One of Ryan Day’s First Calls Should Be To Marcus Freeman

Marcus Freeman Return

Yes, there is still Ohio State football going on and a bowl game to prepare for, but it’s never too early to speculate on who may be part of Ryan Day’s new coaching staff when he takes over for Urban Meyer on January 2.

Even though Day said on Tuesday that he wouldn’t start thinking about his future OSU coaching staff until after the Rose Bowl, rest assured that there are resumes coming in and feelers going out.

Don’t expect everyone to return, as coaching turnover always happens when a head coach leaves and the new man in charge looks to bring in his own people. Some assistant coaches are more attached to the previous regime and will either choose to move on or be asked to move on.

While change could occur on both sides of the ball, it’s not unreasonable to expect an opening on defense. The Buckeyes are ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 400.3 yards per game. A year ago they were fourth, allowing 300.9 yards per game.

Things have gotten worse since Luke Fickell left to become Cincinnati’s head coach following the 2016 season and he doesn’t appear to be coming back any time soon.

There is, however, an alternative, and his name is Marcus Freeman.

Freeman, the former Buckeye linebacker who played under Fickell at OSU from 2004-2008, is the defensive coordinator for Fickell at Cincinnati.

The Bearcats currently have the No. 7 scoring defense in the nation (16.1 ppg), the No. 8 rush defense (103.8 ypg), and the No. 8 total defense (291.9 ypg). They became just the second team in the last 11 years to shut out Navy, beating the Midshipmen 42-0 earlier this season.

Before UC, Freeman was with former OSU assistant Darrell Hazell at Purdue, where he was the linebackers coach beginning in 2013. He was promoted to co-defensive coordinator prior to the 2016 season, which would be Hazell’s last at Purdue.

Prior to that final season, I went to the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago with plans on writing a story on Freeman, so I spoke with Hazell and Purdue linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley to get some insight. I never ended up writing the story, or maybe I’m just doing it now.

Just trust me when I tell you that everything Bentley told me, I had already heard from former Buckeye players when talking about Luke Fickell.

“I love him. Yeah,” Bentley said back then. “It’s easy to talk to him and have conversations. Linebacker talk. He’s a guy who is not too far removed from the game. We still watch his games when they come on the Big Ten Network. So we’ll be watching him [miss a tackle] and be like, ‘Whoa Coach, what happened on that play?’ He’s a great coach and he gets the most out of his players.

“One thing that I love about him is that he finds different ways to get certain things out of certain players. The training that we do with him is harder than what we do with the team. Many times as a linebacker group we go outside of team and we do certain things. We have these ‘Winner-Loser’ days. We have ‘Hell Day.’ That was something new for us. He constantly switches it up. He keeps you on your toes whether you’re a starter or you’re not playing at all or a special teams guy, you get asked the same questions. Every meeting you better be tuned in.”

Freeman would pit his group against themselves in any number of competitions at the drop of a hat. Lifting, tug-of-war, whatever. They always had to be ready. It was as much physical as mental because a mental error at the wrong time is just as bad as a missed tackle.

There was also training done with the goal of providing perspective.

“We had a workout with the Navy SEALs. That was interesting,” Bentley said. “I have now experienced a whole different level of toughness when you’re dealing with a Navy SEAL. We met some great ones. Last week we did some pool work with the Navy SEALs. They swim two miles. We learned that really quickly. We didn’t do near two miles at all. We got out, but we got what we needed.

“We worked out with the Navy SEALs. I love the things he does like that. Who expects you to go get Navy SEALs to help you through a workout. Just to see what they go through, you’re like, ‘Alright, maybe I’m tired, but I’m not doing what Navy SEALs do, so I’ll make it. I’ll survive.’ It’s stuff like that, I love Coach Freeman to death. And it’s things like that that makes a player go that much further for you.”

Hazell didn’t see Freeman the player as a future coach. It wasn’t until Freeman came back as a graduate assistant that Hazell began to notice the potential.

“When he’s a player, you’re looking at him in a different way,” Hazell said. “But when he came back, you said to yourself, ‘This guy’s got it.’ There’s something about him that’s going to make him really special. He works at it, first of all. He works at it. He’s great with the players. He has such a connection with those guys. He gets the most out of them and he’s very smart. He’s very smart.”

Hazell said that Freeman is a great listener and is always learning. Bentley said Freeman was always bringing back new techniques and teaching tools from other coaches he had talked to. He was always trying to improve his players and himself.

Even back in 2016, it was clear to Hazell that Freeman was one of the top young coaches in the game.

“He’s definitely one of those up-and-coming stars,” he said. “For sure. He’ll be a head coach at some point in time in his career.”

Freeman probably should have been hired by Ohio State to replace Luke Fickell two years ago. That didn’t happen and one could argue that the Buckeyes have paid for it dearly.

Whether or not there is an opening on the defensive staff when Ryan Day takes over remains to be seen, but if there is, a call to Marcus Freeman shouldn’t be too far down his list of things to do.

In fact, it should probably be right at the top.

17 Responses

  1. Mr. Freeman may be a fine coach but what OSU doesn’t need is another coach that doesn’t know a damn thing about proper strength and conditioning. And from your lauding of Mr. Freeman’s over the top exercise regiments you, Mr. Gerdeman, don’t know a damn thing either about proper training. You do no favor to OSU by promoting such people. Overtraining ruins athletes. OSU needs a doctor of kinesiology. It’s the 21st century, time to change!

  2. Bring BACK Kerry Combs as dc problem solved:)!

  3. Just relax, UM is still the head coach. Pretty sure there is some knowledge transfer in progress. Give the guy a chance.

  4. Well, the crack pipe is making it’s first appearance in the Day era. I’ll bet he does not know who Marcus Freeman is. It is not the rivlary game it is The Game – stop calling it that. Quit calling them our f$%^#(& r ival. suck it.

    1. Urban Meyer calls it the rivalry game and calls Michigan “our rival.”

    2. Not merely our rival, but our ARCH rival. I don’t know a single solitary Buckeye fan who DOESN’T refer to to Varmints as our rival, and the games our with them, rivalry week, and the rivalry. Since the very first game in 1897 it was a continuation of the border war when Michigan thought they would swallow Toledo, Ohio up and build their Stadium there. Early it wasn’t “much” of a rivalry, but the people in Ohio didn’t take that long to view the varmints as our rivalry. THEY didn’t originally see it as such, but once Chic Harley set their world on its ear that all changed and they became interlaced with the theme of what a rivalry was.

      Shit, even in 2000 the limp brains at ESPN listed Ohio State vs _ichigan the greatest RIVALRY in sports.

      Since 1935 or 36 there has only been 3 games that weren’t specifically dedicated to the last game of the year to accentuate the most intense rivalry sports has ever seen.

      Bill Cromartie, a Georgia Bulldogs fan, wrote a book about the Ohio State vs _ichigan game back in 1979 titled “The Big One.” He described 3 traditional rivalries which are intitutions in and of themselves. First Georgia vs Georgia Tech, then Alabama vs Auburn, and finally Ohio State vs _ichigan. He stated in his preface, “THE BIG ONE is presented with the hope that it will be regarded as a FACTUAL and NON Partisan account of the games and background of the HISTORIC OLD RIVALRY.

      Ask Jack Parks what he thinks. Ask any player from either team dating back to 1918…and actual ardent fan, and you’ll get the same reply. “It’s the greatest RIVALRY in all of sports.”

  5. Marcus Freeman has been my top choice to come back to Ohio State as a defensive coach for nearly 3 years. Everything said about him in the article is true. I could add that Marcus learned player loyalty from Luke Fickell when he was playing LB at Ohio State and Jim Heacock. Luke Fickell had developed into a terrific DE asst coach and he married that position with the linebackers by advancing the Buckeyes “viper” and “Leo” techniques meshing very very between Jim Heacock and Mark Snyder. Marcus Freeman was a recipient of Luke Fickells hyper intense personality, love of his players and desire for each of them to become successful on and off the field.

    When Marcus’ health became a serious issue after turning Pro it was just a matter of time before he would pour himself into coaching. It took a year! It was also obvious that it wouldn’t take long before he got good at it. He learned for among the best and works constantly to enhance things.

    By the opening of Spring ball, I anticipate 2 former tremendous former players to be coaching full time at Ohio State. Brian Hartline and Marcus Freeman. Two extremely smart, able, and aggressive minds. They already know what it means to be a Buckeye and what it takes to become a great player and unit.

    Go get him Coach Day. He’s the perfect coach to help Coach Larry return Ohio State into the most dominating front seven in college football.

  6. Anyone else picturing a staff full of young, creative, aggressive, high-energy guys, similar to what Meyer had initially built with Herman, Fickell, Vrabel, Ash?

    I think it is still a toss-up, though. Given the timing of the hire, given that Day is completely new to being a head coach and hasn’t built a staff before, does he seek to go into 2019 with as many hold-overs as he can get? I love that Urban is still planning to be a presence at Ohio State, but will that presence mean that Day is influenced towards making Urban’s guys his guys, too?

  7. Former Buckeye, 32 years old, built a top-ten defense at Cincy, known for pushing his LB unit above and beyond what is expected of others to make them better? Please God, Coach Day had better call him. Soon. Because if we don’t, others will.

  8. Right now this is all mere speculation. I’m looking forward to coaches who were NOT in Day’s wedding, or an in-law, etc. One of the most important hallmarks of a great executive is to name people just under him who are excellent at their jobs, then to get out of the way and let them do it. Nepotism needs to go!

    1. Hear, hear! Well-spoken BRUCE! 😉

  9. Retain Coaches Mick and Johnson. All others are expendable especially on the defensive side of the ball.

  10. Not going to happen – Day is not from around here and does not understand or relate to any of this. Also I wish they would quit calling THE GAME – the rivalry game – it is stupid. It’s THE game and that is all that needs to be said.

  11. With either Freeman or Fickel coaching the linebackers, the Buckeyes make the last two playoffs. My dream has always been for Chris Spielman to be the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. His great insight as an analyst (the best in the business) shows his huge football IQ. Of course I do not see that ever happening at this point. He has a great broadcasting career that is much lower stress. The only way I could see it is if he saw it as a stepping stone to be the head coach one day and his age is against him.

    1. Given Day is only 39? Yeah, the window has passed for Spiels. Given where Freeman’s Bearcat D finished this year, I can see your projection of what he could do with better talent.

    2. Spiels has said many times he is not interested in coaching. Too much time away from his family and he is a single dad. Family first.

    3. I’m sure Freeman could be talked into coming back to Columbus and he would probably be a great fit given what he has done at Cincinnati. As far as Spielman, he was the head coach of the Columbus Arena League team about 12 or 13 years ago and he basically got fired because the team was so bad. If he couldn’t coach arena league football I doubt he has a future anywhere else as a coach.

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