Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman and his wife Joanna.
Screenshot from Youtube (left), Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (right)

From Coaching to a Medical Scare, Marcus Freeman's Wife Has Been His Rock


Marcus Freeman strutted his way to the podium inside Notre Dame's practice facility on December 3, 2021, right before he'd be officially announced as the 30th head football coach in the program's history. He was holding the hands of two of his kids while his wife, Joanna, served as the caboose of the Freeman family caravan.

Everyone knows the old (and probably outdated) adage. "Behind every great man is a great woman." As Freeman made his way to his introductory press conference, there was Joanna right behind him just as she always has done at every stop of his career.

Head coach Freeman was quick to thank his wife during that speech, showing just how family-oriented he is.

"My wife, my partner. Thank you for unselfishness. Thank you for always being there in your support. Most of the time you can be my toughest critic. Thank you for just being there," the Notre Dame head coach said.


From numerous coaching jobs to a medical discovery that ended his American Football playing career early, Marcus Freeman's wife Joanna has been a staple who's been there by his side.

Joanna Freeman Met Marcus After Ohio State's Spring Game

It was fitting that Freeman's first game as head coach of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish was a matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes, Freeman's alma mater. He played his football there and was a two-time second-team All-Big-Ten selection at linebacker. Ohio has always been home to the Freeman's, as the former linebacker graduated from Wayne High School in Huber Heights. Marcus' parents, Michael and Chong, met while his father was stationed in South Korea. Coming from a diverse household made up of American and Korean traditions gave Freeman, and his older brother Michael Jr., a unique childhood.

Columbus is also where Freeman met Joanna and they became college sweethearts. A picnic after the 2005 Ohio State spring game brought the two together. They've been breaking bread with each other ever since their college days.

Joanna Herncane is a former Columbus news reporter, according to the Beacon Journal. Raised in Ohio, Joanna graduated from Massillon Washington High School and attended Otterbein University.


Freeman was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He wouldn't play for long, though. The following year, just before he married Joanna in 2010, Freeman was told by doctors during a physical that he had enlarged heart. With the discovery of that heart condition, Freeman's playing career was over.

Marcus Freeman during his playing days at Ohio State.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

"He was pretty calm about it. He could have gone into quite a depression. But he took it with such grace. He knew it was a blessing that we found out about this, whether it was a week before our wedding or not. He knew there was a different plan for him and he trusted God," Joanna told the Beacon Journal.

"It was hard to hear that football was being taken away, but life is much bigger than that for me," Freeman said at the time. "Sooner or later you're going to be done. Even though I can't play anymore I still have a love and a passion for it. I'll just turn the page to the next chapter in my life."

Freeman was offered a spot on the the Ohio State University coaching staff as a graduate assistant coach by Jim Tressel. He fell in love with life as a football coach, and his coaching career has included stops at Kent State University, Purdue University, the University of Cincinnati and, finally, Notre Dame. Freeman's worn different hats too, from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator under Brian Kelly before taking over as head coach of the Notre Dame football program when Kelly left for LSU.


And it's in South Bend that he's turned the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team and program into a family-centered atmosphere.

The Reason Marcus Freeman Brings His Children to Practice

Freeman's players clearly love him. His family definitely loves him. There isn't anyone at Notre Dame that doesn't love him.

And it's because he's a genuine person who still makes time for his family despite a regimented schedule and a job that requires overtime on a daily basis. How does he do that? By taking his kids to practice. It's a also a way to set a good example for his other kids -- his players.

"I want our players to see their coaches as fathers," Freeman said this year. "I think there's power in that. Yeah, we're going to help you with football, we're going to help you be great football players, but I hope that you're a better husband and father because of the time you spent with us. It's not the things we say as much as, hopefully, the actions. They see us playing with our kids. They see us as husbands. We have them at our house.


"For some of our kids, they don't know what it means to have a father. They don't know what it means to be a husband. There are single parents, single-parent moms, so they don't know. We have to be the example for our young people."

Marcus and Joanna have six children together: Vinny, Siena, Gino, Nico, Capri and Rocco. He also has another daughter, Bria, who Joanna, the wife of Marcus Freeman, is a stepmother to.

The Freeman family has been by his side since day one. They walked hand-in-hand before his introductory press conference, and they'll likely do the same before he makes his Notre Dame head coaching debut, entering the college football limelight together as a family.

Head Coach Marcus Freeman's First Season Leading the Fighting Irish

Head coach Marcus Freeman of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates during the game against the Navy Midshipmen at M&T Bank Stadium

Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Not every American football coach can lead their team to a college football playoff berth, a national championship appearance or even a Fiesta Bowl game on their first try, not even Alabama's Nick Saban. So for Freeman's first season wearing the headset, things could have been a lot worse than a Gator Bowl appearance against South Carolina.


Notre Dame began their season with two losses to Ohio State and an upset courtesy of unranked Marshall. Things even out as the Irish would go 3-1 in their next four games, ultimately finishing 8-4, good enough to the 21st spot in the rankings.

Did coach Freeman break any NCAA records in his first season? No. Did he lose every recruit to the transfer portal? No. Was he the talk of every college football analyst from CBS to ESPN to USA Today? No. At the end of the day, that's a win for a coach who was thrust into the spotlight. That's a successful trial by fire from the first year coach.

This article was originally published on August 30, 2022, and has been updated since. 

MORE: 5 Notre Dame Players Who Will Get the Irish Back in the Playoff Picture

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