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ESPN recognizes two Notre Dame coaches as potential college football decade definers

Kyle Kellyby:Kyle Kelly04/12/24


Despite his relatively short tenure at Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman’s potential is already being recognized. He is among the elite group of 30 coaches who are predicted to shape the next decade of college football. 

On Wednesday, ESPN staff writer Bill Connelly discussed that in a story published on He divided the 30 coaches who could potentially “rule college football through the 2020s and beyond” into six sections: already successful coaches, young stars, Deion, group of five coaches, top assistants and the next DeBoers. 

Freeman, 38, cracked Connelly’s category for most exciting younger head coaches behind Oregon’s Dan Lanning and Florida State’s Mike Norvell. Notre Dame’s headman was the ninth coach listed on Connelly’s list. 

“After rising to prominence as Fickell’s defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, Freeman actually jumped ahead of Fickell to snare the Notre Dame job in 2021 at age 35,” Connelly said. “He has dealt with some bumps (among other things, he’s on his third offensive coordinator in three seasons) but has still won 19 games in two seasons, and his Fighting Irish finished 2023 smoking hot. 

“Throw in heavy recruiting prowess—an average signing class ranking of 9.3 and two straight huge quarterback transfer signings (first Sam Hartman, then Riley Leonard)—and you have a coach with massive potential.” 

Freeman was not the only Notre Dame coach Connelly discussed. He also featured Irish defensive line coach Al Washington, who enters his third season in South Bend. Washington was the 25th coach Connelly listed and No. 7 among assistants. 

He slotted behind Georgia defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann, Oregon offensive coordinator Will Stein, Florida State OC Alex Atkins, Penn State OC Andy Kotelnicki, Oklahoma co-DC Zac Alley and Texas A&M OC Collin Klein

Washington was the first position coach Connely spotlighted. 

“A former star defensive tackle at Boston College, the 39-year-old Washington has coached at Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame, and he has ranked seventh in 247Sports’ football recruiter rankings twice in the past three years,” Connelly said. “He nearly landed the head-coaching job at his alma mater this offseason, and his influences suggest that when he does get a top job, he’ll know what to do with it.”

Connely’s piece adds to already high expectations entering the third year of the Freeman era. According to BetMGM, Notre Dame’s odds (+2500) to win the College Football Playoff rank 10th. With the field expanding to 12 teams this year, that projects the Irish to secure a CFP berth. 

A coach’s third year at Notre Dame has been well-documented. Brian Kelly reached the BCS National Championship during his third season in South Bend. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz won their first championship in year three with the Irish.

If Freeman were to join the company of Leahy, Parseghian, Devine and Holtz, he would almost certainly rank near the top of Connelly’s next list. 

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