Brian Kelly isn't officially out the door, and the candidates are already emerging to succeed him at Notre Dame.
The Athletic's Pete Sampson reported Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman might have internal support to ascend to the top job. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell is expected to be in contention as well.
One thing is at least clear at this stage: Kelly is gone.
Promoting Freeman presents Notre Dame with a straightforward solution.
The 35-year-old would preserve a level of continuity, which could be important toward holding on to committed recruits and current members of the roster. Just look at what's unfolding in Norman, Oklahoma, following Lincoln Riley's move to USC.
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2023 commits that Oklahoma has lost today:<br><br>◻️ 5-star WR Brandon Inniss<br>◻️ 5-star QB Malachi Nelson<br>◻️ 4-star RB Treyaun Webb<br><br>Lincoln Riley has already called Nelson on behalf of USC, per <a href="https://twitter.com/AriWasserman?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AriWasserman</a>. <a href="https://t.co/0xmiwAIwUv">pic.twitter.com/0xmiwAIwUv</a>
Whether it's in South Bend, Indiana, or another location, Freeman will likely be a head coach at some point. The fact that he's already a top assistant at Notre Dame speaks to how quickly his stock has risen on the sidelines, and he's building quite the recruiting profile.
With Fickell, there's also the issue of potentially having to wait for Cincinnati to wrap up a run through the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats will probably qualify for the semifinals by beating Houston on Saturday, thus extending their season until at least Dec. 31. That's two weeks after the early signing period (Dec. 15-17).
Maybe Fickell would be willing to leave Cincinnati in mid-December—Brian Kelly bolted the Bearcats before the Sugar Bowl in 2009—but that seems unlikely if a national championship is in play.
Even if it means suffering on the recruiting trail for 2022, standing by for the right coach can certainly be the better long-term play.
Unlike Freeman, Fickell has shown an ability to run a program and build it up. The Bearcats enjoyed a lot of success with Kelly and Butch Jones, but the atmosphere turned toxic under Tommy Tuberville.
Within five years, Fickell has made them nationally relevant again. Generally speaking, the 48-year-old might be the closest to a sure thing this hiring cycle.
No matter how this ends, it looks like Notre Dame won't beat around the bush to identify its replacement for Kelly.