Tommy Rees

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Brian Kelly talks to Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium on December 28, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Sources: Rees headed back to Notre Dame as coach

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Tommy Rees is set to return to Notre Dame. Multiple sources tell Inside the Irish that Rees is poised to join Brian Kelly’s rebuilt coaching staff. He will work with the quarterbacks, though his formal role is still being finalized.

After working as an offensive assistant under Mike McCoy with the San Diego Chargers this year and beginning his coaching career with Pat Fitzgerald as a graduate assistant at Northwestern, Rees, Kelly’s longest-tenured starting quarterback, will now be asked to coach the very same position, tutoring Brandon Wimbush and a depth chart with zero starting experience.

Reached for comment by the South Bend Tribune, Rees denied having any contact with Notre Dame about a potential job. His status with the Chargers is still uncertain, with McCoy being fired shortly after the conclusion of San Diego’s season on Sunday.

A representative for the Irish football program denied any move was imminent, reiterating that no formal interview has taken place. But even if Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick haven’t had a sit down with Rees, no official meeting is needed for either to know what they have in Rees—a young coach quickly climbing the professional ladder who knows Kelly’s offense as well as anybody.

While Rees has yet to serve as a full-time assistant at the college level, he could be a nice presence recruiting during the closing stretch, having played for Notre Dame’s embattled head coach and capable of selling the offense, as well as the program, built by the eighth-year head coach. That adds some urgency to the process, though a numbers crunch may necessitate Rees joining the program in an analyst role, then moving into a full-time role after the dust settles—or the NCAA expands to ten full-time assistants—legislation that’s expected to pass this spring.

Returning from the holiday break and with the NCAA’s recruiting dead period set to end next week, Kelly’s staff is still a bit of a mystery. Mike Elko’s been announced as the new defensive coordinator and Brian Polian will return to coordinate special teams. Memphis’ Chip Long has reportedly accepted the offensive coordinator job, though no official comment has come from South Bend.

The status of defensive line coach Keith Gilmore and analyst Jeff Quinn is still up in the air. Interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson’s role is unknown as well. Rees’s spot, especially if Kelly plans to hire a wide receivers coach to replace Mike Denbrock, as is expected, may not be technically open without some flexibility from all parties.  A source also indicates a strength coach hire is just around the corner.

As a player, Rees was a three-star recruit who enrolled early in South Bend after committing to Charlie Weis. One of three quarterbacks that Kelly signed in his first recruiting class, Rees ended up playing in 46 games over four seasons, starting 31 times. He is Notre Dame’s career leader for completion percentage and is one of just four passers to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a single-season for the Irish, joined by Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Everett Golson.

Tommy Rees to begin coaching career at Northwestern

Rees USC
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Tommy Rees will begin his coaching career close to where his football career began. Rees, who played in all four of his seasons at Notre Dame from 2010-13, will be an offensive graduate assistant at Northwestern.

Multiple media sources are reporting the news, including Football Scoop and SI.com. A source close to Rees also confirmed the news, with Rees set to begin work in January.

Before coming to Notre Dame, Rees played high school football in Lake Forest, just 30 miles north of the Northwestern campus. He’ll work under Wildcats offensive coordinator Mick McCall and head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Rees’ father, an accomplished football coach and executive who spent time with UCLA and the Chicago Bears among his many stops, also spent time at Northwestern. There were rumors that Rees was also considering a GA opportunity at UCLA, where his brother also played football.

Brian Kelly left the door open after Rees’ graduation of the cerebral quarterback’s return to campus as a GA. Rees will instead start his coaching career at Northwestern.

 

Rees discussing the the challenge from Mattison’s defense

Everett Golson
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No coach taking part in Saturday’s game understands the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry better than Greg Mattison. The Wolverines’ defensive coordinators, one of the highest-paid assistants in college football, has been on both sides of the game, spending eight years in South Bend before eventually returning to Michigan to join his friend Brady Hoke.

Every year, Mattison has brought something different against Notre Dame. And with the chess match likely continuing Saturday night against Brian Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Everett Golson, Kelly understands that the Irish need to be ready for anything.

“There is a bit of unpredictability with Greg. I think he keeps you off balance,” Kelly said. “I think you have to be prepared for, in certain situations, you’re going to see a little bit of everything from loaded bear fronts to exotic pressures.

“So I think you’re spending time in making sure that you have answers to a lot of different pressure situations. He makes you stay up late wondering about where those pressures may come from.”

No stranger to those late nights is former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees.

The former Irish quarterback is now ready for life after quarterbacking, getting set to embark on a coaching career that’ll likely start this January as a Graduate Assistant. Set to be back on campus for an experience that’ll likely be “very weird,” Rees was kind enough to spend some time talking Xs and Os before the big game.

“I don’t want to give away too much stuff,” Rees told me, seconds after describing a defensive look that featured terminology like “seven up,” “three down,” and “double overhangs.”

So while many of the particulars about the game inside the game were off the record (Rees still sounds like a coach, even though that journey won’t start for a few months), he was able to help clarify what it was that makes Mattison so difficult to deal with.

“It’s deception,” Rees explained. “He has a mantra of being a pressure guy and when he shows you a pressure look, it can be even on each side and you can’t really tell where it’s coming from.

“He is really good on situations and where to pressure, where to show it. I remember watching his old Ravens tape from when he was there. I couldn’t tell where any of this stuff was coming from at all.

“But then as the week went on we slowly got it, but it was tough. The second and third year we really understood it and we had a couple wrinkles in that worked out… For me personally, I always loved going into that game because it was a chance for me to really have a chess match with the defensive coordinator.”

That chess match didn’t always end up going Notre Dame’s way. But that accumulated knowledge, and play calls and downs that still seem burned to memory are now Golson’s responsibility.

It’s worth noting that Notre Dame didn’t struggle to move the ball against the Wolverines. In their two losses, Rees threw for over 300 yards in both, with the Irish offense averaging roughly 460 yards in the two defeats. But the ability for Mattison to bring a new look in a critical moment, and to cause game-changing turnovers put the Irish in circumstances not conducive to winning.

Golson’s first matchup with Mattison was a one-sided defeat. Pulled in the second quarter, the young quarterback showed a rare time where he didn’t seem up for the moment. That fact has been lost in the glowing memories from that magical season, but Golson likely played the worst game of his football career that evening.

He threw an interception on his first attempt of the game, burying the Irish deep in their own territory. And he finished 3 of 8 for 30 yards and two interceptions, with a mind-boggling end zone interception getting him the hook.

“I’ve been there,” Rees said.

But Golson is a different quarterback than the young player he was in 2012. And armed with a solid running game and some explosive receiving threats, Saturday night will be the biggest mental challenge Golson’s faced as the leader of the Irish offense.

“Handling the different looks you’re going to get,” Rees explained. “A lot of those looks come in critical situations, whether it be a 3rd down or down in the red zone. Handling those and handling the pressure and the exotic (looks) that he’s going to give you.”

It’s hard to gather too much from one game against an opponent like Rice. But Rees saw an improved quarterback on Saturday. While most point to the highlight reel plays that produced five touchdowns, Rees focused on some of the other facets of his game that looked significantly cleaner.

“I think he was way more polished on the throws that are in the rhythm of the offense,” Rees said. “He threw a good skinny post to Corey and he was on rhythm and on time. You can tell that he’s much more comfortable and that he knows the offense, knows the defense and that he was able to make those completions.”

Golson’s going to need to be. Because even with a Michigan defense battling injuries at multiple positions, the senior quarterback is going to need to expect the unexpected from Mattison.

“He’ll have something in for Notre Dame. He has something that they’ve been working on that they didn’t show,” Rees said. “I promise you they have a look that they didn’t show App State that they’ll have ready for Notre Dame. When that comes, handling that, learning that and adjusting to that will be key.”

Shembo, Jackson and Jones selected on Day Three of NFL Draft

Prince Shembo
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Prince Shembo, Bennett Jackson and TJ Jones were all selected on the third day of the NFL Draft, making that eight former Notre Dame players selected in the 2014 draft. That’s the highest total in 20 years, when Lou Holtz’s squad produced 10 selections. Notre Dame’s eight selections were second to only LSU and matched Alabama’s.

Shembo was the first player to come off the board on the draft’s third day, selected in the fourth round with the 139th pick by the Atlanta Falcons. While Shembo spent much of the offseason circuit showcasing his versatility, the Falcons hope he can go back to what put him on the map originally at Notre Dame, rushing the passer.

In what might be a bit of a surprise, Jackson came off the board next. Selected in the sixth round with the 187th overall pick, the New York Giants took a shot on the Irish captain, who had a subpar senior season but still impressed the Giants with both his tangible and intangible traits.

“We think he’s on the come, he has some intangibles that we like, height, weight speed, we think we can hit on a guy like this who comes in,” Giants GM Jerry Reese said. “He’s the guy who’s a leader, can play on all your special teams while he’s still developing into a corner.”

Jackson is heading home, growing up in nearby Hazlet, New Jersey. Interestingly, former Notre Dame personnel man Tim McDonnell is now with the Giants as a scout, so he likely had some input in Jackson’s scouting report.

Last off the board for the Irish was wide receiver and team captain TJ Jones. Selected by the Lions just two picks after Jackson, Jones will join Golden Tate in Detroit’s receiving corps, with an eye on the third receiver job behind All-Pro Calvin Johnson.

“Very impressed by him,” Lions GM Martin Mayhew said about Jones. “Clutch guy. Play maker for (Notre Dame). Converted a lot of third downs and he was a guy they went to in the red area. I like him as a slot guy, running inside getting separation. I thought he had really good hands and really crisp routes.”

Jones probably stayed on the draft board longer than most expected, but is heading to a place that could be very good for him. He’ll have a familiar friend at the position in Tate and will have the opportunity to compete, all you can ask for as a sixth round pick.

The rest of Notre Dame’s draft-eligible prospects signed free agent contracts. George Atkinson signed with the Oakland Raiders, the team where his father played and currently works on the radio broadcast team. Carlo Calabrese signed with the Cleveland Browns. Dan Fox heads to New York, joining Jackson with the Giants. Tommy Rees signed with the Washington Redskins and Kona Schwenke signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Last look back: Quarterback

Rees USC
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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 Rivals.com.

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:

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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.

WHAT’S HAPPENED NEXT

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.

FINAL STATS

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

 

TOP THREE PERFORMANCES

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.

PLEASANT SURPRISE

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.

MILD DISAPPOINTMENT

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.

CRYSTAL BALL

Golson. Lots of Golson.