The return of Tommy – er, Tom – Rees to Notre Dame as a member of Brian Kelly’s staff should not have surprised anyone, really. Kelly himself predicted it in no uncertain terms more than three years ago.
The second question following Notre Dame’s 2013 victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl asked Kelly, “Specifically, what was your message to Tommy after the game?”
Kelly insisted he had not spoken individually with the outgoing senior, only to the team as a whole. With that clarification, he continued.
“He’ll keep trying to play the game as long as he can,” Kelly said. “He’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime.”
Technically speaking, Rees is indeed a graduate assistant, for now. Come April, the NCAA and its Football Oversight Committee are expected to allow staffs to enlarge to 10 assistant coaches. At that point, Rees’s title as quarterbacks coach will make more sense. (The difference lies largely in recruiting. GAs cannot recruit. Assistant coaches can.)
With either title, Rees’s primary challenge will be mentoring rising junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush as he prepares to take over the Irish offense. Rees never had that level of expectation necessarily heaped upon him, but he will still understand it thanks to his varied experiences as Notre Dame’s quarterback. His former teammates saw him accept the challenges of starting, of coming off the bench and of being a second-stringer.
“He did everything you could have done as a Notre Dame quarterback and always managed to excel,” said Rees’s former teammate and offensive lineman Mike Golic, Jr. “If you have a young group of guys, I would say injecting a little shot of Tommy Rees in there is the medicine.”
In addition to understanding the innate stressors of being the Irish quarterback, Rees also understands the ones that come with running Kelly’s offense under his watchful eye. Golic often had the privilege of trying to focus on his offensive line work in practice while Kelly and Rees debated the previous rep’s read only yards behind Golic.
“Tommy wasn’t a guy who was going to back down if he thought he was right. Both of them could certainly have that heated conversation and then come back and understand that is just part of the working environment there.
“…Tommy can prepare these guys for all that. He’s going to say, ‘Listen, this is what you expect out of coach Kelly. This is where you have to understand what he’s trying to tell you, what he’s trying to get to you.’ Tommy can sort of be a translator like that.
Golic was not alone in lauding his former quarterback’s return to Notre Dame as quarterbacks coach.
Former teammates’ approval may not be the strictest of tests, but it is one a good number would fail. If nothing else, it is a positive indicator, though also a small one.
And yes, Golic insisted on referring to Rees as “Tommy,” ignoring the usage of “Tom” in Notre Dame’s press release.
“I get it in the sense of trying to make ‘Tom Rees’ happen as a very adult, respected coach,” Golic said. “But I’ll be damned if I ever call that kid ‘Tom Rees.’ He is ‘Tommy’ for me now and forever.”