the guy for quite some time thanks to Harry’s history and network of supporters.
“I didn’t know Al Golden personally, but I know who Al Golden was, right? I knew Al Golden as the head coach at Temple and at Miami, and had an unbelievable reputation. It was a unique opportunity for me to kind of interview a person over time.
“I was also looking for a person that didn’t want to come in here and just drop this playbook, right, and say, hey, this is what we’re doing. No. Al Golden was a guy who said, hey, let me evaluate what you all are doing, let me evaluate your players and let’s put together the best scheme. Ultimately, he is the defensive coordinator, and I want to make sure everyone understands that. Al Golden is the defensive coordinator. Marcus Freeman is not the defensive coordinator. He has to take this thing over.”
“That was probably the first week I was on the job. When we made the decision to make a change at the offensive line coaching position, Harry Hiestand is a name that came to me from multiple different angles, not just Tommy Rees, but from our athletic director, from guys that were in NFL, everybody kept coming back to Harry Hiestand. When I met with Harry, I didn’t know him. I knew his reputation. He was actually the O-Line coach with the Bears when I was drafted there in 2009. I knew of him, but his reputation was unbelievable. When we met, I was very clear on the expectations of our coaches here at Notre Dame and he is exactly what we’re looking for in an offensive line coach.”
Regardless of age, Marcus Freeman has consistently pushed the message that the Irish need a coaching staff that recruits as hard as it can. That message of recruiting was omnipresent in Freeman’s press conference, and he made it plain that he expects all 11 of them to put in the work.
“It starts with work ethic. I think you have to be a relentless worker to be relentless recruiter. There’s times that we all as coaches don’t feel like having this conversation with a kid. But you have to. You have to. It’s about putting in the effort, getting on the phone and making sure that you’re developing a relationship with the kid, with the parents, with the coaches and anybody that has an impact on this kid. That to me is what makes a really good recruiter. Someone that’s willing to work at it and be very intentional about the relationships he’s trying to build with that person. But also it’s the evaluation. It’s the ability to evaluate. We all can look at the different ratings and websites and say, okay, we’re going to recruit X, Y, and Z because they have offers, they have high ratings, but to truly evaluate and figure out if that kid is talent wise the best player for this program and then develop the relationship and see if he as a person is the right fit for Notre Dame. Not every kid is. That to me is what we’re looking for in relentless recruiters.”
Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was next up at the podium after Marcus Freeman’s run down. Tommy has a completely new set of assistants on his side of the ball with; RB coach Deland McCullough, OL coach Harry Hiestand, WR coach Chansi Stuckey, and TE coach Gerad Parker.
“I think when you look at all the changes in the offseason and where we’re at, there’s a new energy, there’s a new excitement. Personally, for myself, for our players, for our program, you can definitely feel that the moment you step foot in the building. You can feel it the moment you go into the weight room. You can feel it when you walk into a staff meeting. There’s just an unbelievable sense of camaraderie and energy that’s been created here over the last couple of months. That’s really a credit to the leadership from the top down.”
Tommy was asked about his particular role in the hiring process of all of these coaches, and even though Marcus Freeman had that final say as a head coach — it was Tommy’s job to bring together a staff to work under him. It’s something new for him, and now a valuable learning experience for the future.
“I think anytime you’re put in an experience that’s new, you can learn a lot of lessons and it can be invaluable. I don’t know where my career is gonna be a year, two years five, I don’t have the answers to that. I know that from when Dec. 1 hit until now, I will be a better coach moving forward and I will be a better leader moving forward because of the relationship and the interactions I’ve had with Freeman. I know that for a fact. What that leads to, I’m not sure. I’m not really worried about that right now. But I do think there will be a time where I’ll look back on this experience and understand that it’s sort of very valuable for whatever’s next.”
One of the bigger questions about Al Golden coming on as the new defensive coordinator has to do with why he’s coming back to the college game, and how he adapts to it as well. Golden appeared quite blunt with his offerings, and eager to work with Marcus Freeman.
“I was happy in the NFL. I’m not gonna lie to you. It was an incredible experience and to be down there with coach Taylor and the defensive staff, it was awesome. To be able to coach players that bought into a team, that’s hard to leave. It’s conflicting when you’re going through it. But at the end of the day when coach Kelly left, there was a time where I didn’t know if Marcus was going to be the head coach. But then when he was the head coach, I listened to his press conference and I told him this at a later date, and I told my wife, I share his values. I listened to his press conference and I said that would be a place that would get me back. Just what Notre Dame represents, from a community standpoint, from a character standpoint, from an educational standpoint, it just meant so much to me. It’s always been about the four C’s, classroom, community, on the field of competition and then what you do in the complex. Those four C’s make up who we are. I was like listening to Marcus and I told my wife Kelly, I said, I don’t really have to change to be a partner with that guy right there. I was really impressed.”
“The game has evolved a lot and the games are closer than you think now, in terms of what’s going on in the NFL, as you guys probably can see, and what’s going on in college. We’re getting the RPOs and the read zone and things of that nature in the NFL now. From that standpoint, it’s a little bit closer than you would imagine. I think most of the things that they’re going to catch me up on is what’s going on off the field and from that standpoint. We had a meeting on that today and we’re working through that. I would say from my experience in the NFL, the NFL is about problem solving. Everybody thinks, oh, great halftime adjustments. I’m gonna tell you right now, by the time you get into the NFL, you’re turning around and going out. It’s a 12 minute halftime and a lot of guys have to get an IV or get medical treatment, or whatever it is. So you’re working, but the point I’m making is those adjustments are made after every series. I think that’s the one thing that the NFL has taught me. Just how to how to make those adjustments and how to solve problems, because you have to be a problem solver in the NFL constantly in terms of the matchups or who you need to eliminate on offense or those types of things. So I think from that standpoint, I feel really good about that.”
Schematics and recruiting strategies are certainly important, but what about working with the talent on hand? Golden still has a lot to catch up on in terms of what’s on the roster (seeing as how he just got hired) and he will gradually start to piece things together.
“Well, we’re going through the roster now and I had a chance to meet a lot of them. A lot of good looking kids, a lot of smart kids, so I’m excited about that. In terms of what’s in place, it’s great because it’s multiple, right? It can be 4 down or it can be 3 down. You need that. We did it in both Detroit and in Cincinnati. I think there’s a lot of things there that we can build on. Again, the way Marcus and I have talked about it is it’s our system. We got a lot of great coaches in there. I spent the last few days with these guys and there’s a lot of great ideas. It’s really what we build from here, but it’s like moving into a new neighborhood. Don’t just take the fence down, because you don’t like the fence. You got to find out why the fence is there. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re not going to start to saying hey, we’re gonna do this if there’s no meaningful purpose for that, number one, and then number two, there’s obviously great things that Marcus and that system have executed both here and previously, so let’s draw on that. To me, it’s overblown. I’m 52. I’ve coached offense, defense, special teams, I have coached in the NFL, been coaching 28 years. For me, I’m on a conceptual level, so as soon as you tell me what you called, I’m good, I got it, boom, going to the next thing. I’m not really too concerned with this is the way we’ve always done it. Again, it’s not about ‘I’. It’ll never be about ‘I’. It’s going to be about ‘We’. If you have an ‘I’ or a ‘Me’ orientation, that’s not going to work here.”
Brian Mason asked the media to call him Mase. pic.twitter.com/ebXoQSUB0c— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 16, 2022
“My name is Brian Mason. You can call me ‘Mase’. Really, it’s an incredible opportunity to be here.”
Brian Mason — excuse me — Mase, is the new Special Teams coordinator from the Cincinnati Bearcats. There’s really only one clip that you need to hear from him, and it’ll make you feel better about the future possibilities of Notre Dame’s special teams units:
“For me, we’re going to be aggressive and we want to be creative. We do not want to be conservative. We want to find different ways that we can apply pressure and put stress on our opponent to create chaos in the football game. That’s what really gets me excited about it, finding different ways that we can be aggressive, enhance, adapt and be creative to find advantages in the football game.”
He actually talked about being aggressive several times, and I like the sound of that.
THE COACHING STAFF
- Head Coach... Marcus Freeman
- Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks... Tommy Rees
- Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers... Al Golden
- Running Backs... Deland McCullough
- Tight Ends... Gerad Parker
- Wide Receivers... Chansi Stuckey
- Offensive Line... Harry Hiestand
- Defensive Line... Al Washington
- Cornerbacks... Mike Mickens
- Safeties... Chris O’Leary
- Special Teams Coordinator... Ma$e
We’ll have a lot more on the staff and spring football during the upcoming days.