Mike Brey has seen the second-floor corner office in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex spawn a few tenants in his 22 years as head coach of Notre Dame men’s basketball. He’s been around long enough to remember the Irish football coaches sharing the Joyce Center with him and his staff.
All told, Marcus Freeman is the sixth man to lead Notre Dame’s football program since Brey arrived in July 2000 – two months earlier Bob Davie began his fourth season in charge.
Brey saw the last two years of the Davie era and the infamous George O’Leary rent — that gave his staff a legendary memento. He saw trials and triumphs through every season of Tyrone Willingham’s, Charlie Weis’ and Brian Kelly’s terms of office. He was even around for Kent Baers one-game stint as an interim in the 2004 Insight Bowl.
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Bowl practices, staffing, an NCAA tournament run, spring training, recruiting efforts and offices in separate buildings left Brey and Freeman waiting more than six months before finally spending extended periods of time together since the latter was named head coach on Dec. 3.
When they met, however, Freeman’s attitude immediately impressed Brey.
“I spent some time with him,” Brey said Tuesday before his Coaches vs. Cancer Celebration of Hope. “It’s energy. Enthusiasm. Positive things come from him. Players don’t want to disappoint him. The players are under pressure to perform for him. I love it. He has a great staff.”
Brey understands the weight on Freeman’s shoulders, having seen his predecessors carry it. He sympathizes with the growing pains that come with being a head coach for the first time. Brey was one himself once in 1995, when Delaware hired him to lead the program after eight years as a Duke assistant.
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Inheriting a Notre Dame football team that is 54-10 since 2017 is obviously a different beast for a novice head coach than taking over a basketball team that competed in the America East Conference. Freeman became one of the most visible coaches in America the moment he stepped into the Irish Athletic Center for his December 6 introduction. He’s in the ultimate fishbowl. But the learning process and adaptation to go from assistant to great flute has similar themes everywhere.
“They always say in basketball, as an assistant, you have all the answers until you slide more than six inches in that chair — ‘Uh, oh, now it’s on me,'” Brey said.
Freeman certainly encountered those moments in his first nine months on the job. They’re probably not over yet. The September 3 opener in the state of Ohio is fodder to make them during game preparation and game day. However, Brey doesn’t expect Freeman to succumb to the resulting pressure or struggle with the weight of the track, even at its heaviest.
“I want my son to play for him,” Brey said. “If my son was with Marcus Freeman every day, he’ll make a man out of him. I think we’re in good hands. There’s nothing like starting in Columbus, Ohio.”