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Official: Notre Dame promotes Marcus Freeman to replace Brian Kelly

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  • Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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  • Brian Kelly
    Brian Kelly
    American college football player and coach

Notre Dame stayed in-house for Brian Kelly's replacement.

Days after Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel reported that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was expected to become the team's next head coach after going through the Irish's formal hiring process, Notre Dame made Freeman's hire official on Friday.

“It is an honor to be named the head coach of Notre Dame Football,” Freeman said in a statement. “I am eternally grateful to both [president] Father John Jenkins and [athletic director] Jack Swarbrick for giving me the opportunity to lead the exceptional men who make this program what it is. Notre Dame is a very special place and I look forward to pursuing a national championship with the most outstanding student-athletes, coaches and staff in college football.”

Freeman came to Notre Dame from Cincinnati after the 2020 season and replaces Kelly after a year in South Bend. Kelly was officially introduced as LSU's new head coach Wednesday afternoon.   

Thamel previously reported that offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is staying at Notre Dame in his same capacity. Rees is a former Notre Dame QB and told the team Wednesday night that he's staying.

Notre Dame has allowed 18 points per game and 5.1 yards per play in 2021. The Fighting Irish are currently No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings after an 11-1 regular season. Notre Dame could make the College Football Playoff if two teams above it in the rankings lose Saturday. If Notre Dame makes the playoff, it would be the first school to have its coach leave for another job in the same season it made the playoff. 

Freeman played at Ohio State

Freeman, 35, played linebacker at Ohio State and briefly played in the NFL for multiple teams.

He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes and moved to Kent State and Purdue. After coaching linebackers for three seasons at Purdue, he became the team’s co-defensive coordinator in 2016. He was hired by Cincinnati after that season when Luke Fickell became the Bearcats’ head coach. Fickell was Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach when Freeman played and coached in Columbus.

Cincinnati made the Peach Bowl in 2020 on the heels of a strong defense. The Bearcats allowed fewer than 17 points per game and 4.6 yards per play in 2020 before going undefeated in the regular season and losing 24-21 to Georgia in Atlanta.

The Irish hired Freeman to replace Clark Lea after Lea became the head coach at Vanderbilt. Notre Dame’s defense has 40 sacks this season and has scored four touchdowns. That defensive success was part of the reason why Kelly reportedly offered Freeman a significant pay raise to come with him to Baton Rouge and be LSU’s new defensive coordinator.

Amid this season's head coach hiring cycle, Freeman is the lone African American to land an opening at an FBS school.  

Oklahoma the biggest job remaining

With Notre Dame staying in-house for its next coach, that leaves Oklahoma as the biggest job remaining in college football. The Sooners are looking to replace Lincoln Riley after he left for USC after OU's loss to Oklahoma State. 

Riley's move was one of the first in a host of Power Five coaching moves in recent days. Washington hired Fresno State's Kalen DeBoer, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry is the new coach at Virginia Tech and Florida has hired Louisiana's Billy Napier. TCU also announced SMU's Sonny Dykes as its new coach and Washington State promoted interim coach Jake Dickert into the permanent job. 

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