Marcus Freeman acknowledged feeling the pressure to fill out his coaching staff quickly, but Notre Dame’s first-year head coach said he resisted the urge to make quick decisions at the expense of making the good decisions.
On Wednesday, Freeman and Notre Dame announced the 2022 coaching staff, which was officially completed with the announcement of Al Golden as defensive coordinator.
Golden, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance with the Cincinnati Bengals, joins special teams coordinator Brian Mason, running backs coach Deland McCullough, tight ends coach Gerad Parker, defensive line Al Washington and wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey as new faces while offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is back for his second tour to South Bend.
“We have tremendous energy, great educators, great recruiters, and great people,” Freeman said of his staff. “People who love young people and are ready to coach and lead them like their own.
“The only standard was, ‘Hey, I want to make sure we’re getting great recruiters, but at the end of the day, we’re hiring guys who care about these young people. Because these young people are going to be the reason we are successful.
Like him, the general staff composition is young with seven members under the age of 40.
“I think it’s the ability to relate to high school kids,” Freeman said on the youth benefit. “Recruitment is so important and ultimately it’s about getting the best players you can in the country to this place. There is sometimes a relationship between the generation and the young prospects we recruit.
“For me, the experience and ability to teach is ageless and the ability to recruit is ageless.”
Recruiting will always be paramount to the program under Freeman and it was certainly at the forefront of every hiring decision.
“We can’t have nine good scouts,” he said. “We need 10 plus one, 11 great scouts, hard scouts. I was looking for this and I think we found it.
In Golden, Freeman also found someone with head coaching experience, something he said he was looking for specifically there.
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Golden, who was Temple’s head coach from 2006 to 2010, won’t lead Freeman’s defense but will use much of the foundation, which Freeman won over during the interview process.
“Al Golden was a guy who said, ‘Hey, let me assess what you’re all doing. Let me assess your players and put together the best scheme,” Freeman said. “At the end of the day, he’s the defensive coordinator and I want to make sure everyone understands. Al Golden is the defensive coordinator. Marcus Freeman is not the defensive coordinator.
“He has to take over, but the ability to step in and adapt to what our players know is a huge plus for our players.”
Freeman made the defensive hires and previously had a relationship with Mason, so he quickly identified him as his main target to lead the special teams, but let offensive coordinator Tommy Rees step up to fill vacant offensive positions.
Rees would identify the guys he wanted to bring to campus for interviews, and then Freeman would interview them before making the final decision.
Hiestand, who coached the Irish offensive line from 2012 to 2017 before joining the Chicago Bears, was one of the easier picks.
“When we made the decision to change the position of offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand was a name that came to me from a number of different angles,” Freeman said. “He’s exactly what we’re looking for in our offensive line room.
“Harry understands that his only job in recruiting is to get the best offensive linemen in the country. He’s going to do that.
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Stuckey had only one season as a full-time coach on his resume, last year at Baylor, before he was hired, but Freeman thought back to his own experience as a young coach and to that of current safety coach Chris O’Leary. He didn’t want to make the mistake of letting the best rookie pass because of age or inexperience.
“Her resume isn’t really long, but when you hear the way people talk about Chansi Stuckey, it’s amazing,” Freeman said. “The things (Baylor head coach) Dave Aranda said about him, I was blown away.”
Freeman let Rees question Stuckey about the Xs and O’s and once Rees said Stuckey was the guy he wanted, it took Freeman less than an hour to come to the same conclusion.
“He’s the right person, he’s the right person for our program.”