Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, 59, might have just made a slip of the tongue that could have revealed who will follow him as the head coach of the Irish. Kelly appeared on Episode 2 of NBC Sports' "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," and referenced Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman's coaching future at the 47:07-minute mark. (H/T to John Kennedy of Always Irish)
"My defensive coordinator is black, and he's going to be the next head coach," Kelly said while on a panel with Steph Curry, Dell Curry, Vince Carter, Jimmy Rollins, Justin Tuck, CC Sabathia and Kyle Rudolph. "This is not about color or race. This is about the things that he just talked about. Steph talked about the important things to be a CEO and understanding how to make people around you better."
It's unclear whether Kelly was referencing Freeman's future as a head coach in college football in general or if he meant that Freeman would ultimately be his successor at Notre Dame. No matter what he meant, Freeman is certainly and up-and-comer in the coaching industry. The former Ohio State linebacker joined the Ohio State staff as a graduate assistant in 2010 after spending one year in the NFL. He quickly moved up the coaching ladder to become the co-defensive coordinator at Purdue in 2016 and full-time defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Cincinnati from 2017-20.
The quote came in a segment of the show that focused on the hiring practices in athletics as a whole.
"It's getting outside of the comfort zone in hiring," he said. "Hiring has been so many years of hiring within that 'old boy network' and comfort. You used the two most important words ... 'get outside your comfort zone' and hire with love and compassion and an understanding that these people are going to be making others around them better. We always talk about it in sports. You want that player who makes the others around him better. Why not hire people who make people around them better? This is not that hard. Let's get out of the way, sometimes, to be thinking about color in hiring. It's just unacceptable for me -- someone who's been in this business for 31 years as a head coach. My director of football operations is a woman, and she will kick anybody's butt any day in every metric when it comes to doing the job in football."
Kelly has an 81-39 record in 11 seasons with the Fighting Irish, which doesn't include wins that were vacated during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Fighting Irish made the BCS Championship Game in 2012 and the College Football Playoff in 2018 and 2020. He has posted double digit-win seasons in five of the last six seasons, and has only missed a bowl once during his tenure at Notre Dame.
He has an all-time record of 252-96-2 as coach at Grand Valley State (1991-2003), Central Michigan (2004-06), Cincinnati 2006-09) and Notre Dame. Whether Kelly was referencing Freeman as his coach-in-waiting or suggesting that he will be a star head coach somewhere else, it's clear that the current coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has enjoyed an incredible career.