40 Thanksgivings and missings for Notre Dame fans

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If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies to more than matters of love. Missing something is simply another form of expressing gratitude for ever having had it. Notre Dame fans may hate USC, but they miss the Trojans this year. Ending the regular season at Wake Forest just doesn’t bring the same je ne sais quoi, all due respect to Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons. Irish fans now have to face the reality that they are thankful for USC, even if it cost Notre Dame possible national championship chances in 1970, 1974 and 1980.

My annual thanksgivings thus includes many items I am thankful for largely because I now miss them. It feels clunky to call them thanks-missings, but that describes the sentiment.

Some of these are more personal than usual because 2020 calls for it, the final two of these 40 are the most sincere, and without further ado …

— Worrying about a forced, superficial sellout streak was an unrecognized luxury. In hindsight, Notre Dame undoubtedly wishes it had stretched its streak of 273 sellouts past last year’s Navy game. Just two more weeks and the streak could have reached an uncontroversial, humble ending.

— Freshman running back Chris Tyree being allowed to make a mistake in the opener (a blown blitz pickup in the red zone) stands out in contrast to the treatment of Kyren Williams last season, when a dropped pass cut short his freshman year. Williams is diplomatic now — “I knew I was getting red-shirted, so I didn’t think it was anything to do with my ability or anything to do with the coaches not believing in me.” — but one can be forgiven for wondering what he might have produced last year given his explosion this season.

At least this time around, Tyree has been given the chance to take 59 carries for 334 yards despite his flawed debut.

— Rewatching the opening 27-13 win against Duke, just about everyone missed football games devoid of election ads.

— Notre Dame has handled COVID protocols in its press box with great and appreciated care, but removing the pregame platter of donuts robs the beat writers one of life’s simple pleasures: apple fritters. A rule in this life: Never bypass a quality apple fritter.

— Shutouts are always fun. The Irish notching their second in two seasons after going the first nine years of Brian Kelly’s tenure with just two shutouts should underscore a frequent mantra, “Don’t take Clark Lea for granted.” If Notre Dame is lucky enough for the third-year defensive coordinator to return for a fourth season, it will be a direct result of the pandemic reducing this offseason’s coaching carousel.

— Lea has instilled a “one of 11” mantra in his defense, a phrase offered by fifth-year end Daelin Hayes early in the season and senior tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa just this week when discussing how he handles facing double-teams, moments where Tagovailoa-Amosa’s responsibility is to absorb the blocks rather than try to shed them.

“There’s definitely a sense inside of me that that’s just the sacrifice you have to make,” he said, also noting he sees double-teams only a handful of times on Saturdays, compared to about half the snaps in practice. “We’re playing one of 11. I have to do my job, trust that my brothers have my back and they’re doing their own jobs. There’s really no frustration there to a point where I get that selfish feeling that I want to do more. Everyone wants to do more. Everybody wants to make a play. But when it comes to playing the game of football, you’re not going to make every play.”

— Well, you’re not going to make every play unless you are senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Lea has developed quite a talent, a player who has gone from recruiting afterthought/staged stunt to a certain first-round draft pick.

— Be grateful for Kyle Hamilton, Irish fans, despite his dropped pick-six at Boston College.
— And be grateful for one more year of the sophomore safety before he is a certain first-round draft pick.
— Take that previous sentence, apply it to freshman tight end Michael Mayer in two years, and for the sake of keeping expectations in check, let’s make it “early-round draft pick.”

— When Notre Dame returned from its outbreak-forced pause, head coach Brian Kelly gave the game ball to trainer Rob Hunt and team doctor Matt Leiszler for navigating the Irish through a period that saw nearly 40 positive coronavirus tests. Kelly should also have recognized contact tracers and COVID test takers. They made this football season, and so much else, possible in whatever fraught regard it has existed.

— Let’s all look forward to a day when we do not spend Monday-Friday worrying if Saturday is still on schedule. For that matter, after last weekend in Tallahassee, we have to worry about that just about until Saturday’s kickoff.

Liam Eichenberg’s swollen-shut left eye already feels like two seasons ago, but the fifth-year left tackle played through that fright just two months ago. While unable to see a significant portion of the field, he still had the wherewithal to stage direct Williams’ game-sealing run.

“When I was cutting back, the cutback to get the first down, I actually heard Liam scream, ‘Cut back,’” Williams said. “I feel like that’s a big play to talk about as a lineman.”

— To shed some light behind the curtain, the Florida State game provided yours truly a career-first. I could write the lede to the post-game column before kickoff. Quoting those first three paragraphs here would get tedious, but do know, getting 200 words into a post-game column after a primetime game a full 48 hours before kickoff is about as relaxed as football season can get.

— The only other comparable moment came last season against Bowling Green, when both the headline and the lede of the game wrap were written well before kickoff. “No. 9 Notre Dame breezes through Bowling Green defense as if it has seen it before” — “Notre Dame finally knows how it feels to go up against a Brian VanGorder defense.”

— In VanGorder’s defense, when Javon McKinley dropped a crossing route for a touchdown and thus kept the Irish below their expected team points total, he started a run for the Bowling Green defense in which it has held opponents below their respective team totals in six of the last 11 games. That marks quite the reversal for VanGorder, having given up more than that figure in 20 of the preceding 32 games.

Related: Ohio is expected to score at least 39 points this weekend.

— Channeling some long-useless Hemingway reading to not only work “bull rushes” into the headline of Notre Dame’s trouncing of South Florida but to also slip “mauling,” “flailing matador” and “Veronica maneuver” into the second paragraph, that was a needed release of creativity.
— The same could be said for working not-so-subtle current-events parallels into the Clemson wrap. “Extra time, review and crowds make for a very 2020 upset

— There would have been no creative juices on hand if not for a negative coronavirus test received that Saturday morning, the second in two days, both expedited after a vague exposure concern. Again, contact tracers and COVID test takers, kudos.

— Those creative juices would have needed to change tunes if not for the crucial contributions from embattled Irish veterans Avery Davis and Shaun Crawford. Though neither should be considered a template for other players, Davis with more position changes than can be counted and Crawford in his sixth season, veterans biding their time until a momentary opportunity is a foundational piece of a strong program.

Could Crawford return for a seventh year? He would not rule it out this week, though he also began his answer to the question with a few seconds of laughter.

— Rewatching the Clemson game, I was suddenly thankful for a broadcast devoid of political ads, ironically so.
— Seeing Kathryn Tappen on the sideline that evening reminded me how grateful I am for this season’s contributions from Caroline Pineda, at Tappen’s side at home games. It’s nice to have quality writing around here for once, isn’t it?

— Notre Dame is replacing two offensive line starters this weekend. It is shocking how little consternation there is over that, relatively speaking. That is a testament to the depth of talent the Irish have stockpiled there.

— It is certainly a coincidence that the Irish played in an Orlando bowl game in 2011, 2017 and 2019. Absolutely only a coincidence.

— That kind of tidbit would have surfaced to the top of a few articles in an offseason spent researching the nooks and crannies of college football. I missed studying the graduate transfers at Virginia Tech, the coaching style of Boston College’s new hire and the temperature of Derek Mason’s seat at Vanderbilt.
— Such research from all of college football media leads to a few unusual programs getting hype before the season, which in turn generates a broader excitement for kickoff. North Carolina, Indiana and BYU all missed out in this uncertain offseason.

— And such research and hype culminates, at least for me, in a 30-hour jaunt to Las Vegas, complete with 12 miles hiking up-and-down the Strip shopping, but not for clothes. Oh, the days of travel and crowded rooms and drinks.

— That trip ideally yielded a few moments of closing line value during the season.
— Closing line value has become the mantra shouted from the Moon Crew Discord mountaintops, to little success this season. But still, be thankful for closing line value. Just this coming weekend, it could mean fast-acting Notre Dame fans are pleased with a 35-31 Irish victory while the procrastinators lament the lack of one more score.

To that Discord and to any other place you have found community in these isolating times, thank you.
To those at PointsBet who have spurred some of this conversation at NBC, thank you.

— Those conversations used to be held only in bars on Friday nights before a road game when a stranger would start a conversation about the little black notebook next to my laptop.
— On the other side of my laptop would be a plate of bare chicken wing bones. Alright, I clearly miss Athens, Ga. In my defense, the wings were delicious, and that proverbial Claire was a great distraction for a couple of hours while Matt Fink looked like the next great USC quarterback, throwing for three touchdowns against Utah. It might be a poor reflection of how my mind works that I immediately tie that woman to a backup USC quarterback, huh?

— Anyway, I miss and am grateful for poorly-lit corners of dive bars.
— Open up again soon, MacKenzie’s.
— I also miss airport bars, where this column was always written late Wednesday night via cell phone hotspot. I have shared Sam Hinkie with far fewer strangers in 2020.

— I miss eating Thanksgiving dinner at a Los Angeles diner with a $22 prime rib and cheesecake special, followed by slipping a flask of aged rum into a movie theater as the first time all season I truly detach for three hours.

— But I am grateful for furloughs ending.
— And for those who read this far, those who don’t, those who offered needed kind words upon April’s shuttering, and those who expressed joy at September’s return.

Here’s to all’y’all.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Running backs, led by a familiar ‘three-headed monster’

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Notre Dame v South Carolina
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Notre Dame’s next offensive coordinator will not matter; whomever Irish head coach Marcus Freeman hires to replace Tommy Rees, he will lean on his running backs.

Notre Dame’s running backs room looks the same as it did a year ago, but oh so different. The order has been drastically reshuffled, though through no one’s failure, only youngsters’ successes.

Any new offensive coordinator will know he has three proven backs to lean on with an intriguing youngster joining a promising one slowly recovering from injury. Oh, and the No. 8 running back in the class of 2023.

They will once again be coached by Deland McCullough. Some further coaching turnover could occur yet this offseason, but McCullough looks secure at Notre Dame.

This space’s running depth chart — running as in ever-evolving, not as in running backs — still has Chris Tyree atop the running backs listing. In-season, the “ever-evolving” depth chart is not updated as much given the week’s prior game lingers in memory and informs more than anything else.

But even in the season opener, Tyree was not the Irish starter. Audric Estimé got that honor at Ohio State. His preseason was strong enough to vault Estimé to the top of the depth chart, a spot he should not relinquish until he heads to the NFL.

Fellow rising junior Logan Diggs also ended up with more carries than Tyree, creating the type of running-back depth needed to be a viable contender in modern college football.

Some Notre Dame fans insist Tyree is a failure. A former four-star running back who has never taken over a season, they argue. But that overlooks a few realities:

First of all, Tyree backed up an All-American for two years. Complementing Kyren Williams’ all-around game with a speed element was vital for the Irish to make the Playoff in 2020 and threaten it in 2021.

Secondly, if the floor of every four-star recruit is to become a four-year contributor with 13-and-counting touchdowns, recruiting would be far easier. Many “can’t miss prospects” fall quite short of that.

Lastly, Tyree’s kickoff return touchdown against Wisconsin in 2021 is now overlooked because of Graham Mertz’s subsequent fourth-quarter meltdown, but if Tyree had not given Notre Dame that lead — flipping a 13-10 deficit to a 17-13 lead — then Mertz never would have needed to get so desperate. There is a very real chance the Irish do not come within a yard of the 2021 Playoff if Tyree does not break that 96-yard kickoff return touchdown.

All of which is to say, Estimé and Diggs leapfrogged Tyree because of their strengths and improvements, not because of any of Tyree’s supposed struggles.

2022 STATS
Estimé: 13 games; 156 carries for 920 yards, a 5.9 yards per rush average, with 11 touchdowns. 9 catches for 135 yards and another score.
Diggs: 12 games; 165 carries for 921 yards, a 5.0 yards per rush average, with four touchdowns. 10 catches for 211 yards and two more scores.
Tyree: 13 games; 100 carries for 444 yards, a 4.4 yards per rush average, with three touchdowns. 24 catches for 138 yards and two more scores.

Of particular note looking at those three running backs, they combined for only 50 yards lost on their 421 carries last season. In the throttling upset of No. 5 Clemson to start November, just two of Notre Dame’s 45 rushes were stopped behind the line of scrimmage.

More notably, the three Irish backs carried the ball 32 times in the Gator Bowl win against No. 19 South Carolina for 205 yards. None of those rushes lost yardage.

After Diggs found full health (an April shoulder injury slowed him into the season) and Notre Dame fully committed to the running backs after quarterback Tyler Buchner was lost for 10 games, the trio averaged 230.5 yards from scrimmage each week.

Make no mistake, the Irish running backs were as disappointed as anyone when Rees left for Alabama last week. They knew, without a doubt, his offense would feature them. After all, Rees has said he wishes he had grown up as an offensive guard rather than a quarterback if he could choose body type.

They also understood Rees’s decision.

Nonetheless, the trio knows it will be a key piece of Notre Dame’s offense in 2023 for two reasons. One, they are that proven. Two, with Sam Hartman at quarterback, the Irish offense should be more prolific for a change. More snaps and more scoring opportunities will benefit all the skill position players.

The proven “three-headed monster,” as Freeman described them in the 2022 season, should not need to show too much this spring. Estimé needs to hold onto the ball, Diggs needs to find a bit more comfort running between the tackles, and Tyree may spend even more time split wide as a slot receiver, something that was not needed significantly last season because that was often where Michael Mayer aligned.

But those improvements will be on the edges. The three are already known. They will be the most reliable collective piece of Notre Dame’s offense.

The change this spring will be from freshman Gi’Bran Payne. He was the rare delayed signee, de-commiting from Indiana after McCullough left the Hoosiers for South Bend and then eventually following McCullough, committing in mid-April.

Without a spring to impress and behind three stout running backs, Payne never had a viable chance to contribute in 2022. That could change this spring, particularly since classmate Jadarian Price will still be recovering from an Achilles injury, something that usually takes a full year. Price may end up a midseason option, but until then, Payne is Notre Dame’s No. 4 running back, and an injury to any of the leading trio would push No. 4 into a Saturday role.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame adds former four-star Indiana signee, RB Gi’Bran Payne, to incoming freshman class
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit

He may not factor in this season — again, the Irish have three proven and reliable, and largely durable, running backs — but consensus four-star Jeremiyah Love will almost assuredly draw some notice in the preseason.

At every step of his decade at Notre Dame, Tommy Rees provided stability otherwise lacking

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Rutgers v Notre Dame
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He was a three-star quarterback coming from a Chicago suburb with scholarship offers from only two other Power-Five programs. The head coach who recruited him had been fired.

And then Notre Dame needed the freshman quarterback to start against a top-15 team and try to redeem a sub-.500 season. Tommy Rees threw three touchdown passes to upset No. 15 Utah. He completed 13-of-20 passes to avoid any distinct mistakes, an immediate 180-degree turn from how the previous week ended with Rees filling in as an injury replacement. The Irish did not want to lean on him too much, hence only 129 passing yards, but he delivered.

“Everything in our game plan was you’ve got to run the football, we’ve got to be high-percentage in our throws and not put Tommy in too many positions where we could turn the ball over,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in November 2010. “I wasn’t going to put this game on Tommy Rees.”

Kelly would, in time, put many games on Tommy Rees. At the outset, though, he continued to rely on the Irish ground game to rattle off a four-game win streak and turn a 4-5 debut season into an 8-5 finish with resounding momentum. Notre Dame ran the ball 144 times in those four games compared to 106 pass dropbacks (sacks adjusted).

RELATED READING: 30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated

Most memorably, the game-winning drive at USC featured five rushes and only two passes, taking a lead with just two minutes left to snag the first Irish win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 2000.

Kelly turned back to Danye Crist to start the 2011 season and quickly flipped to Rees after only a half. In 2012, Kelly called on Rees in the most critical of moments to steady freshman quarterback Everett Golson. Then when Golson was suspended for the 2013 season, Rees was again thrown into the chaos and dragged Notre Dame to a respectable season rather than one lost in all sorts of ways.

At every step of his playing career, Rees provided the Irish stability when it was otherwise absent. He would do that again these past six years as an assistant coach.

First, he showed up expecting to be the 10th assistant coach only for the NCAA to delay that implementation, forcing Rees to become a graduate assistant, both adding coursework to his workload and removing his ability to coach the Irish quarterbacks in practices.

Then he threaded the delicate needle of a midseason quarterback change in 2018 even though Notre Dame had not lost a game. Keeping both Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book engaged with the team and moving forward propelled the Irish to the College Football Playoff, a direct counter to the quarterback debacle that torpedoed the 2016 season. Doing that while under an abrasive offensive coordinator who has continued to burn his way out of subsequent coaching jobs makes the player relations that much more impressive.

When Chip Long was fired following the 2019 season, Rees took over the offense for a resounding — and decently unexpected — throttling of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl.

Obviously, 2020 brought instability to everyone in every industry, including college football. Rees’s offense averaged 6.2 yards per play, the No. 4 most explosive offense of Kelly’s 11 years at Notre Dame.

In 2021, Rees worked with three quarterbacks to keep the Irish in Playoff contention. Again, his ability to prop up the psyche of the most important position in college football was the key to Notre Dame’s success, particularly as the head coach was apparently actively planning his exit from South Bend. Of course, Kelly’s abrupt departure gave Rees the biggest platform in his Irish career to buttress the program, to provide stability, to secure its future.

When Rees turned down Kelly’s LSU overtures — “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees told his offense — he eased Freeman’s first-year learning curve by magnitudes. The former defensive coordinator knew what offense would be run in 2022 and that he did not need to worry about it much. For the second consecutive Irish head coach’s maiden voyage, Rees led a late-season surge, potentially setting the tone for his first few seasons.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

In literally every one of his 10 years at Notre Dame, Rees navigated choppy waters.

He turned Ian Book into an NFL quarterback who could win a Super Bowl ring this weekend. He won eight games with Drew Pyne as his starter. Those may not be the accolades of a “quarterback whisperer,” but finding success with talent as questioned as he once was proved Rees’s bona fides enough that the greatest coach in college football history came calling.

Rees owed Notre Dame nothing.

That is not, “Rees no longer owed Notre Dame anything.” It is that he never did.

He played four strong seasons as a quarterback in undesirable situations at every turn. Whatever debt a player owes his school, Rees paid then.

There is no further loyalty or obligation owed to an alma mater. The expectation of one says more about those conjuring those expectations than anyone else.

Coaching for Nick Saban is a clear step forward in a young coach’s career, no matter what transfer quarterback has arrived in South Bend this winter.

For that matter, by recruiting Sam Hartman, Rees provided Notre Dame some stability for an 11th year, rather notable for someone who spent only a decade at the university.

RELATED READING: Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

Lengthy Texas cornerback joins Notre Dame class of 2024


Maybe Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey will be anomalies, but if they are precedent-setters, then Notre Dame may have snagged another unheralded but promising cornerback with the Saturday afternoon commitment of consensus three-star Leonard Moore (Round Rock High School; Texas).

Moore also holds scholarship offers from Oregon, TCU and Vanderbilt, to name a few. In total, he has offers from six schools in the Pac-12, three in the Big 12, two in the SEC and one in the ACC, an intriguing widespread array from someone not yet lighting recruiting rankings on fire.

At 6-foot-2, Moore should have the length to become a physical cornerback, one perhaps more in the mold of current Notre Dame fifth-year cornerback Cam Hart than the rising sophomore Morrison.

Moore’s highlight reel starts with a few interceptions, naturally, and a punt return. Pass breakups are not necessarily the most enthralling of film. But then he sheds a block to force a fumble and soon defends a back-shoulder throw with ease. Moore is clearly a playmaker, particularly given no level of Texas football should be scoffed at. He intercepted three passes, forced two fumbles and broke up four passes in 2022 as a junior.

He readily anticipates routes and when needed funnels his man as the defensive design demands.

Moore runs track, as well, with decent 200-meter times in the low 23-second range.

The eighth commitment in the class of 2024, Moore is the second defensive back, joining consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati). While team recruiting rankings are thoroughly premature more than 10 months before anyone can officially sign, thoroughness demands mentioning that Notre Dame’s class is currently ranked No. 2 in the country behind only Georgia with 10 commitments.

RELATED READING: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

A cursory look at the depth chart suggests Moore could have an avenue to early playing time in South Bend. Hart likely will move on to the NFL after the 2023 season, a shoulder injury tipping the scales toward returning this offseason. Aside from him, the only cornerbacks with experience on the Irish roster are Morrison and Mickey and rising senior Clarence Lewis. Any of the four young cornerbacks that do make an impression in 2023 will effectively be on equal footing with Moore.

Reports: Tommy Rees heads to Alabama after 10 total years at Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tommy Rees will leave Notre Dame to do just that, heading to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama, according to reports Friday afternoon. Nick Saban and the Tide denied Rees a national championship as a player in 2012 and a title game appearance as an offensive coordinator in 2020.

The South Bend Tribune‘s Mike Berardino first reported Rees’s decision, coming a day after reports initially surfaced that Rees was Alabama’s preferred choice for the gig, and he had flown to Tuscaloosa to consider the position.

Those unbeaten regular seasons, along with one in 2018 as the Irish quarterbacks coach, were the high points of Rees’ total of a decade with the Notre Dame football program. Like his former head coach, he will now head to the SEC chasing a higher peak.

Of course, Rees spurned Brian Kelly’s invite to join him at LSU last winter, instead memorably telling the Irish offensive players, “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” setting the tone for the first week of Marcus Freeman‘s tenure as Notre dame head coach.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

Alabama made an offer Rees could not refuse, even if a year ago he said, “I love this place (Notre Dame). I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to get to that point.”

Going to Tuscaloosa does not render those words empty. Rees is going to work for the greatest college football coach in history in a role that has repeatedly springboarded coaches to better opportunities. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, his offensive coordinators have gone on to be, in chronological order, the assistant head coach at Texas (Major Applewhite), head coach at Colorado State (Jim McElwain), offensive coordinator at Michigan (Doug Nussmeier), head coach at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), head coach at Texas (Steve Sarkisian) and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots (Bill O’Brien).

Thus, Rees is bettering both his chances at a national title in the short term and his presumed path to whatever gig he wants next in the long term.

He leaves Notre Dame after three seasons as the Irish offensive coordinator, which came after three years as the quarterbacks coach. The Irish have ranked No. 41, No. 19 and No. 30 in scoring offense the last three seasons, peaking with 35.2 points per game in 2021, the second-highest total in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

But perhaps Rees’s finest moment as a Notre Dame assistant came when he finessed a mid-season quarterback switch to Ian Book from Brandon Wimbush despite the Irish remaining unbeaten throughout 2018. In some respects, Rees threaded a similar needle in 2021, incorporating Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and spot-reliever Drew Pyne; each quarterback could be credited as responsible for at least one win as the Irish made a Playoff push.

Then this past season, Rees responded to Buchner’s shoulder sprain that cost him 10 games by working with Pyne to piecemeal an offense.

From December of 2021:

Rees has considered leaving his alma mater before, reportedly interviewing to be Miami’s offensive coordinator in recent years, not to mention weighing Kelly’s offer from LSU 14 months ago, as well as a previous brief dalliance with Alabama a few years ago.

After leading Notre Dame’s offense in one way or another for 10 of the last 13 years, Rees has finally opted to do so elsewhere. It just so happens to be as part of the team that twice turned back the Irish and now faces Kelly every fall.