When Tommy Rees told his offense he was staying at Notre Dame on the first Wednesday night of December, it was not long before Irish offensive assistants began announcing their intentions to remain with the offensive coordinator via social media posts.
First tight ends coach John McNulty and then running backs coach Lance Taylor made it clear they were not heading to LSU. Less was hard from receivers coach Del Alexander and offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, quietly confirming what was long-expected, that both would end up elsewhere after the 2021 season.
But then the coaching carousel hit, and the 29-year-old offensive coordinator unexpectedly had to hire an entirely new coaching staff. In a way, it was a good problem to have, a testament to the quality of McNulty and Taylor that they were hired as Boston College’s and Louisville’s offensive coordinators, respectively.
No matter how many offensive openings arose, new Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman left the lion’s share of that hiring process to Rees.
“I leaned heavily on Tommy Rees on the offensive side of the ball,” Freeman said last week. “You think before you become a head coach, ‘When I become the head coach, I’m making all the hires. I’m bringing the guys I know that I trust.’ That’s not what’s best for the program, what’s best for the team. You have to make decisions that are best for the program and are best for the team.
“That is to empower your offensive coordinator. With the majority of hires, I said, ‘Tommy, you bring me your number one candidate and then I’ll interview him. But I’m going to trust you. If this is the guy you want, let me interview and let me get to know him, but I’m going to trust you as the offensive coordinator.’”
Thus Rees set out to find an offensive line coach, his old offensive line coach, and a running backs coach that had given Notre Dame problems in the past. He found a receivers coach whose only on-paper connection was the outgoing McNulty and a tight ends coach from Freeman’s past.
“[Freeman’s] trust and support and his belief throughout this whirlwind of an offseason here has been tremendous and I’m extremely supportive of what we’ve been trying to do together,” Rees said. “I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities with the staff.”
Rees on running backs coach Deland McCullough
“The first conversation I had with Deland, I was in an airport somewhere traveling and immediately I texted coach Freeman, ‘Hey, we need to get this guy on the phone with you ASAP,’ because he was extremely impressive. His energy, his attention to detail within football has been tremendous throughout this last week or so.
“You can look at who he’s coached, you can look at where he’s coached, that all speaks for itself, but when you get int he room with him and you start talking about football and you start talking about the running backs and bein ga mentor for them, you can see why he’s had the success.”
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Rees on receivers coach Chansi Stuckey, age 38
‘The moment you’re around him, there’s an energy, there’s a personality there that you immediately put your belief in someone like that. I’m a young coach, I was hired as a young coach. Coach Freeman is a young coach. We were all given opportunities when some people didn’t think we were ready.
“[Stuckey] played the game at an extremely high level. He was on staff at Clemson, where they do things the right way, for a few years, and then got to run a room and they had a great year at Baylor. The notion of inexperience, I really don’t look at it that way. He’s been in football for an extremely long time.”
Rees on tight ends coach Gerad Parker, a former offensive coordinator
“Anytime you can have staff members that see things from a holistic standpoint, it helps bring in ideas and it creates really positive banter in terms of trying to game plan and create opportunities. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t pretend to. I like ideas. I like good ideas even more.”
Rees on former and once again offensive line coach Harry Hiestand
“I can trust Harry Hiestand with just about anything and there was no one else. That was it. When I talked with coach Hiestand for the first time, that was it.
“He’s somebody I’ve been in contact with from the moment I stopped playing at Notre Dame (in 2013) until today, and I probably talked to coach once a month. We had a close relationship when I was a player, when I came back in 2017 he was still on staff, so there’s been steps along the way where we’ve kept in constant communication. He’s the right person to lead this offensive line.”