Notre Dame Fighting Irish elevate defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to head football coach

Notre Dame has named defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman as its next head football coach, the school announced Friday morning.

Freeman, 35, will be introduced on Monday during a 2 p.m. ET news conference and will coach the Irish in their upcoming bowl game.

Freeman was in his first season in charge of Notre Dame's defense. He replaces Brian Kelly, who left Notre Dame to become LSU's head coach earlier this week.

"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 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."

Notre Dame released a video on social media of Freeman being introduced to the team at a morning workout for the first time as head coach.

Swarbrick said Tuesday, just hours after a brief 7 a.m. meeting in which Kelly said goodbye to the team, that Notre Dame would conduct a thorough search for the storied program's 30th coach. The search didn't last long, as word began to leak on Wednesday afternoon that Freeman was Notre Dame's choice. Freeman met with Swarbrick on Wednesday, according to sources.

"Marcus' ability to connect with people, his fit at Notre Dame and the way he coaches young men set him apart as we went through our search process," Swarbrick said in a statement. "I can't wait to see how the culture created by these remarkable student-athletes continues to grow under the tutelage of Marcus and his staff."

Swarbrick also met with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who announced to the team Wednesday night that he would remain for the 2022 season.

Notre Dame officials acted fast to keep most of its staff together, with Kelly interested in taking Freeman, Rees, recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis and others to Baton Rouge. Promoting Freeman was the final piece of the puzzle on Friday.

Freeman played linebacker at Ohio State and was an assistant with Kent State and Purdue before joining Luke Fickell's staff at Cincinnati as defensive coordinator. He spent four seasons with the Bearcats, helping Cincinnati develop into a playoff contender.

In his first season with the Irish, Freeman has led a transformation on the defensive side of the ball. The Irish rank sixth nationally in interceptions (15) and defensive touchdowns (4), seventh in total sacks (40.0) and 11th in turnovers gained (23) and scoring defense (18.2).

The 40 team sacks is one shy of the program record of 41 set during the 1996 season.

Notre Dame is on a run of five consecutive double-digit-victory seasons, and its leadership decided to prioritize continuity while also taking the risk of handing over the top job to a first-time head coach who is one of the newest members of Kelly's staff.

At Notre Dame, Freeman helped the Irish go 11-1 in what was expected to be a transition season after making the College Football Playoff. He also established himself as a vital recruiter for Notre Dame. Less than two weeks before college football's early signing period, Notre Dame has a class of verbally committed prospects that ranks fifth in the country, according to 247 Sports.

"Marcus Freeman has not only proven himself a superb football coach, he has shown -- both in his time at Notre Dame and in my conversations with him this week -- that he is a person of highest integrity who cares deeply about our student-athletes and is committed to their success in the classroom as well as on the field," Notre Dame President the Rev. John Jenkins, who is in Rome, said in a statement.

The Fighting Irish have won seven straight games since their 24-13 loss at home to Cincinnati (CFP No. 4) and finished the season allowing just two touchdowns in four November games.

Independent Notre Dame is No. 6 in the CFP rankings and idle heading into conference championship weekend. But it still has a shot to be selected for the playoff. If the help the Irish need doesn't come, they are still in position for New Year's Six bowl, possibly a bid to the Fiesta in Arizona.

Swarbrick told ESPN he met with the team the morning of Kelly's unceremonious departure, and told the players that they had "built something really special," and the culture was theirs -- not Kelly's or Swarbrick's or anyone else's.

"They made a point afterwards of really reinforcing that message back to me, and sort of saying, 'Hey AD, don't [screw] this up. We built something really special here and we trust you to find the right person, but don't bring somebody in who's going to change what we built.' That was really impactful for me. They weren't saying, 'Hire Marcus Freeman.' They were saying protect this culture."

"Marcus fit naturally into that," he said. "The players love him. He's developed this incredibly quick affinity for the university. ... It was this notion of who can best steward this culture, and he was a clear right fit for that."

Swarbrick was candid in saying the timing of the season didn't impact the hire because he had "developed such momentum with Marcus" that he didn't feel compelled to wait until undefeated Cincinnati was done with its season to talk to Fickell.

"It wasn't a matter of, 'I can't talk to Luke until X or Y,'" Swarbrick said, "it was a matter of, I don't feel like I need to talk to other people."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report