It’s the middle of May, and my daily walk with my dogs, Beau and Paddy, through the most beautiful campus in the world, was different.
Notre Dame campus was quiet. Most of the students had left for the summer, except for the
seniors and graduate students waiting for graduation. Our walk took us near the ND
Post Office, and near the Stephan Center. I noticed a mom ushering her young girls inside the
building. Outside on the grass, there was a father throwing a football around to a couple of
his sons, who seemed about middle school age. It was a nice thing to see; a family together on
an errand. A dad and his sons biding time by playing catch.
Beau and Paddy led me closer to them and I noticed the man was Marcus Freeman.
When I shared the story with a few friends, they asked me why didn’t you stop and say hello. I said I didn’t want to break up such a great family time by bringing him back to the reality that he is the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame.
I had met Marcus a few weeks before at an alumni network dinner which he was instrumental in
arranging. He invited former players to visit with current players and staff. We enjoyed meeting
the guys and sharing our experiences in the business world, in particular, and other important
things to be aware of when their football life is over.
My impression of Marcus Freeman at that event was that he is genuinely a caring person. He took the time to hear our names and our connections with Notre Dame Football. Also, he didn’t seem in awe of his position. He told us that he looks at this position as head football coach at Notre Dame as an opportunity to help people and point them in the right direction in life.
Marcus was raised by his mother and father in a family that was both full of discipline and love.
Marcus’s dad would wake him up early every morning to do a workout and to get him on the
course for his day. This driven upbringing led to his success as a player at Ohio State and in the
NFL. When his playing career was over his desire to continue to affect people with the lessons
instilled him by his parents and coaches led him to start a career in coaching where he could
help young men reach their dreams.
There are some interesting comparisons between Marcus and The great Ara Parseghian who I played for
in the early 1970’s some fifty years ago. (I still can’t believe time has gone so fast.) Both Ara
and Marcus are from Ohio, both went to college in Ohio, and both started their coaching careers
after trying the NFL and getting injured. Both became head coaches at relatively young ages.
Ara became a head coach at Miami of Ohio age 26 years Marcus the head coach at Notre
Dame at 36. The thing that is most significant to me is that Ara and Marcus intentionally interject
a strong family focus into the program. There is pride, discipline and loyalty in their families as
there is on their teams.
Ara was able to inject this family feeling not into just his team, but, into the whole Notre Dame
Nation. I remember watching the Irish in the 60’s saying to myself “that is my team that’s
where I want to play and go to school.” I could see myself on that field, in that locker room, and
listening to that man, Ara Parseghian. There was such a feeling of leadership with Ara and a
sense that he could get us through any tough situation.
From what I can see so far with the
response of the current players, Marcus Freeman has those same types of qualities. He is
creating a family atmosphere in the program, on campus, and in the larger Notre Dame
There’s something else, too, in comparing Marcus Freeman with Ara Parseghian. They both
seem to have the “it factor.” They have a sense of charisma that attracts people to them. They
both are very fit physically, but, before that they both are very fit spiritually. You got and get a sense
from them that they want to make the world a better place because they are part of it. This
spirituality, this faith, is something they have inside of them. A faith that is identified by how they want to see good things happen in life for people. There is a light that will always shine in my vivid memory of Ara and there is a light that also shines within Marcus Freeman. .
We already know what the results were for Ara Parseghian. Ara was the architect of the revival
of Notre Dame Football and what some people call the “Golden Age of Notre Dame Football. “
The program took on the values of our head coach. Those values were a manifestation of what
Notre Dame wanted to be known for: class, character, integrity, faith, and the knowledge that we
could make a difference in the world. There have been many coaches at Notre Dame who rant
and rave about the Notre Dame spirit, Such spirit however, has to come from within the leader. A
coach can win many games without being truly successful.
The formation of young men into productive adults who form loving families of their own is the real definition of success. Like Ara’s, Marcus Freeman‘s family values will trickle down throughout the whole program. The Irish Nation will become aware of it and so will the millions of subway alumni.
There is something else I see in Marcus Freeman: a trait of tireless hard work and putting all his effort
into making his program the best in the country. Notre Dame is lucky they found Marcus. He is
a very unusual person in that he doesn’t’ want to hoard his success. He wants the entire Notre
Dame family to share in it.
I talked to Tim Sullivan, a great linebacker for us in the 70’s and my
classmate. His grandson Nolan Ziegler is a freshman on the team. Tim told me Marcus recognizes that his values are what the Notre Dame spirit stands for and he wants everyone in the program on the same page. Marcus is a great recruiter because he makes sure the parents understand that their son’s future is of his greatest interest. Darcy, Tim’s daughter, and Brian Ziegler are Nolan’s parents. They live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both grew up around football. Brian played at Central Michigan. I asked them about their impressions of Marcus Freeman. They described Marcus Freeman with one word: authentic . Marcus Freeman didn’t promise Nolan that he would start at Notre Dame, but, said he would have an opportunity to earn a position.
It will be a tall order for Marcus Freeman to be the “next Ara Parseghian.” But, if what I have
observed, both in our formal meeting and watching him with his family outside the Notre Dame
Post Office,, Marcus Freeman is well on his way to bringing Notre Dame that same type of success.
Until next time, HAPPY TRAILS