When Harry Hiestand was added to the Notre Dame coaching staff following the departure of Ed Warriner to Ohio State after the 2011 season, his hiring wasn’t met with a whole lot of fanfare. Three years later, it’s safe to say that Hiestand very well could be the single best assistant coaching hiring Brian Kelly has made since being named the head coach at Notre Dame.
Since his arrival at Notre Dame the offensive line has, for the most part, been a source of strength for the Irish. In 2012 the offensive line paved the way to a title game berth behind a run heavy offense. In 2013, the Irish line kept Tommy Ress’s jersey clean by allowing just eight sacks while protecting one of the least mobile quarterbacks in recent Notre Dame history. Last year’s line had it’s struggles early before Hiestand and Kelly shuffled the deck a bit, but by the end of the season the line opened up enough running lanes for the Irish to run for 263 yards on a stout LSU defense in the Music City Bowl.
While his lines have played well over the first three years, it’s the future of the Irish offensive line that has Irish eyes smiling the most. Brian Kelly spoke glowingly of his offensive line on Saturday following the 2015 Blue & Gold game and many believe the Irish offensive line has the chance to be elite this fall.
“I think for me it was pretty clear that we’ve got a very good offensive line. They’re going to be able to control the line of scrimmage in most instances and we’ll continue to go to our strength, which we believe is up front,” Kelly said on Saturday.
The reason for that optimism isn’t just the coaching of Hiestand but the work that Hiestand has done on the recruiting trail to build the Irish offensive trenches.
Just this past weekend, Notre Dame collected a commitment from elite class of 2016 offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg after already having secured a commitment from Tommy Kraemer – another elite tackle who some consider to be a 5-star recruit. For both recruits, Notre Dame, led by Hiestand, went head to head with Urban Meyer and Warriner at Ohio State for elite offensive linemen from Ohio and came out on top.
Hiestand has already helped Notre Dame secure one of the nation’s elite offensive linemen for the class of 2017 already as well in Dillan Gibbons.
Recruiting wins for Hiestand though should come as no surprise. His work on the recruiting front has amassed more talent along the offensive line for Notre Dame than the Irish have had since the days of Joe Moore.
Last year Hiestand was the primary recruiter for Tristen Hoge, Trevor Ruhland, and Jerry Tillery. At the time of their signing it was considered a great trio although Tillery has since moved to the defensive line where he’s drawn rave reviews. Keith Gillmore will likely be getting Hiestand his morning coffee for a little while for inheriting Tillery.
Two years ago Hiestand was credited with the recruitment of Alex Bars, Jimmy Byrne, Quenton Nelson, and Sam Mustipher. The year before he hauled in Steve Elmer, Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, and John Montelus. And those are just the offensive recruits. 247 Sports also credits Hiestand with the recruitment of Shaun Crawford, Josh Adams, and Will Fuller.
Of all of the recruits he’s been credited with specifically on the offensive line, only Ruhland was widely considered less than a 4-star prospect. Another thing they all have in common is their praise for Hiestand.
Hiestand hasn’t been all recruiting though. Since his arrival several Notre Dame offensive linemen have more than just reached their potential. Under Hiestand’s guidance for two seasons, Zack Marin played his way to a 1st round draft selection. Chris Watt was taken two rounds later in the same draft. Then there’s Ronnie Stanley. Stanley could have been a 1st round pick this year potentially despite reportedly receiving a 2nd round evaluation, but he returned for his senior season and could end up being a top 10 pick next spring if he stays healthy.
Harry Hiestand still has a long way to go to reach Joe Moore status, but he is trending in that direction after just two full seasons on the job. He’s helped stocked the Notre Dame offensive line with elite talent and has coached that talent to reach their potential all while being one of the least assuming elite recruiters in the country. He’s not a smooth talking, slick dressing salesman. He’s a no-nonsense, genuine old school football coach and that personality has been a perfect fit for the offensive line coach at Notre Dame.
If Notre Dame makes a serious run at the playoffs this year, it will be behind the line that Hiestand has built. That line still has some work to do between now and the fall, but all of the pieces are in place for the Irish to have the kind of line that could pave the way to a playoff run.