Marcus Freeman Picked the Wrong Words for the Right Audience

By Johnny Ginter on June 17, 2022 at 10:24 am
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame football is a Hummel doll sitting in your grandma's curio cabinet.

For her, it means a lot. She got it from some young beau after an exhilarating night at the sock-hop. They sat in his 1957 Ford Thunderbird, listening to the Big Bopper and wistfully imagining life under a president Richard Nixon, when suddenly he reached into his letterman's jacket and pulled out a porcelain figurine that she had her eye on for months. "Oh Jimmy!" she cried, "This makes me as happy as Liberace on his wedding day! Thank you!"

It became a part of the narrative of her life, generating ever-increasing sentimental importance as the years went on. And she kept that small sculpture of a dog sitting in a wooden bucket and wearing a straw hat in immaculate condition for literal generations. Whenever you go to her house, you see it, think of her story, and smile.

But it is never, ever leaving that cabinet.

This is Marcus Freeman's problem. He's a young, dynamic, intelligent person who will probably end up being a great head football coach. He is also saddled with a football program, university, and fanbase that is perpetually watching and rewinding their VHS copies of Rudy until the magnetic tape snaps in half.

Freeman says that he was "misquoted" when talking about the academics at Notre Dame versus that of the Ohio States and Cincinnatis of the world, and while I don't think that his version of what was said is significantly different than what was reported, I also don't think that it matters all that much.

Nor do I think that Ohio State players and institutions coming out of the woodwork to defend Ohio State's academic reputation matters all that much either, although if I was an Ohio State football player I'd be understandably angry about the implication that I didn't work hard in the classroom.

Freeman might not have been saying that Ohio State players were skipping class, but he did seem to be saying that Notre Dame is a tougher academic institution than the state schools he brought up.

"If you don't got to class at these big schools that have 60,000, 40,000 students, you can take online classes," Freeman said. "The majority of our kids cannot take online classes because it's a smaller school and you're forced to have in-class attendance."

This is a hilarious quote and I think that Freeman knows exactly why. For every octogenarian booster solemnly nodding their heads at this comment, there are five high school football recruits who just spent their sophomore and junior years on Zoom asking "Forced? Wait, why the hell doesn't Notre Dame offer online classes?"

Whatever the reality, statements like Freeman's makes Notre Dame look behind the times. Parents (and boosters, and fans) might love hearing that from him. Kids probably won't.

That's the generational divide that Freeman has to bridge. Notre Dame, at least as a college football entity, is an antique, and that is exactly how they want to keep it. In their mind, the Golden Dome represents a bulwark against change in college football, and that means selling potential recruits on the idea of the Fighting Irish as a fun, cool team to play for that can make their NIL dreams come true, while also placating the fans and boosters who prefer the cold gruel of the unappreciated student-athlete who spends twelve hours on the practice field, twelve hours in the library, and zero hours being a human.

So Freeman played the classics and implied that those state school kids don't have to work as much as the hardworking private school kids at Notre Dame with their butts in the lecture hall. It's wrong, but expected.

That would all be fine and good and normal if Marcus Freeman was just some regular guy coaching at Notre Dame, satisfied with coasting on echoes forever. Unearned smug superiority is kind of their whole thing, but Freeman is a former Ohio State player and alum who is 0-1 as a head coach and is about to get absolutely waxed by a coach and a team that history shows you absolutely want to avoid pissing off.

Talking shit about the Buckeyes as a team and Ohio State as a university does very, very little to further Freeman's cause as a recruiter or a head coach. It might give those in the Notre Dame community the warm fuzzies, but doesn't do anything to improve them as a program.

Every coach has to walk that tightrope, and Freeman will get better at it the longer he's in his position, but this week he only managed to make his university seem out of touch while simultaneously giving a future opponent bulletin board material for the fall.

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