Just a few hours earlier, Al Golden had helped lead the Cincinnati Bengals to within an eyelash of a Super Bowl championship. The run by the Bengals had been as exciting as it was improbable and Al Golden played a key role as linebackers coach. And then POOF! 36 hours later, he was standing in front of the media being introduced as Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator.
Why would Golden leave a stable situation that has strong prospects for more success to go back to the college game? Well, it actually sounds like Marcus Freeman was on Al Golden’s radar before Al Golden was on Marcus Freeman’s radar. At his introductory press conference Golden said, “I listened to (Marcus Freeman’s introductory) press conference and I told my wife, I share his values….and I said that would be a place that could get me back….I don’t really have to change to be a partner with that guy right there.” Golden also explained what attracted him to the University overall, “What Notre Dame represents, from a community standpoint, from a character standpoint, from an educational standpoint, it just meant so much to me.”
Golden’s introductory comments sounded a lot like what Marcus Freeman had to say back in February of 2021 when he joined Brian Kelly’s staff and then again last December when he was elevated to head coach. Buy in to the Notre Dame way of pursuing excellence in the class room and on the field, indeed in all phases of developing great young men, is paramount.
When first hired in January of 2021, Freeman himself was effusive in his praise of the Notre Dame culture, “Every day I’m here, I realize more and more why this place is so special. It’s very unique. It’s top of the line in everything we do. And that’s as far as not only football, but academics and everything that comes with being part of Notre Dame”. (See: Marcus Freeman, You Had Me at “Hello”)
On the field of play, how will Golden’s approach differ from Freeman’s? Maybe not that much. Freeman has employed multiple fronts, and so has Golden. In fact, Golden indicated his intention to pick up where Freeman left off. “The way Marcus and I have talked about it, it is our system…it’s really what we build from here, but its like moving into a new neighborhood. Don’t just take down the fence, because you don’t like the fence. You have to find out why the fence is there.” Referencing Freeman’ record including his 2021 unit that gave up only 19.7 points per game (15th best nationally) Golden said, “there’s obviously great things that Marcus and that system have executed both here and previously, so let’s draw on that.”
During the January 1 Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame seemingly was unable to adjust quickly to an up tempo game that Oklahoma State’s offense switched to late in the second quarter. In game adjustments were a topic addressed by Golden. “The NFL is about problem solving. Everybody thinks, oh great halftime adjustments. I’m gonna tell you right now, by the time you get to the NFL, you’re turning around and going out. Its a 12 minute halftime….so you’re working, but the point I’m making is these adjustments are made after every series. I think that’s one thing the NFL has taught me: just how to make those adjustments and how to solve problems.”
Golden brings 29 years of coaching experience, including 10 years (five years at each) at the helm of Temple and Miami. Golden was so highly thought of that he was prominently mentioned as a successor to Charlie Weis in 2009 when Brian Kelly was ultimately hired.
From Freeman’s perspective, waiting on Golden to conclude the long Super Bowl run was worth it, especially because of Golden’s head coaching experience. “I was looking for a guy with head coaching experience. That was to me something that we did not have on our staff that I thought was going to be extremely valuable”, said Freeman. Freeman admitted to bending the ear of former Notre Dame head coach recently for advice, “I talked to Lou Holtz all the time.”
Al Golden was impressive in his first appearance before the media as the Notre Dame defensive coordinator. Confident, well spoken, and insightful he portrayed a coach who has quickly bought in to and is capable of upholding the high standards Notre Dame demands. He has an impressive resume and an aura of success after the Bengal run of success.
But in the no rest for the weary category: Al Golden, welcome to South Bend and congratulations on your run to the Super Bowl, now get to work, because spring practice starts in a few short weeks.