Rumors are swirling out of Knoxville that Brian Kelly is close to hiring Tennessee offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. (In fact, here’s a report that says it’s a done deal.) If the reports are true, Hiestand will almost immediately hit the recruiting trail, with his first order of business being committed recruits Taylor Decker, Mark Harrell and Ronnie Stanley. Decker might be the first to get Hiestand’s attention, as Urban Meyer, along with former Irish coaches Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton, are pressing Decker to take an official visit to Columbus.
After promoting from within at offensive coordinator and with position coach Scott Booker (what position is still to be determined), Kelly looks to have gone outside his coaching tree to hire Hiestand, who spent the last two seasons with Derek Dooley in Tennessee.
At 53 years old, Hiestand has spent over 20 years in the coaching ranks, starting his career after an injury ended his playing career at East Stroudsburg University. He bounced around early in his career before working nearly exclusively as an offensive line coach with stops at Toledo, Cincinnati (where he coordinator the offense during an 8-3 campaign), then jumped to Missouri before spending a large chunk of time with Illinois. During his time working under Ron Turner, Hiestand tutored 12 All-Big Ten offensive linemen. If you’re looking for an impressive stat, every senior starting lineman that Hiestand coached signed an NFL contract. Hiestand added assistant head coach to his title for his final five seasons with the Illini.
Hiestand has also spent significant time in the NFL, moving north to Chicago as the offensive line coach with the Bears, joining Lovie Smith‘s staff in 2005. Those Bears squads won 24 regular season games in his first two seasons, going to the Super Bowl in 2006. Hiestand was purged from the Bears coaching staff with most of the offensive staff after the 2009 season.
Asking the general public to rate a positional coaching hire is risky business, and Hiestand’s name hasn’t drawn rave reviews from the message board crowd, which you almost have to come to expect at this point. His two seasons under Dooley, where he was one of the Vol’s highest paid coaches, haven’t done much to enhance his reputation, as the program had a ton of youth playing along the offensive line while the running game struggled.
Yet Hiestand’s reputation hasn’t been tarnished, and Kelly is far from the first coach to head to Knoxville to ask about Hiestand, with Urban Meyer inquiring first as he assembled his Buckeye staff. If Hiestand is indeed coming to Notre Dame, he’ll reportedly also be paying a hefty buy-out, half of his scheduled 2012 schedule according to VolQuest.com.
Hiestand doesn’t have much experience with running quarterbacks, but after 22 years in both the college and professional game, he won’t have much of a problem making his techniques fit Kelly’s scheme. And while people are quick to assume that an older position coach won’t be a recruiting asset, take one look at Mike Denbrock and you’ll realize good recruiters come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
Nothing has been made official, but with the recruiting season in its final weeks, expect an offensive line coach to be named — and put on the road — quickly. Kelly still has one more opening on his staff to fill.