This is a fool’s errand. No matter how the current Notre Dame quarterbacks respond—publicly and/or privately—to their position coach, many Irish fans will criticize him. No matter what success those passers do or do not enjoy under Tom Rees’ tutelage, many posting their thoughts around these parts will bemoan his presence.
Acknowledging these facts at the outset accomplishes as much as those grumblings do: nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true. This upfront head shake does boost a word count monitored by no one. It also gives a callback to when Keith Arnold introduced his successor around these parts. That’s always fun, right? (“I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties – the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. – including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. [Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.]”)
With that meandering out of the way, let’s bring in how the Irish signalcallers feel about Rees. Following the completion of spring practice in the Blue-Gold Game, both rising junior and starter-if-healthy-in-116-days Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Ian Book credited some of their vernal development to Rees.
“The whole quarterback room, led obviously by coach Rees, [offensive coordinator Chip] Long and [Irish coach Brian] Kelly, all the quarterbacks have come a long way from day one to where we are now,” Wimbush said. “We’ll have to continue that through the summer.”
Rees’ influence may be felt even more by Book. Presumably, Wimbush gets a touch more in-ear tutelage from Long and Kelly during practices, taking the majority of the first-team snaps. Even if standing only a few yards behind the line of scrimmage, Book likely takes those moments to pick Rees’s brain, get his read on the play call, the coverage, etc.
As it pertains to off-field guidance in the film room and in the playbook, Book indicated Rees has been his go-to source material.
“He taught me so much,” Book said. “Meeting with him once a day and going through coverages and reads, learning from someone who has done it before, it’s helped me, and I really like the way he teaches. It has just helped me visualizing and then going out on the field and being able to see exactly what he is talking about.”
Even if under a different offensive coordinator than Rees’ time behind center at Notre Dame, the playbook has not changed dramatically. To hear Rees describe it halfway through spring practice, he recognized the broad strokes of the offense.
“The offense conceptually is still coach Kelly,” Rees said. “You still see a lot of the aspects there, but coach Long has brought a lot of his stuff to what we’re doing. We want to play fast. There are some details here and there that coach Long has done a great job of coaching up. It’s been a great blend to work with.”
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That familiarity is the reason Book turns to Rees.
“He’s done it,” Book said. “Not too long ago he was running this offense here. He can show you what the reads look like. He knows. He’s done it before. It’s the best information because he’s experienced.”
Rees may not have a long coaching résumé (he doesn’t) or a litany of successful quarterbacks in his wake (again, not so much). He has, though, apparently gained the ear of his current charges. That is not something to be overlooked or taken for granted.
For that matter, his counsel in more abstract aspects could prove just as pertinent. Like any workplace—we can have that NCAA debate another time, mid-July should be boring enough—intrapersonal relationships can make or break a season. Rees knows how to interpret some of those. His former teammate and former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic, Jr., saw Rees’ interactions with the coaching staff up close those seasons ago.
“Tommy can prepare those guys for all that,” Golic said following the official announcement of Rees’ hiring. “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, hat he’s trying to get to you.’ Tommy can sort of be a translator like that.”
If nothing else, that asset cannot hurt.
In fairness to the specific friend mentioned in that introductory column, in the excerpt quoted in italics above: He and I shared a few drinks during a weekend in April. He is much clearer in where he stands on Rees now. His musings included words like “appreciate” and “respect.”
I maintain this friend was not as decided three-to-five years ago, but that is what time is for, to help us all gain a better understanding of what is around us.
Oh, and yes, this space has dropped its insistence on referring to Rees as “Thomas Rees” on first reference. Perhaps it will appear here and there, but the time had come to acknowledge Rees’ preferred moniker, Tom. Then again, that may be foolish. Tom Rees could be mistaken for the English rugby flanker. He is, after all, who shows up in a Getty Image search if looking for that name. Moving forward, assume any references to Tom Rees around here are in regards to the former Notre Dame quarterback, not a rugby reference.