Freeman played linebacker from 2005 to ’08 and led OSU to four Big Ten titles and consecutive national championship appearances his final two season.
Freeman’s been called a player’s coach all the way back to his first coaching job at Ohio State in 2010. He had that same effect on teammates during his Ohio State days with players gravitating toward his leadership style.
“The way that he was on the football field here at Ohio State, the way he knew the defense and understood the certain nuances, you knew he was made to be a coach,” former Ohio State running back Beanie Wells said.
“I think that approach and that high IQ and that level of understanding of the game is what I kind of carried through my career as well and obviously translates to him being able to be a coach,” former Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said.
Wells and Chekwa played with Freeman at Ohio State and saw firsthand the type of person he was on and off the field.
“Him and James Laurinaitis were best friends and those guys always stayed after, some of the first in the facility,” Wells said. “When it came to working out, they were always in the gym a little bit longer than everybody else. They were just doing all the little things right. When you got people that do the little things right you know it’s something about them that’s going to take them to the next level.”
Freeman brought Laurinaitis with him to the next level when he hired his friend as a graduate assistant last year.
“I had to find out whether I wanted to do it and so I just took an opportunity and I’m thankful to Marcus obviously for giving me that opportunity and trusting me,” Laurinaitis said in February.
Laurinaitis and Freeman were in the same freshman class and were in each other’s weddings, so when Laurinaitis made the decision to come to Ohio State as a graduate assistant this year he was worried how it would affect their friendship.
“Thankfully, Marcus was great about it. He basically said if that’s where you want to be and your family wants to be, then go back home,” he said. “He was supportive in the sense like our friendship isn’t going to be altered by this and so I’m confident that we’ll continue to stay close.”
Freeman takes that same understanding approach with his players. It’s one of the reasons they want to play for him and a reason guys wanted to play with him at Ohio State.
“The way he connects with players but is still able to retain that level of respect as a head coach I think is important for the development of young guys, young men,” Chekwa said. “I think that’s led to his growth to be in this position today.”