On the evening of November 27, 2021, at about 9 PM local time in Palo Alto, California, Brian Kelly bounded into a small interview room reserved for visiting teams at Stanford Stadium. About a dozen reporters and six or 7 camera persons were present.
Kelly’s team had just dismantled Stanford 45-17, closing out the regular season at 11-1, and Kelly was all smiles as he stated, “We made our case…. we are one of the best four teams without question in my mind, in the country.”
All Irish, all in.
48 hour later, he resigned from Notre Dame and headed to LSU. In fact, there had been no obvious warning.
Brian Kelly took a new challenge, and quite a bit of money, and ran.
Shock, disappointment and certainly some anger hit the Notre Dame football world…like a typhoon.
But at the moment that the unbelievable came true what wasn’t so obvious was that the Notre Dame football program, with 54 wins in the previous five seasons, young talent at every position and a parade of promising recruits in the pipeline was, thanks in large part to Brian Kelly, in a very good place.
And might even, with the injection of some fresh blood, be in a position to ascend to new heights.
If Jack Swarbrick could just work a little magic.
The next 72 hours were a blur and Swarbrick stepped up to the plate. In rapid succession he identified his man and picked up the pieces. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive line Coach Mike Elston: Check, check, and check.
And the cornerstone to keep things together, after the team captains had spoken and Father Jenkins “zoomed” in from Rome, became, Marcus Freeman.
Marcus Freeman, 35 years old. A brilliant defensive coach, extraordinary communicator, tireless worker. After just one season in South Bend, he had seemingly grown to appreciate and embrace the God, Country, Notre Dame culture, something Brian Kelly never did.
Swarbrick indeed worked some magic and three days later, Marcus Freeman became the 30th head football coach at the University of Notre Dame.
Hello Marcus Freeman, goodbye Brian Kelly.
And that gets us to the first game of the Marcus Freeman era, and it presents Freeman with an extraordinary opportunity to get his head coaching career off on the right track.
Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma State.
And in this game, Marcus Freeman has the opportunity, to do something that Brian Kelly and a few other ND head coaches never did.
You see, the Irish haven’t won a major New Year’s Day Bowl, since Lou Holtz.
Hello Marcus Freeman, your destiny awaits.