Notre Dame's Marcus Freeman leading candidate to be next head football coach, sources say

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, with mounting support from players and recruits, has emerged as the leading candidate to become the Fighting Irish's head football coach, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

No deal has been finalized, and several steps remain before Freeman can be formally announced as head coach, sources said.

Freeman, 35, is completing his first season as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator. Brian Kelly, who left Notre Dame to become LSU's coach earlier this week, has pursued Freeman to join his staff as defensive coordinator.

Freeman on Wednesday met with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, according to sources. Swarbrick also met with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who Wednesday night announced to the team that he would remain for the 2022 season.

Several Notre Dame staff members and players expect Freeman to be the team's next head coach. Freeman played linebacker at Ohio State and was an assistant with Kent State and Purdue, before joining Luke Fickell's staff at Cincinnati as defensive coordinator.

Fickell is also a top candidate for the Notre Dame head-coaching vacancy.

Information from ESPN's Heather Dinich, Chris Low and Tom VanHaaren was used in this report.