Find you a boss who believes in you the way Brian Kelly believes in Tommy Rees.
Kelly has consistently turned to Rees in times of need; when things were falling apart against South Florida in 2011, to engineering a game-winning drive against Purdue in 2012, and running the ship in 2013 after Everett Golson was suspended before 2013. We can debate whether that faith was warranted or even successful, but there is no doubting that Brian Kelly trusts Rees with his offense. And he has proven it again by naming him the offensive coordinator of the 2020 Notre Dame football team.
Rees enters at the young age of 27, with three years coaching experience at Notre Dame, one as a grad assistant and two as the quarterback’s coach. He began his coaching career as a grad assistant at Northwestern in 2015, and then as an offensive assistant with San Diego Chargers in 2016. His promotion is primarily based on the faith Kelly has had in him from his time as a player; it can’t be based on too much else, there isn’t a body of work to turn to. For better or worse, Kelly has staked his Notre Dame legacy on Rees’ ability to lead his offense to a championship.
Kelly Is Taking A Big Risk
This hire is a lot of things, but safe, it is not. This brings with it a lot of risk. Brian Kelly may suspect Tommy Rees can match wits with the best defensive coordinators in the land, but he doesn’t know it. He obviously believes Rees can set up and implement a game plan that will stand up to Wisconsin, USC, and Clemson, but he can’t point to empirical evidence of that. Brian Kelly has stated it’s time for Notre Dame to take the next step and win in the playoffs, to win a national championship. 11-2 is nice, but it isn’t good enough. Kelly isn’t bringing on Rees, a person who hasn’t been anything other than a position coach in his five seasons in college coaching, to re-build the offense. He’s bringing on Rees to win a national championship.
Kelly will be defined by these next 3-4 years. He’ll either go down as a good coach who didn’t have what it took to take Notre Dame to the summit, or he’ll be mentioned in the same breath with the Irish legends who won national titles. And he’s staked that legacy on Rees. They are intertwined now. Kelly stuck with Rees when he played quarterback, and he’s sticking with him to lead his offense, based on faith. Brian Kelly is staking his career on Tommy Rees.
Will It Work?
Risky doesn’t mean wrong, and there has been precedent recently of successful programs promoting from within coaches with no previous play-calling experience. Clemson following the 2013 season comes to mind; things have turned out pretty good for them. There is a view that because Rees comes from the Brian Kelly system means it will be the same old thing all over again. I’m not so sure that is correct. First, Rees has only worked under the Chip Long offense during his time at Notre Dame. The idea they’ve been running the “Brian Kelly offense” the last three seasons is as accurate as saying they’ve been running the “Brian Kelly defense.” It’s just not correct. And let me tell you about these 27 year olds, they aren’t into stale and old ideas. Good or bad, the upcoming generation of young coaches have been innovators, and if you’re looking for some life being injected into the offense, Rees should be exciting for you.
This is doubly true when you factor in the promotion of running backs coach Lance Taylor to running game coordinator, another young up and comer who has coached at Stanford, Alabama, and with the Carolina Panthers. Staleness and the status quo doesn’t really go along with promoting a 27 year old and 38 year old to run your offense.
One More Spot To Fill On Offense
In hiring Tommy Rees, Kelly keeps his quarterbacks coach, but the tight end position is still left without a position coach, and how that will be filled could be fascinating, and it’s a reason why the jury is still out on the moves for the offense. We know Rees and Taylor will lead the operation, but how the staff is rounded out will be telling. Will Kelly bring in a tight ends coach to specifically work with that position group? Is there any chance he moves Jeff Quinn to that position and brings in another line coach? Could Brian Polian move to tight ends? There could be a couple more shoes to drop with the offense and how things play out could shed new light on how the team looks on that side of the ball in 2020. But, we know it’s Rees who’s calling the plays, and it’s Taylor in charge of the running game. If nothing else, it’s intriguing, which may not be a perfect formula in the fall, but it will make for an interesting offseason.