Despite Fiesta Bowl Loss, Notre Dame's Marcus Freeman Era Looks Bright

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IJanuary 1, 2022

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman greets players prior to the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The Marcus Freeman Era of Notre Dame football got off to a hot start Saturday afternoon in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. Unfortunately for the new head coach, he couldn't get a win in his first game as Notre Dame's new head coach, as the Fighting Irish fell 37-35 to the Cowboys.

Early on, it looked as if the Fighting Irish were going to win handily, as Freeman's team had a huge first half, putting together four touchdown drives to take a 28-7 lead with 1:16 left in the first half. The Cowboys did put together a quick scoring drive to make it 28-14 at halftime.

OK-State's offense came out firing in the second half as well, putting together a quick 12-play, 87-yard scoring drive to make it 28-21 with 10:52 left in the third. They tied the game at 28 with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Sanders to Tay Martin just eight minutes of game time later and took the lead for good on a field goal before the third quarter ended.

Two more Cowboys field goals pushed the deficit to a two-score margin.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Oklahoma State's defense successfully slowed down Notre Dame's hot start, too, shutting out the Fighting Irish for a majority of the second half.

Notre Dame had a chance to pull off an onside kick with 1:05 left after scoring its late touchdown, but OK-State recovered it to seal the Cowboy victory. 

The Freeman era may not have started with a victory like he would have hoped, but there's a lot to be excited about with him as the Fighting Irish's new head coach.

For starters, his players erupted when they found out Freeman would be their next head coach—the video of their reaction went viral on Twitter early in December. Before Freeman was officially named ND's head coach, Fighting Irish players were openly vocal about wanting him to replace Kelly.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Freeman, unsurprisingly, has been called a 'player's coach' in the weeks since his promotion. It's easy to see why the label works for him. He's young, energetic, and his players clearly respond well to him.

But while that may seem like a knock against those who are used to the old-school style of coaching, Freeman thinks being a player's coach means something different to him personally. Here's what he said about that in a recent article he penned for The Players' Tribune:

"Listen, I know I've been labeled as a player's coach, and I'm proud to wear that badge. But I'll be honest, I think there's a misconception about a player's coach, that Oh, the players like him—he's their buddy. And my players know this: just because I don't walk around like I have to put fear in their hearts, that doesn't mean the demands aren't going to be extremely high.

"I've always been a believer that being a coach doesn't mean there has to be some constant level of discomfort for kids to reach their goals. You can be very demanding, and still make people feel good and still make people feel important—as long as they believe that you have their best interest at heart.

"That's the coach I've always been, and I'm going to stay true to that. These kids today are so smart. They're so intelligent, and they know what's real and what's phony. If you're not authentic they'll see right through you."

Look, there's no telling how Freeman's coaching tenure at Notre Dame will end up. And one game, where Freeman had just a few weeks to prepare for OK-State, doesn't define what his future in South Bend will look like. 

But on paper, Freeman being elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach seems like a perfect recipe for success at Notre Dame.

Although Freeman had only worked as a DC for one season with the Fighting Irish, already understanding the culture in South Bend, especially with respect to recruiting, is a huge advantage.

Because of Notre Dame's high academic standards, the program can't recruit the same way other big-name schools can. Freeman getting first-hand knowledge of how to recruit already puts him ahead of the curve as he begins his new endeavor.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Speaking of recruiting, Freeman has already made that one of his biggest priorities in his roughly three weeks of being Notre Dame's head coach. Freeman has said he wants to be ND's "lead recruiter," in addition to placing an emphasis on building personal relationships with each prospect he's recruiting.

Brian Kelly did a phenomenal job of bringing the Fighting Irish back to national relevancy over the past decade as Notre Dame's head coach. He went 113-40 in 12 seasons in South Bend, including a BCS Championship appearance in 2012 and two College Football Playoff appearances.

Naturally, the expectations for Kelly's successor are high. Furthermore, Freeman is the third-youngest head coach in the FBS and just the second Black head coach in Notre Dame school history. It's clear to see just how big the shoes are that Freeman has to fill.

It's hard not to root for Freeman to succeed as a head coach, though, especially when you see just how much his players respond to him.

Despite losing today, you should still buy Freeman and Notre Dame stock.