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Last look back: Quarterback

Jan 22, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT


Nobody expects Irish fans to write a final love letter to Tommy Rees. But the senior quarterback, who played significant minutes in all four of Brian Kelly’s seasons in South Bend, is the quarterback of record for the Kelly era. None of that is Rees’s fault. And in some ways, it’s not really Kelly’s fault either.

Before we dig into Rees’ year that was, let’s take a look back at the period that allowed these four seasons to create the Tommy Rees era. To do that, we need to take a look back at the decade, and closer examine the decisions that brought the unlikely partnership of quarterback and coach together.

Consider this a refresher timeline of the decade that was at the quarterback position.

2003 — Even though Carlyle Holiday was coming off a solid season where he piloted the Irish to a 10-win season at quarterback, Brady Quinn took over the job after three games. Quinn played through some bumps and bruises, but Tyrone Willingham and his staff went all in on Quinn.

2003 QB Depth Chart
Brady Quinn, Fr.
Carlyle Holiday, Sr.
Pat Dillingham, Jr.

Though Quinn was locked into the starting job, the depth chart was precariously thin, and the Irish staff signed two quarterbacks. Unfortunately both quarterbacks were two-star prospects, with Darrin Bragg and David Wolke signing in February.

2004 — It was Quinn’s offense and while he improved, the Irish didn’t. Even though Quinn threw for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a sophomore, after starting 5-2, the Irish faltered down the stretch, leading to the firing of Willingham after three seasons.

2004 QB Depth Chart
Brady Quinn, Soph.
Pat Dillingham, Sr.
Carlyle Holiday, Sr. (WR)
David Wolke, Fr.
Darrin Bragg, Fr.

While Charlie Weis stayed on to coach the Patriots during their Super Bowl run, he did keep the commitment of Evan Sharpley, a three-star quarterback that committed to Willingham in the summer.

2005 — It was Quinn or bust at quarterback for the Irish and the junior delivered a breakthrough season as the Irish offense exploded in Charlie Weis’ first season. But the scoring bonanza hide some of the depth chart issues, as Bragg had already been transitioned to wide receiver.

2005 QB Depth Chart
Brady Quinn, Jr.
David Wolke, Soph.
Evan Sharpley, Fr.

To remedy that problem, Weis brought in two quarterbacks. Pennsylvania quarterback Zach Frazer committed in April, while Demetrius Jones joined the class in August. Both were highly sought after players, with Jones the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the country, according to

2006 — Brady Quinn put an impressive cap on his Irish career with another stellar season, throwing 37 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions. While the Irish didn’t ultimately play up to their lofty preseason status and lost ugly in their final two games to USC and LSU, Weis’ status as a QB guru was at its all time high.

2006 QB Depth Chart
Brady Quinn, Sr.
Evan Sharpley, Soph.
Zach Frazer, Fr.
Demetrius Jones, Fr.

No bigger fish in the pond than Jimmy Clausen. If you want a walk down memory lane, here you go:


2007 — And then it all went wrong. The bottom fell out for Weis, and the Irish went from back-to-back BCS runs to one of the worst teams in school history. Life after Brady Quinn was a veritable mess.

Zach Frazer, upon being named the No. 4 quarterback on the depth chart, decided to transfer. Jones went from opening weekend quarterback to not boarding the bus to Michigan. And just like that, Weis — just like Willingham had done — hit a hard reboot on the depth chart and handed the offense over to Clausen.

2007 QB Depth Chart
Demetrius Jones, So.
Evan Sharpley, Jr.
Jimmy Clausen, Fr.
Zach Frazer, So.

It still felt like reload, not rebuild for Weis, with the 2008 recruiting class ranked the No. 1 in the country by many publications.  That group was anchored by Dayne Crist, another five-star Southern California quarterback.

2008 — Just like Brady Quinn, Clausen improved in his sophomore season, but not enough to keep the Irish from struggling. A hot start ended with a screeching halt, and an ugly November was capped off with a brutal performance against USC.

2008 QB Depth Chart
Jimmy Clausen, So.
Evan Sharpley, Sr.
Dayne Crist, Fr.

If you’re looking for an example of questionable roster management, Notre Dame didn’t sign a quarterback in 2009, but did end up signing three specialists, long-snapper Jordan Cowart, punter Ben Turk and kicker Nick Tausch. That’s probably a product of seeing Clausen and Crist as the present and future, but it put the Irish in a precarious situation, especially if Clausen was intent on leaving after three seasons.

2009 — Even though the offense continued to be prolific, the defense couldn’t stop teams and the Irish kept losing. Another November swoon and a string of close losses cost Charlie Weis his job. With Weis gone, Clausen followed. So did Golden Tate, the Biletnikoff Winner. Neither went in the first round.

2009 QB Depth Chart
Jimmy Clausen, Jr.
Dayne Crist, Soph.
Evan Sharpley, Sr.*
Nate Montana, Jr. (Played at Pasadena Junior College)

When Kelly took over the roster, the first thing he noticed was a quarterback position that had Dayne Crist down for the season with a torn ACL, a graduated fifth-year senior and a walk-on son of a Notre Dame legend. You can’t blame him for knowing he needed to go out and get some bodies.

Kelly inherited Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, but was seeking out a third quarterback. That he signed Luke Massa, a good athlete with college basketball options — and a teammate of touted left tackle prospect Matt James — made a ton of sense.

2010 — With Dayne Crist or bust at quarterback, Kelly had a first year starter with a five-star pedigree playing in a new system. He also had little safety net, with three freshmen breaking in and Nate Montana back from getting just limited reps in Juco football.

2010 QB Depth Chart
Dayne Crist, Jr.
Tommy Rees, Fr.
Nate Montana, Jr.
Luke Massa, Fr.

Crist’s knee injury ended up being the perfect storm. But Rees weathered it, almost amazingly leading the Irish to a late season winning streak after looking like a team that might not even qualify for a bowl game.


We all know what happened after that, but it’s worth recapping. Rees and Crist battled heading into the 2011 season, with Crist laying an egg in the first half against USF and throwing the depth chart into chaos. To Crist’s credit, he stuck things out, and while Rees turned the ball over too much, the Irish offense was plenty explosive.

But Kelly continued to bring in quarterbacks, finding Everett Golson even after a three-man class and Gunner Kiel after that. That both weren’t on the roster last season gives you an idea of the twists and turns of recruiting college quarterbacks, but it should also give you some appreciation for the quarterback that could withstand it all.


GP-GS Effic. Cmp-Att-Int Pct. Yards TD Long Avg/G
Tommy Rees 13-13 135.4 224-414-13 54.1 3,257 27 82 250.5
Andrew Hendrix 8-0 27.9 2-14-0 14.3 56 0 47 7



Bronze: Rees vs. Michigan State.

Don’t laugh. The numbers stink, a 41 percent completion percentage and just 142 yards and 14 of 34 passing. But Rees kept throwing it down field, and kept it out of the Spartans’ hands. That ended up being rather tough last season and the victory over Michigan State might be one of the more underrated performances and game plans that Brian Kelly has put together.

Silver: Rees vs. USC 

It was shaping up to be quite a day for Rees, who had struggled at times against the Trojans. But while a massive hit took him from the game, Rees was able to complete 14 of 21 passes for 166 and two touchdowns. He moved the Irish at tempo, connected on red zone opportunities and was just about in a position to put up some numbers when he wrenched his neck and the Andrew Hendrix experience went south.

Gold: Rees vs. Air Force

Any time you complete five touchdown passes and roll a team by 35 points you’ve done a nice job. Rees’ QBR was a ridiculous 260.7 as he went 17 for 22 for 284 yards.


Downfield passing. You’d have won some money if you had Tommy Rees playing the “big play passing threat” this year. His improvement throwing the ball downfield was significant.


Accuracy. Completing just 54.1 percent of throws was a bit disappointing, especially considering that Rees went into the season as the school’s most accurate passer.


Golson. Lots of Golson.

  1. dmac4real - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:43 PM

    The Crystal Ball was very well done.

    Concise, but meaningful, truthful, and honestly gave me a laugh.

    • irishfan4life - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:35 AM

      Me too, but it’d be a smart move to get Malik Zaire some reps in games already in hand and maybe some situational packages too.

      • ndfaithful - Jan 25, 2014 at 12:09 PM

        Here’s to getting some “games in hand”. I hope they’re coming…

  2. fnc111 - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    Oh dear god.

  3. viktory2013 - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    Senior Tommy Rees was exactly like Freshman Tommy Rees, in ability, accuracy, and physicality. He looked like a 14 year old paperboy and played like one too. The only reason he “stuck it out” for four years was because no other major program would have wanted him, much less started him. Rees knew he had miraculously backed into the starting job at a storied football team, and was his only chance to play football anywhere, period. (Unless you’re talking about some city college).

    His accuracy wasn’t a disappointment because it was always limited to 5 yards past the line. Big play passing threat?? Tommy Rees?? Find a DB outside of Air Force that was afraid of Rees or his arm. His passing ability, or lack of, was the reason defenses routinely packed the line and we could never “commit” to the run. Our offensive line was constantly trying to open holes against eight man fronts.

    And as far as big games were concrrned, his uncanny knack for folding up like a tent was legendary. (See Oklahoma, Michigan, Stanford) Even big wins like SC, ASU, and Michigan St. weren’t because of his performance, more in spite of it. How many times did we hear from broadcasters “That was another poor decision by Rees” throughout the season?? That he started for three years still boggles my mind. Spare me the propaganda about how lucky we were to have him for four years. This kid was like an itch you couldn’t scratch

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:21 AM

      You could say that….


      You could simply say

      “Hey Tommy, thanks for taking the mountain of public criticism that you took and still showing up every day, working hard, and giving us your best effort.”

      Sure, he’s not Peyton Manning. But…

      -He was playing the toughest single position in college football, Quarterback at Notre Dame.
      -He played on two occasion (1) when he was the best option and (2) when he was the only option.
      -He was demoted and still shut his mouth, worked hard, and contributed to the evolution of Golson
      and lastly…
      -He got a football scholarship to Notre Dame….which is more than I can say for 99.9999% of the dipshits that throw him under the bus.

  4. mtflsmitty - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:28 AM

    I usually enjoy the writing here,Mathis article was particularly well done. Thanks, Keith, for the effort. Great read.

    • mtflsmitty - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:29 AM

      “But this”

  5. steincj36 - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:29 AM

    Really? Chuck Martin is giddy to have AH at Miami OH. If he could have TR, you don’t think he would take him? If every FBS team out there needed a QB tomorrow, and Tommy had a year left, they’d he’d get calls from at least half of the schools out there.

    He may not have been a NC caliber QB, and he may have made some pretty poor decisions, but there were a ton of things he did right.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:32 AM

      well said

      • irishpuma - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:53 PM

        absolutely ridiculous

  6. kcoral - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:33 AM

    Weis guided two of the best QB’s to ever play at ND. Keith, naturally, minimizes this. He never fails to throw CW under-the-bus. Old news there. The real story is that BK and staff never got Tommy to really improve. Guarantee that CW would have gotten more outta Tommy but c’est la vie. Onward to Golson…

    • nicenirish - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:05 AM

      I’m sure it was all about the schematic advantage.

      Weis also had one of the best offensive triple threats to ever play at ND. Rudolph, Floyd and Tate were absolute beasts. All Claussen did was throw 50 yard ducks to those guys and they went and got them.

      • dickasman - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:34 AM

        Yeah otherwise knows as good coachin.

      • chaunce922 - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:22 AM

        Yea, good post.

        As much as i liked Clausen, he had it easy. Tate had friggin hulk like hand strength and floyd caught damn near everything he could reach, not to mention Rudolph being the safety blanket over the middle.

        He got exposed when he went to the NFL and was asked to be “The Guy” and throwing downward half spiral ducks because of his small hands and weird motion finally caught up to him.

      • ndfaithful - Jan 25, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        Don’t forget the amazing Jeff Smarjgjghgha

  7. yaketyyacc - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:28 AM

    rees is gone. hopefully, Kelly will make the right choice this time, but old habits are hard to change. ask George Armstrong custer.

  8. keelio19 - Jan 23, 2014 at 8:18 AM

    The constant battering of Tommy is about as annoying as the praise for him. Yes he couldn’t run, had a weak arm, changed plays when they probably shouldn’t have been changed, but if I had my choice between TR and AH and that was the only choice BK had, then I would have went with TR as well. Everyone’s crackin on BK for not developing TR as a better QB, but TR is not BK’s kind of QB. So how if you’re a spread offense kind of coach where you need some mobility and arm strength in your QB, is BK to develope TR who has neither of those traits? It’s like trying to get dickboy to post something informative instead of his lame attempt at humor, or for FNC to be a consistent troll or fan of ND, it’s just not going to happen.

    Every year it was something new for BK at the QB position, there was never any consistency. As Keith wrote, his first year he had Dayne who as we all know from watching was just not getting it at the QB position and I don’t think it had anything to do with Kelly or the offense, (I.E See Crist at Kansas)he just never could “GET” the position plus the knee injuries. So Tommy came in as the only other option at the end of 2010. 2011 was about as bad as a season we could have imagined, everything bounced the opposite way for us, Tommy was throwin lame ducks up to the defense, balls bouncing off of players heads and into the arms of the defenders. Even if we had Golson in that season it would have probably been worse as BK saw redshirting EG the best option on. So 2012 rolls around, BK has his QB, most of the type of players he needs at the skill positions and they go 12-1. Then Kiel transferred, EG suspended and were back to TR again while AH drastically digressed. Now he’s going to have EG back again, I mean give BK a chance here guys, nobody wants to use this as the excuse for this past season, but show me any major program out there that would go 9-4 with our schedule with a 3rd string QB (1.EG 2.Kiel 3. TR) and the overwhelming amount of injuries. BK did a heckuva job with having to transition his offense back to TR abilities and limitations. To me this season starts BK’s true Era, if we’re still squeaking by with only 20 points a game by the time Zaire sees the field than yeah there may have been something missed with the hiring of BK, but so far he’s done what most coaches couldn’t have done and that’s win with inconsistency at the QB position.

    • ndoneill - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      And keep in mind that that *awful* 2011 campaign still resulted in 8 wins. Better than Weis’s awful 2007 campaign.

      While I don’t agree with everything Kelly does, the one thing he has brought is consistency. If the team is weak at QB or buffeted by a convergence of awful circumstances like injuries and suspensions, they still manage 8-9 wins. Whereas Weis’s bad years yielded 3, 6, and 7 wins.

      Kelly has turned 8-9 wins into a *bad* season, which is more than can be said for his predecessors and is something, I think, we take for granted. I was an undergrad from 2006-2010. I know what a bad football team looks like. Kelly has done a good job re-setting the standards for success, and that’s revealed in the way we hate on a 9-win tam.

    • ndnapa - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:51 PM

      Excellent post, keelio19. My only problem with Kelly’s handling of the QBs since he got here is redshirting Zaire last year when he needed live reps for his role this year, and because he could have made a difference in some of the losses. Aside from that, I love what Kelly has done.

      • mediocrebob - Jan 23, 2014 at 11:07 PM

        I think Zaire’s issue with mono set him back far enough for BK to throw the redshirt on him, or whatever ND calls it. Would’ve been nice to see him, but at the same time it could be a blessing in disguise in a few years. There are a lot of reasons to be excited for the future.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:16 PM

      who is this keelio fella and where has he been all this time? he talks about football, makes cogent points and all without insulting others or other childish nonsense. whew! a breath of fresh air.

  9. don74 - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Perhaps this is the last featured article about Tommy Rees, that is until a “where are they now?” thing. With that the Tommy Rees era is officially over.

    Signing day is around the corner.

  10. domerboyirish - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    Why Keith? Why?! Why did you have to drum up past?! Like or dislike TR, it’s over. It’s finished. I’ve moved on and I am looking forward to next year.

  11. 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 23, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    this comment is not intended to reignite a debate about TR/BK, what could have/should have been or who should be blamed or credited for anything.

    this comment is to note the following and offer my own sort of eulogy for his career at ND:

    for a kid who never exhibited attitude issues or has ever been reported to be trouble in the locker room and for a kid whose work ethic and dedication was never once questioned, TR has taken an awful lot of crap in his time at ND. more than he has deserved, in my humble opinion.

    he can’t throw the deep ball, evade a blitz or stretch a defense. this much is true. but does anyone think he wouldn’t have improved his arm strength and foot speed if he could? does anyone think he embraced these limitations without a fight? yet, for the last 2+ years the vitriole has rained down on this kid as if he was expected to fall on his sword and step aside for the good of the team so that AH or MZ could take over. for the amount of grief TR has gotten, you’d think he was a head case, a locker room cancer, a lazy batch of unrealized potential. but he’s not any of these things. he’s a kid who by all accounts showed up, worked hard, couldn’t outrun SBPD but did what he could and did it all at a time where he was the only viable option. and yet, no starter or back-up that I can remember, not steve buerlein, kent graham, ron powlus, arnez battle, matt lovecchio or any other qb that accomplished notably less with notably more raw talent than TR had the same blame heaped on them.

    so now that the TR age is over, so should the blame game be over. let it go.

    • mediocrebob - Jan 23, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      Couldn’t agree more. I think the problem a lot of fans have with TR is that he had success his freshman year when they went on their run at the end of the season and people didn’t see a drastico improvement over the next few years. I think the kid gave it his best shot, and that it was clearly BKs best option to win. And he did win quite a bit. He easily could’ve folded up when Golson was named starter last season, and that would’ve made this past season a complete disaster.

      Time to move on IMO. Time to get excited for what EG could possibly be to this offense.

  12. windycityirish - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    This is quite the walk down memory lane, not gonna lie, during that Clausen press conference in ’06, I was screaming at the top of my lungs:

    “We got Clausen! We’re gonna win the next 4 national championships!”


    But being the eternal optimist, I am extremely excited about the QB recruits BK keeps bringing in. Obviously Everett is our guy, but after that we have some good options with Malik, DeShone and now Blake Barnett.

    I have said some pretty mean things about Tommy Rees, but he is absolute class and doesn’t deserve that kind of mistreatment from Irish fans. Look forward to seeing him as Coach Tommy Rees.

  13. danirish - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:40 PM

    Yay for Tommy Rees! He did his best and di all he could do. Now….

    ….he is gone – with a degree from the University of Notre Dame!

    Remember in the early 80’s when ND had TWO qb’s leading their team to Super Bowl victories?

    Next man in – I don’t care if it is Golson, Zaire, Kizer, nudeman, paulhargis53, fnc or me – I want an awesome offense that gives d-cors fits! ONe that scores points. I want the condundrum at the end of the year to be who to give the Heisman – Bryant or Folston!

    All I want is for the Irish to WIN BABY WIN!


    • danirish - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:52 PM

      Two thumbs down, really?

  14. domerboyirish - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Th Bleacher Report just came out with a revised Mock Draft prior to the Senior Bowl based on this week of practice. Zack Martin has now moved up to….I don’t know. He’s still not in the first round.

  15. oldschoollyons - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    Thanks for the analysis, Keith. It is unlikely to open any eyes because lots of “fans” have an investment in not seeing what went on at QB over the past four years. But it’s good that you set out how Tommy Rees saved ND’s bacon year after year.

    It seems almost overlooked that Tommy improved his arm strength before this season and was stronger on his long throws. In about the first ten seconds of the season, he hit Daniels twice on perfect long throws for TDs. His arm was stronger throughout the season.

    Tommy was a brave warrior who accomplished at lot in his career at ND — certainly compared to almost all of the sorry lot who preceded him over the years you analyzed.

    For several years, Kelly has tried to blame Tommy for Kelly’s own shortcomings (although he did seem to appreciate Rees as the season progressed). Now Kelly will have no more quarterback excuses. Let’s see what he can do. And let’s see whether Kelly can disprove the old adage that quarterbacking is as much above the neck as below.

  16. 1historian - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    Tommy – thanks for your 4 years. Your efforts are appreciated here and they always will be.

    Good luck wherever your N.D. Degree takes you.

  17. NotreDan - Jan 23, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    2 things…

    Why is this article singular (Last Look Back: Quarterback) and the other one plural (Last Look Back: Running Backs)? We had more than one quarterback, right? May be some Freudian Homerism?

    IMO, we had to use Tommy because of bad luck, pure and simple. He was the best option, but never good enough. End of story. Let’s talk about next year.

  18. ndfenian - Jan 23, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    We all knew Rees’ limitations, but why the hell does everyone continue to blame Rees for the entire season while giving Kelly the pass for having a terrible running game? I’m so sick of hearing “well they had 8 men in the box all the time”. First of all, that is a heavy exaggeration. Most of the time, we were NOT facing 8 men in the box. And I don’t consider four down linemen and three linebackers to be “stacking the box”. Is it impossible to run against 7 defenders near the line of scrimmage? Don’t tell that to Stanford or Alabama, or any good running team! Is it impossible to run against 8 defenders near the line of scrimmage? Go back and watch the 92′ sugar bowl with Bettis, Culver, and Brooks pounding away at Florida’s defense. Go back and watch more of those Holtz-era reels if you think it is hard to run against a stacked box. Because guess what? The defense is always going to creep up in short yardage situations and in the red zone, and this program has never been able to run the ball in the red zone. That is why we suck in the red-zone.

    And if Kelly KNEW he would be facing defenses geared to stop the run, why not have a lead-blocker or two backs? Those are novel ideas! If you all think that just because Golson is returning, we will automatically become a dominant red zone offense, you’re kidding yourselves. You still have to impose your will, and we don’t have that identity yet!

    • ndfenian - Jan 23, 2014 at 7:15 PM

      and then when you’re done looking at those old highlight reels, try to come up with a year in which the Irish were truly elite WITHOUT a dominant running game.. you won’t find it..

    • viktory2013 - Jan 24, 2014 at 6:04 AM

      Yeah but our offensive line was so so this year. No way they could dominate or impose their will on anyone.

      • ndfenian - Jan 24, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        That’s what I mean. That was a big part of the problem, but nobody wants to admit it. I expect MUCH better things from this group next year, especially with that very talented freshmen class getting another year under their belts.

  19. irishpuma - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    At least Tommy stunk up the Senior game so we won’t have to endure another article about how Tommy may have just played his way onto an NFL roster!!!

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