Journeys of young first-time head coaches like Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman – Inside the Irish

Marcus FreemanThe birthday was earlier this month, most notable in that he will change offseason headlines from “35, Notre Dame’s first head coach” to “36…” and in that that his timing removes all “Happy Birthday” fodder before late October press conferences, as was the norm during Brian Kellyis 12 years old in South Bend.

Freeman’s age is less of a factor as a head coach than his inexperience in the job, the latter no doubt detectable during Ireland’s second-half faceplant at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, but because humans evolved to have 10 fingers on their hands, Freeman’s age will no doubt be discussed right up to his 40s.

With that in mind, outside help was sought to compile a comprehensive list of head coach hires in their thirties since 2000. (This outside help is usually a bad influence, but sometimes the Duo of shared areas Discord gives useful information.)

There have been 28 instances — Freeman actually 29 — of Power Five teams hiring a head coach under 40 at the start of the season since 2000. That list includes Lane Kiffin twice, matt campbell and nearly a decade of Pat Fitzgerald, hired at age 31 in 2006 at Northwestern. (This count does not take into account the interim situation managed by Luc Fickel at Ohio State in 2011. It also does not include Smart Kirbywas hired in Georgia in 2016, when he was 40, but that oversight deserves recognition these days.)

Of those 28, 21 of them were first-time head coaches, including people like lincoln riley, David Shaw and Dabo Swinney, all of whom will be on Notre Dame’s 2022 schedule. That doesn’t include Kiffin, as he previously coached the Oakland Raiders in 2007 at age 31, which still defies belief. He understands Clark Leahis a season at Vanderbilt, a note that underlines that these coaches are often in difficult situations.

But these were not prohibitively difficult places. Taken collectively, these 21 coached their teams to essentially the same level they had achieved the previous year.

Year before hiring: 133-123, .520 winning percentage.
First year: 135-130, .509 winning percentage.

Five of them lost at least two more games in their first season than a year earlier, including Fitzgerald and Oklahoma State. mike gundy. Seven of them won at least two more games, perhaps because they followed Tyrone Willingham to Washington or because Lea took over a truly disastrous program at her alma mater.

One notable exception to this trend stands out. Of those seven opportunities for at least two improvement wins, only two did so when replaying teams that were already better than .500. Swinney’s freshman year at Clemson took the Tigers from 7-6 to 9-5, then there’s Bret Bielemais the replacement for a legend in Wisconsin…

Barry Alvarez lasted 16 seasons in charge of the Badgers, becoming their all-time winningest coach by the time he retired in 2005. Bielema had served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator for both seasons, unrelated to the program previously. He took over a team that had just gone 10-3, hardly needing massive changes.

In 2006, Bielema led the Badgers to a 12-1 season, although it ironically ended in a Citrus Bowl victory, just like in 2005. (Michigan beat Wisconsin in the regular season in 2006 and thus won earned the Rose Bowl bid when Ohio State went to the national championship game. Of those three Big Ten teams, only the Badgers won in January.)

Obviously, the sample size of a relatively new defensive coordinator taking over from a legend is too small to draw conclusions, but the parallels to Freeman’s rise to Notre Dame are too numerous to be made. completely ignored.

The most notable finding regarding sample size is that young first-year head coaches have been largely successful in maintaining their program’s trend lines in their first few seasons over the past two decades.

The other notable achievement of these names is that even the initially unsuccessful ones were generally rated correctly by those who hired them. 12 of the 21 are still head coaches at the NFL or FBS levels, six of whom are still in those original outposts. These coaches were considered quite talented at a young age, and their enduring power reflects that. (It may also reflect the lack of originality in many hires, a blow that could be directed either at Bielema in Illinois or at Karl Dorrel in Colorado.)

Rich Rodriguez – 2001 – West Virginia – 7-5 to 3-8
Mike Shula – 2003 – Alabama – 10-3 to 4-9
Karl Dorrell — 2003 — UCLA — 8-5 to 6-7
Mike Gundy – 2005 – Oklahoma State – 7-5 to 4-7
Pat Fitzgerald — 2006 — North West — 7-5 to 4-8

Bret Bielema — 2006 — Wisconsin — 10-3 to 12-1
Ron Prince – 2006 – Kansas State – 5-6 to 7-6
Dabo Swinney — 2009 — Clemson — 7-6 to 9-5
Steve Sarkisian — 2009 — Washington — 0-12 to 5-7
James Franklin — 2011 — Vanderbilt — 2-10 to 6-7
DJ Durkin — 2016 — Maryland — 3-9 to 6-7
Clark Lea — 2021 — Vanderbilt — 0-9 to 2-10

mike leach — 2000 — Texas Tech
Dan Mullen — 2009 — State of Mississippi
Will Muschamp — 2011 — Florida
David Shaw—2011—Stanford
Kingsbury Cliff — 2013 — Texas Tech
Marc Helfrich — 2013 — Oregon
Barry Odome — 2016 — Missouri
Lincoln Riley — 2017 — Oklahoma
Jonathan Smith — 2018 — Oregon State

227 DAYS…
The much-too-early required top-25 ranking predicting the 2022 preseason has mostly Notre Dame somewhere in the back half of the top-10, and they almost unanimously had Ohio State at No. 2.

The last time the Irish opened the season with a top-10 game was in 1990, when No. 1 Notre Dame beat No. 4 Michigan, 28-24, thanks to a touchdown pass from Rick Mirer to Adrian Jarrell with just 1:40 to go. on the clock. It would be the last game of the night in South Bend for 21 years.

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