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Reports: Marcus Freeman taps Cincinnati pipeline for new Notre Dame special teams coordinator

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Marcus Freeman of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish smiles during the first half of the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at State Farm Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cowboys defeated the Fighting Irish 37-35. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame’s coaching staff will continue to have more of a Cincinnati flavor to it, as Irish head coach Marcus Freeman will reportedly hire Bearcats special teams coordinator Brian Mason to fill that role at Notre Dame.

Yahoo’s Pete Thamel first reported Mason’s hiring on Tuesday morning.

Mason and Freeman worked together from 2017 to 2020, with Mason as Cincinnati’s director of recruiting in 2017 before spending the next four years as the Bearcats’ special teams coordinator, as well as in 2012 at Kent State (Freeman as linebackers coach, Mason as a graduate assistant) and 2013-14 at Purdue (those same roles). Between his time with the Boilermakers and joining Luke Fickell’s staff at Cincinnati, Mason spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Ohio State.

The Bearcats’ special teams were widely considered one of the better units in the country this season, aside from some kicking woes. Cincinnati blocked six kicks (three punts, three field goal or point after attempts) in 2021 and ranked No. 31 in punt return average and No. 36 in kickoff return average. More notably, the Bearcats gave up only 1.53 yards per punt return this season, No. 3 in the country. (Unrelated but worth noting: Opponents returned only two punts against Coastal Carolina the entire season, gaining no yards. At No. 2 in average punt return yardage allowed, Oklahoma State with 0.8 yards per punt)

To put those numbers into more applicable context …Notre Dame average punt return in 2021: 8.2 yards, No. 64 in the country.Cincinnati average punt return in 2021: 10.7 yards, No. 31 in the country.

Notre Dame average kickoff return in 2021: 23.5 yards, No. 28 in the country.Cincinnati average kickoff return in 2021: 23.0 yards, No. 36 in the country.

Notre Dame average punt return allowed in 2021: 5.86 yards, No. 39 in the country.Cincinnati average punt return allowed in 2021: 1.53 yards, No. 3 in the country.

Notre Dame average kickoff return allowed in 2021: 20.4 yards, No. 58 in the country.Cincinnati average kickoff return allowed in 2021: 18.1 yards, No. 24 in the country.

Currently, defensive line coach Mike Elston serves as Notre Dame’s recruiting coordinator. Mason could add that role, as well, but it should not be assumed just yet, especially since Elston knows the many intricacies of recruiting to South Bend, things Mason will have to learn. Either way, Freeman’s insistence on a recruiting focus fits with adding another assistant coach who spent significant time the last few years on recruiting.

Mason played running back at Denison University, a Division III program in Ohio, in 2005-06. His career was cut short by injury, at which point he became a student-assistant running backs coach for two seasons.

Freeman now has three vacancies remaining on his coaching staff: defensive coordinator, who could also include a linebackers focus given that was formerly Freeman’s gig, receivers coach, and offensive line coach.

Defensive analyst Nick Lezynski worked with the Irish special teams throughout the bowl preparations and the bowl game after Brian Polian joined Brian Kelly’s staff at LSU in mid-December.

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