Brian Kelly Gives The Keys To Notre Dame’s Offense to Tommy Rees, Again

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.

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  1. I hope this decision works out well for the Irish. Would have preferred more experience. The pressure will be huge for sure. I like the fact that former and current players have expressed their support. I feel better about it because of that support. Was not sold on Rees even as the QB coach. It’s a done deal and will be fascinating to watch!


  2. You all have no more sure knowledge of how well Rees will do as OC than you had two and a half years ago on how well Lea would do as DC when he was elevated to replace Elko. Neither do I.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. That’s part of the problem and I think you’re comparing apples to oranges.

      First, pundits are saying ND is on the cusp of breaking through. Is that the time you really want to go to an untested and inexperienced OC?

      Second, times are a lot different. 2 years ago we were still building after a disastrous season and BK had just overhauled his staff.

      And finally, Lea did have more experience coaching aspects of the defense than Rees does now on the offense. According to the official website Lea had 12 years of experience before becoming DC. For Lea, DC was a next logical step in his career.

      I can’t help but feel Rees skipped a couple steps. 1 year as graduate assistant and 2 years as a QB coach hardly seems enough experience to run basically half the team. I really hope we don’t get burned as a result.

      1. “There you go again.” Ronald Reagan answer to press corp in regards to the brown stuff on his shoes. (Reagan owned a horse ranch in Santa Barbara).

  3. Sad that BK gave up on next season already. TR will do ok, but growing pains or learning curve will loose you some games next year. Sad to waist all the talented kids they have brought in the last few years.

  4. I don’t really like this hire but that doesn’t matter anymore. I will not root for TR to fail just to prove I was right. I hope he succeeds and succeeds big.

    I agree in that he will grind. I believe he will put together good plans, come up with innovative ideas, grind out film, scouting reports will be good, etc. But when it comes down to it and he’s in a chess match with Venables and Leonhard next season, does he have the experience/chops to do it. We don’t know. Big risk in a season so much is riding on.

    Also, not sure about your 2013 Clemson comment. Weren’t their coordinators Venables and Morris. Not exactly 27 year old coaches with limited experience.

    1. No, I won’t root for Rees/Book to lose either. In fact, I would love nothing more than to eat my words after a NC win.

      I don’t want to be right. I just can’t help but feel with these moves we are at best a 10-2 team. Enough to get in the conversation but still outside looking in.

  5. Another no-imagination decision by Kelly.

    But, so what. If anyone thinks an OC can elevate a team to the level of what we witnessed this past Monday night, dream on.

    Kelly-Book-Rees? That trio all season, max 8 wins.

  6. Risky it is. But I’m not sure ND really cares about actually winning NC’s anymore. I’m certainly not sold on this move. You want to win NC’s you don’t hire an inexperienced OC. You usually do things like that when you’re rebuilding.

    I have nothing against Rees. As a QB I liked his tough attitude. He always worked his hardest. But as we saw he was not an elite QB. Just a tough one. He’ll grind it out game to game but he just didn’t have the skills to beat the best teams.

    So with the little information we have, and what we know of Book to date at QB is this team is probably a 9-3 to 10-2 team. Good enough to beat most teams out there and smack around lesser teams. But still unable to beat the elites.

    And I think the real PTBs at ND are satisfied with that (though they’ll continue to spout off about winning NC’s being the goal–but that’s just to make sure the money keeps coming in–do just enough to stay in the conversation and keep fans hoping and paying).

  7. I am not feeling exactly jubilant as a fan about this move, but, I will wait to reserve opinion until he has some opportunity to demonstrate how he calls games as an OC. The Bowl game against ISU certainly was not entirely offensively effective as potential points were left on the board. I have posted past criticism of the Almighty One (BK) but, he’s not going anywhere soon so here will be a decision if it pans out he will get accolades. If it doesn’t, well, it will definitely be posted about here on this posting site. At least, with a bowl win, the next 7 months as a fan will be much better to tolerate versus last year. Since I live in Iowa, I really enjoy wearing my ND attire around many Iowa St attired folks as a reminder of who won that bowl game, hahaha.

    Go Irish

  8. I don’t know whether Rees will work out or not. However, I think it’s meaningful that the players have been as vocal as they have been in their support of the hire.

    Fans are lined up to take positions on this, anywhere from “good hire” (i have yet to see “home run hire”) to same old-same old. What I think I can say with a strong degree of confidence is that few, if any, fans have the slightest idea how well this hire will work out.

    But, as you say, Greg, a “safe” hire it isn’t.

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