The good news for Brian Kelly as he tries to put together an offensive staff for the second time since the 2016 season ended, is it comes at a good time. The program is in a good place, the offense as a whole ranked 20th nationally in SP+, and his starting quarterback is returning for his third season as a starter. This feels more like a retooling than a reconstruction, but he does need to push the right buttons to get where he wants his offense to go.
Previous offensive coordinator Chip Long was let go due to personality differences and coaching style, and not the overall performance of the offense. Kelly has stated he doesn’t want to rock the boat too much with the operation; as previously stated, this was a top 20 unit last season. But, a 20th ranked offense leaves plenty of room to drop and not as much room to grow. It’s like being a six handicap in golf. It’s a lot easier to fall back to being a 15 than it is to climb to a four. Kelly’s goal is to make the offense better, so let’s take a look at his options.
Promote Rees To OC, Hire A Tight Ends Coach
This one involves the least amount of boat rocking in terms of continuity, and the most amount of risk in terms of success. Outgoing OC Chip Long also coached the tight ends, so they’d need to hire someone to do that in this scenario, preferably it would be someone with a very strong recruiting reputation.
The move to Rees would be a good one from a continuity standpoint; he’s coached Ian Book for three seasons now, recruited every quarterback on the roster, and has been around Chip Long for the duration of his time at Notre Dame. He’d clearly have some grasp of how Long went about his business, and as a former player, he’d work well with head coach Brian Kelly. He also did an excellent job calling plays in the bowl game, though it wasn’t some kind of offensive extravaganza.
The move would also appear to be a bit lazy and taking the path of least resistance, not that it would mean it’s the wrong one, but it wouldn’t be the best process. It’d be a pretty polarizing move as well, perhaps not what you want Rees walking into.
Make Rees CO-OC With Jeff Quinn, Hire An Offensive Line Coach
This is an intriguing option that was brought up on the One Foot Down podcast I was a guest on last night, so I thought I’d mention it here.
Say what you want about Quinn, the guy is an excellent recruiter, especially on the offensive line, and if you can get someone on the staff, you don’t want to let them go. At the same time, as a coach, the results have been mixed, to say the least. While excellent in pass protection, his lines often struggle in the running game, and the screen game is sloppy. And then there are the false starts to consider. A move for Quinn would allow him to stay on staff, help Rees with creating the game plan, and give him a promotion.
As for Rees. He wouldn’t have to take on the whole operation his first foray into being a play-caller, and he’d be able to work with a coach who Kelly has worked with in the past as an OC who didn’t call the plays.
The focus would then turn to Kelly hiring a new offensive line coach, with many people taking note that former line coach Harry Hiestand just became available from the Chicago Bears. The thinking is Quinn would assist on the recruiting front for Hiestand, who famously hated it, and the line would improve as a whole. Win-win.
The thing here is Quinn would have to be ok with working alongside Rees and giving up the offensive line, as well as being the lead recruiter while Hiestand skates a bit. This isn’t my preferred option, but it’s acceptable.
Bring In A New OC, Give Rees A Promotion to CO-OC/Passing Game Coordinator
There doesn’t appear to be a realistic scenario where Kelly moves on from Quinn entirely, so I won’t even confront it. He is going to be on the staff in some capacity. My thought is a new voice for the offense can improve the entire operation, and this is my preferred outcome. When news broke today that Joe Moorehead, former head coach for Mississippi State and former offensive coordinator at Penn State, was being fired by MSU, many started speculating he’d be a good fit for Notre Dame. Former head coach, former OC, and quarterbacks coach, and relatively young. He could be a perfect complement to Rees and what he brings to the table in terms of program knowledge while bringing his experience as a play-caller to the program.
If he’s a better fit chemistry wise with Quinn, this could be a home run type of situation.