Marcus and Joanna Freeman make family decisions together.
“She’s always been my partner,” Freeman said. “I leaned on her for every important decision I had to make. We are a team.”
Some decisions don’t require much deep thought or lengthy discussion.
“I often joke that the only decision we didn’t really need to talk about at length was the one that took the head coaching job at Notre Dame,” Freeman said. “There was one where she just looked at me and said, ‘If you get this opportunity, no matter what, we’ll take it.'”
The family, which includes six Freeman children – Vinny, Siena, Gino, Nico, Capri and Rocco – has always been at the forefront of the Ireland head coach’s life, even while he was growing up with his father Michael and his mother Chong met her husband during of the Korean War in South Korea.
“My father retired from the military many years before I was born,” Freeman said. “He was an older man as he had two young sons (including Michael Jr.). He was raised in the military from the age of 18 until his retirement 26 years later. That’s all I knew.”
When his mother left Korea for the United States, the only people she knew were her husband and her husband’s mother. Notre Dame fans marvel at Freeman’s work ethic. The apples fell right under the tree.
“He taught us to outperform the opponent,” Freeman said of his father. “He taught us to get up earlier and stay up later than everyone else. He taught us to keep working until you reach your goals. He also taught us obedience. Yes sir, no sir, and do the right thing.
“She sacrificed herself for her family. She was really strong in her faith. She still is today. She loved her family and was willing to do anything to make sure we had what we needed. Not what we wanted but what we needed. My mother had three jobs.”
Lessons learned stayed with Freeman. His strong work ethic was shaped early on.
“You didn’t think anything of it as a kid, you just did it,” Freeman said. “You helped mom where you could. She was a janitor in a shop. At night we helped her clean up and take out the rubbish. As you get older, you go back and appreciate the sacrifices she made.
“That’s me. My dad is disciplined, hard working, doing the right things and very strict in his routine. Then I’m half of my mom who loves people. I love to sacrifice. I love to put others in front of me and to help others achieve their goals. At the end of the day, that’s me as a person.”
However, nothing can fully prepare Freeman for what is to come as the head coach of Notre Dame’s football program. Few endeavors are more all-encompassing than the life of a great college football coach. Some of those jobs are more grueling than others, like the upper echelons within the Southeastern Conference and other traditional football powerhouses across the country.
Notre Dame certainly qualifies somewhere near the top of the list. This is where Joanna Freeman comes in.
“I couldn’t do my job as a head coach at this great university and football program if I didn’t have this support system at home,” Freeman said. “She was an important part for me to achieve the things that I have in life.
“It’s great to have a partner in life to go through this with. I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without a strong wife and a strong mother. She is single most of the time.”
With what lies ahead, there is no such thing as a “normal” life. So far, the honeymoon with Notre Dame fans is entirely intact, even with Freeman’s loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. But the true pressure of the job lies ahead as challenging games against Ohio State, BYU, Clemson and USC make up a third of the task this fall.
Freeman is determined to merge his family dynamic with the job that doesn’t have enough hours a week to get it all done. And so Freeman seeks the mingling of life and family.
“Everyone asks me, ‘Hey, how’s your work-life balance?’ and I say, ‘There can be no balance in my profession,'” Freeman said. “But there’s really a mix when I can have my kids at training. In between periods I can run over and just hug and kiss her and let her know I see her.
“I want them to be part of this journey with me. These are not two separate trips. It is a journey the Freeman family will embark on together.”
Again, things will be different during football season when the pressure is on and time is short to prepare your team/coaches for the upcoming fight on Saturday. The office environment will not – may – not be as free and simple as it was during the spring and summer months.
“I really enjoy having her around,” Freeman said. “When they come into the office and say hello, they often feel more comfortable with the other people than in my office. They walk into my office and say, ‘Hi, Dad,’ and then they’re down the hall and in each other’s offices.
“It’s very intentional to have this mix to spend this time with my family, my wife and my kids.”
For Freeman, who is committed to shaping the lives of his players and their children, providing the right example/look for his players is part of his decree.
“A lot of our young people don’t have that example at home, and even if they do, these are still some of the most vulnerable years of their maturity,” Freeman said. “That’s why I want our young people to see me and all our coaches as fathers and husbands. I want them to know that life is more than just being a coach. There’s more to life than being a soccer player.
“It’s not the things we say, it’s the things we do. That’s so much more important than what kind of football players we make them. Are we ultimately making these people better men and husbands? Are we giving an example of what these young men are meant to be when they leave this football program? I think that’s so powerful.”