Marcus Freeman moments before entering the field for the Fiesta Bowl, January 1, 2022. (Photo: AJ Houk)

In the College football world, the coaching carousel never stops turning, sometimes slow some times fast and sometimes it goes on hyperdrive, like it has for most of the last 11 weeks in South Bend. Here is a timeline.

During the season:  By mid-season the rumors had been loud and frequent that offensive line coach Jeff Quinn and wide receivers coach Del Alexander would be replaced at season end. Alexander is a 26-year veteran, and had been at ND since 2017.  Quinn was another veteran with 37 years in the profession. 27 of those years were spent working for Brian Kelly, in 2018 he succeeded Harry Hiestand as offensive line coach. Filling Hiestand’s shoes was a tall order, after all the 2017 ND offensive line was awarded the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in the country.

In fact, both Quinn and Alexander coached through the Fiesta Bowl, but neither was retained thereafter.

November 29, 2021:  All was quiet on the Irish coaching front when less than 48 hours after ND completed an 11-1 regular season the bombshell of all bombshells dropped. Brian Kelly left Notre Dame and headed to LSU. It was reported that he signed a 10 year contract that, with easily obtainable incentives, making it worth over $10 million per year. Kelly is now the highest paid coach in all of college football.

The Notre Dame football world is rocked.

November 30, 2021: The next morning, at 7 AM, Brian Kelly is back on campus for a farewell to his former team. He spoke to them for three and a half minutes. He gave as his reason for leaving the following, “There comes a time where you look in your life for another opportunity, and I felt it was that time in my life for another challenge.”

After telling his team that he loved them, he walked out, got in his SUV and drove away.

Later in the day, strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, a key Kelly hire in 2017 announces to the team at a regularly scheduled workout, “If I could die here coaching you guys here for the rest of my life, this is where I want to be.” Balis reportedly turned down a lucrative offer to follow Kelly to LSU.

Also later in the day, Swarbrick meets with ND’s seven captains, a resounding preference is expressed for the hiring of Marcus Freeman.

December 1, 2021: Jack Swarbrick worked quickly to minimize his losses and to stabilize the program. With Balis on board, Tommy Rees, the young gun offensive coordinator who also was offered a job at LSU, announced that he was staying. “This is where my heart is,” he said in an address to the assembled team.

Jack Swarbrick interviews Freeman. Later Freeman interviews via zoom with University President Father John Jenkins, who is in Rome.

Later in the day news outlets were reporting that Marcus Freeman would be the new ND head Coach.

December 3, 2021: Matt Balis introduces Freeman to the team as their new head Coach. The moment is recorded on video and goes viral.

It’s a moment that drips with authenticity.

December 5, 2021: Notre Dame is invited to play in the January 1 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State.

December 6, 2021: In a ceremony that includes Father Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick, the team, band and cheerleaders, Marcus Freeman was officially announced as the new head Coach at Notre Dame. Freeman states that he will put an emphasis on recruiting and proclaimed, “I vow to work tirelessly to never disappoint you.”

December 7, 2021: Special teams coach Brian Polian, follows Kelly to LSU to take on the same role. Polian had been at ND since 2017 and had also served a stint as recruiting coordinator. Previously he had coached linebackers and special teams at ND under Charlie Weis from 2006-2009. From 2013-2016 he was the head coach at Nevada. In 2021 he had been given the additional title of assistant head coach by Kelly. Now there are two open spots on Freeman’s staff, special teams and defensive coordinator.

December 15, 2021: On early signing day ND inks a class of 21 recruits. The class is ranked seventh nationally by 247 Sports. While helping to introduce the class to the media, Mike Elston is asked about his “decision” to stay at Notre Dame. He explained that it was a family decision driven by his high school age daughters, including one who is a nationally ranked fencer. ” It’s a family decision for me and will always be a family decision. It’s not about money. You know, it’s truly about—my kids want to go to Notre Dame, too….And that’s why I’ve always really kind of turned down opportunities for myself.”

January 1, 2022: ND loses to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, 37-35. Jack Coan sets game records with 509 yards passing and five TD passes. But the Irish could only manage 42 yards rushing on 21 attempts and defensively they gave up 605 yards. Reportedly Mike Elston had been in charge of the defense on the day.

January 3, 2022: It is first reported that University of Cincinnati special teams coach Brian Mason has been hired to take over the same role at Notre Dame. Mason had spent 5 years at Cincinnati. Mason’s special teams had been outstanding under his watch. He had also spent time at Purdue and Ohio State prior to moving to Cincinnati, which gave him extensive connections to Marcus Freeman.

James Laurinaitis, a former teammate of Freeman’s at Ohio State and who played linebacker for eight years in the NFL, announces on his radio show that he will be joining the ND staff. What his role will be is not specified. Speculation ranges from graduate assistant , to defensive analyst to linebackers coach.

January 8, 2022: It is reported that former ND offensive line coach (2012-2017) Harry Hiestand will return to that role vacated when Jeff Quinn was not retained after the season. Hiestand, who left ND for the Chicago Bears, had never fully left South Bend, having maintained a home there. His last line at ND included Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchy, both All-Americans and both taken in the top ten of the 2018 NFL draft.

January 13, 2022: It is reported that Mike Elston, despite his comments made in December, was leaving South Bend to take on the same role at the University of Michigan, his alma mater. Was he disappointed at being overlooked to become the new defensive coordinator to take over Freeman’s former role? Did the ND defense’s inability to stop Oklahoma State on New Year’s Day have anything to do with it? It’s all speculation.

January 14-16, 2022: In a quick and unexpected succession of events, running backs coach Lance Taylor interviews with Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield and is hired as the new Cardinal offensive coordinator. Taylor had succeeded Autry Denson at ND in 2019 and had a hand in the development of Kyren Williams. Earlier in his career while at Stanford, he had developed Christian McCaffrey.

January 15, 2022: The Cincinnati Bengals defeat the Las Vegas Raiders in wildcard round of the NFL playoffs, and the Bengal linebackers coach Al Golden, who is rumored to be a top candidates to take over as defensive coordinator, will be working elsewhere for at least another week. Golden, has 29 years experience coaching including 10 years as a head coach, first at Temple (2006-10) and then Miami (2011-15). Prior to that he spent five years as the defensive coordinator at Virginia. Since then he has coached in the NFL.

January 16, 2022: Al Washington who had recently been released as the Ohio State linebackers coach is reported to be the choice to succeed Mike Elston, as defensive line coach. Washington played college ball at Boston College from 2002-2005 and worked his way up as a coach to stops at his alma mater, Cincinnati, and Michigan along with Ohio State.

January 17, 2022: Chansi Stucky is reported to be Marcus Freeman’s choice to to take over coaching ND receivers. A wide receiver at Clemson who spent five years in the NFL, Stucky moves over from Baylor and also had spent time as an assistant at Clemson.

Elston’s move to Michigan is announced as official.

January 20, 2022: Brian Mason is officially announced as the new special teams coach.

January 22, 2022: The Bengals defeat the Tennessee Titans 19-16 to advance to the AFC Championship, and Al Golden is still working in the NFL. Besides Golden, other names are rumored to still be be in play including Joe Rossi the present DC at Minnesota, but there is no news on filling the DC slot.

January 24, 2022: Chansi Stuckey and Harry Hiestand are both officially announced as new assistant coaches by the University.

January 25, 2022: Al Washington is officially announced as the new defensive line coach. He is given the additional title of defensive run game coordinator.

January 28-31, 2022: In another surprise, similar to the Lance Taylor move, John McNulty who had coached tight ends at ND in 2020 and 2021 interviewed and was hired as the new offensive coordinator at Boston College. Along with Lance Taylor he is now the second offensive coach who served directly under Tommy Rees to be promoted to an OC position in the cycle.

January 30, 2022: In overtime the Cincinnati Bengals upset the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24. The Super Bowl is now two weeks away, and Al Golden coaches on. The crickets being heard on filling the defensive coordinator position would seem to validate Golden’s frontrunner status.

February 1, 2022 Deland McCullough is reported to be the new running backs coach. McCullough is an intriguing pick for a couple of reasons. First of all he has a sterling resume. Player at Miami (Ohio), three years in the NFL (cut short by injury), successful coaching stints at his alma mater, Indiana, USC and with the Kansas City Chiefs. McCullough has coached seven 1,000 yard rushers and two All-Americans.

Secondly, he has three sons who are all outstanding collegiate prospects. Two are currently enrolled at Indiana, where McCullough was most recently coaching and the third is a class of 2023 4-star defensive back who is currently committed to Indiana. All three in the past have expressed a desire to play for their father.

Additionally, McCullough, who was adopted as an infant, has an unbelievable back story about tracking down his biological father. If you don’t know it already, you can read it here: The Jaw Dropping Story Behind an NFL Coach’s Search for his Family , it is worth your while. The story has been made into a movie.

February 2, 2022 Gerad Parker is reported to be the new tight ends coach. Marcus Freeman wasted no time filling the tight ends position vacated by John McNulty’s surprise promotion to offensive coordinator at Boston College. Parker played wide receiver at Kentucky and has 17 years experience as an assistant, including stops at Purdue, Duke and Penn State. Most recently he was the offensive coordinator at West Virginia. Parker was the interim head coach at Purdue for six games in 2016 after Darrell Hazel was fired.

February 4-6 2022 Just hours after reportedly accepting employment as the running backs coach at Notre Dame, Deland McClullough apparently interviews with the New York Giants and is offered the job as running backs Coach. The salary he is offered would have made him among the highest paid RB coaches in the league. McCullough turns down the offer.

In this same time frame Tommy Rees is linked to the post Super Bowl offensive coordinator opening with the LA Rams and the same position at the University of Miami. Josh Gattis, the Michigan offensive coordinator ultimately is hired to take over the same position at Miami for new head coach Mario Cristobal. Apparently, Rees had been the first choice for the Miami job.

February 11, 2022: Deland McCullough is officially announced by the University as the new running backs coach. Freeman adds another veteran coach with a proven track record to his staff. “Deland is as dynamic as you will find in our game when it comes to helping players reach and at times even exceed, their potential.” Comments Freeman in a prepared statement

Later in the day, it is reported that former walk-on cornerback, Nick Lezynski, who had been on the Irish staff since 2018 as a defensive analyst was leaving South Bend and joining Clark Lea’s staff at Vanderbilt. He will coach linebackers. This move may serve to clarify the role of James Laurinatis, (See January 3. 2022)

February 14, 2022: Gerad Parker is officially announced by the University as tight ends coach. Freeman’s prepared statement reads, “I have been fortunate to coach with Gerad previously….the energy he brings each and every day is contagious. It is part of what makes him a great leader. ”

It has been 73 days since Marcus Freeman was promoted and the defensive coordinator position became the first staff opening. Ironically, the position is now the last one open. With the Super Bowl in the books, the only thing holding this article up is Al Golden’s signature on the dotted line.

February 15, 2022: Tom Loy of 247 Sports/IrishIllustrated.com reports that Al Golden indeed is the new defensive coordinator. Reportedly Golden had interviewed on February 6th in South Bend. The 29 year coaching veteran brings head coaching experience to an otherwise young staff. Before heading to the NFL Golden had been the head man at Temple and at Miami. A tight end at Penn State during his playing days, in 1990 golden played a major role in the Nittany Lion’s 24-21 upset of #1 ranked Notre Dame. His touchdown catch late in the game tied the game score at 21-21.

While Golden’s hiring is not yet “official”, there is every reason to believe that for Marcus Freeman the annual coaching carousel appears to be on pause.

February 16, 2022: Al Golden’s hiring is announced by the University and is therefore official. Freeman’s prepared statement emphasizes Golden’s experience, “Al’s defensive background and knowledge of this profession makes him a valuable asset to our program. He is known for getting the absolute best out of his players both on and off the field. Additionally, he will be a great resource for me and others on our staff with his previous experience as a head coach.”

Save for some rumblings about The Super Bowl champion Rams being interested in Tommy Rees as their new offensive coordinator, the coaching carousel looks to be on pause.

Coaches retained. Besides Rees and Balis, only two other coaches are returning from Brian Kelly’s staff. Cornerback’s coach Mike Mickens, who came along with Freeman from Cincinnati in 2021, is back for a second year. Chris O’Leary is also back for a second year coaching safeties.

The makeover of the Notre Dame football coaching staff most definitely has Marcus Freeman’s stamp on it. In fact with the exception of Rees and Balis, there has been turnover at every staff position in the two years since Freeman came aboard as an assistant. In 2021 the Notre Dame staff had an average age of 45.5, Marcus Freeman’s new staff averages 40.7 years of age.

So for now the annual coaching carousel seems to be on break in South Bend, but for the last few months it has spun more like the “tilt-a-whirl” than a low thrill kiddie ride.

The Blue and Gold game will be played April 23rd.

By Phil Houk

For 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

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