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Virginia Tech football coaching search: Making the case for Marcus Freeman

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Marcus Freeman is a future superstar.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Tech Hokies need to knock this head-coaching hire out of the park. No, the Hokies don’t need a coach to win the opening press conference or receive an “A” grade from the national media.

Simply put, the Hokies and athletic director Whit Babcock must hire the right guy.

Let me tell you why Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman is the right guy.

Haven’t heard of Freeman? That’s ok, I’m here to enlighten you. Freeman is a 35-year-old first-year defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. He spent the previous four seasons as Luke Fickell’s defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bearcats. You guys have heard of Fickell, right? He’s only the hottest name on the coaching carousel for each of the top openings. Last year, many in Hokie Nation dreamed of Fickell as Justin Fuente’s replacement. That wasn’t happening. Fickell can afford to wait things out until he finds the exact job he covets.

So, about Freeman?

Have you seen what he’s done with Notre Dame’s defense recently? After some early struggles on defense, the Fighting Irish have allowed a total of nine points over the last three games.

The Hokies played Notre Dame in early October and should’ve won that game. Yet, it was Virginia Tech’s defense that allowed the Irish two scoring drives in the final five minutes to deal the Hokies a devastating loss in a season full of them.

Freeman was a standout linebacker at Ohio State before becoming a fifth-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft. He wasn’t in the NFL long, as he retired due to an enlarged heart condition. He immediately set his sights on coaching.

He joined his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 2010. In 2011, he would receive his first full-time coaching position as a linebackers coach at Kent State. After two years there, Freeman would land in the Big Ten as a linebackers coach with Purdue. He spent three seasons as linebackers coach before adding the title of co-defensive coordinator in 2016 — at the age of 30. After that season, Purdue’s coaching staff was fired, leaving Freeman looking for his next opportunity.

He wouldn’t wait long, as his former co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach with Ohio State, the aforementioned Fickell, would hire Freeman as his defensive coordinator. The rest is history.

In Freeman’s first season as defensive coordinator with the Bearcats in 2017, he instantly transformed the Cincinnati defense into one of the better ones in the American Athletic Conference. The unit took a giant leap in 2018, as it was one of the top 15 in all of FBS in three major defensive categories. He repeated his outstanding work in 2019 and 2020, even turning down offers from high-profile schools to be a defensive coordinator. Freeman also reportedly turned down an offer to become Ohio State’s linebackers coach to remain with Fickell.

Finally, Freeman left Cincinnati in January to become the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. It was a logical step for the fastest-rising coach in college football.

Now, it’s time for Freeman to become a head coach. So, why not at Virginia Tech? Athletic director Whit Babcock has been known to make shrewd hires in all of his coaching hires. Yes, the Justin Fuente hire backfired, but almost everyone believed it was the right move six years ago.

There are tons of reasons Virginia Tech should hire Freeman. First, you get the hottest young coach in the country, who has proven he can turn things around at every stop. He can recruit. He’s charismatic, intelligent and a successful former player. Can you imagine Freeman going into the living rooms of high-school players in Virginia? He would be an immediate hit.

Do you think Freeman will have any problem winning over donors, former players and the community? I don’t. Freeman finds ways to relate to everyone. That is such a critical part of being a successful leader.

Sure, there are risks in hiring a first-time coach. But, Freeman is almost bust-proof. He will succeed. So why not at Virginia Tech? The most important hire Freeman can make is at offensive coordinator. And you don’t think there will be plenty of candidates lining up to work for Freeman?

Virginia Tech has a chance to make a home-run hire in Freeman. Yes, there are other good candidates in this cycle, but none with the potential upside of Freeman. And, before you say it, who cares if he leaves in four years to take over at Notre Dame or Ohio State? That would mean he was successful in Blacksburg, making the job even more attractive for the next candidate.

Make that call, Mr. Babcock.