Brian Kelly isn’t the only Notre Dame to win some postseason accolades this year. FootballScoop named Notre Dame’s QB coach Tommy Rees its Quarterbacks Coach of the Year on Friday. Rees, the former Irish quarterback, is in his first official year on the job after the NCAA approved the 10th assistant coaching position for the 2018 season.
This award, while labeled with FootballScoop is presented by AstroTurf and is selected by past winners of the Award making this honor for Rees a reflection of what his peers think of him. Past winners include:
- Josh Heupel (Oklahoma,, 2008) current UCF head coach
- Tom Rossley (Texas A&M, 2009)
- Mark Helfrich (Oregon, 2010 and 2012)
- Philip Montgomery (Baylor, 2011)
- Randy Sanders (Florida State, 2013)
- Kevin McGiven (Utah State, 2014)
- Mike Sanford (Notre Dame, 2015)
- Tyson Helton (USC, 2016)
- Jim Chaney (Georgia, 2017)
Tommy Rees is still just five years removed from his collegiate playing career at Notre Dame where his mind always got him further than his body. A 3-star recruit out of high school, it was clear early on that while Rees had some obvious physical limitations, his advanced knowledge of defenses and scheme would get allow him to thrive. In fact, it was pretty clear when he was at Notre Dame that he was destined to be a coach someday. Sure enough, five years later he’s getting recognized for being a top notch assistant.
Rees began his coaching career just two years after graduating from Notre Dame serving as a graduate assistant for Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern in 2015. A year later he was off to the NFL as an offensive assistant for the San Diego Chargers. The pull of his alma mater brought him back to Notre Dame in 2017 as part of Brian Kelly’s completely revamped coaching staff that has fueled this latest Renaissance of Notre Dame football. At the time, Rees could only serve as an analyst though since even though the NCAA approved the 10th assistant coaching position in 2017, it went into effective January 8th of this year.
Brian Kelly recently said that he tried to get Rees back to Notre Dame sooner, but his former and current pupil wanted to get away from Notre Dame for a little bit to get some outside experience. Kelly said that it was a wise move for Rees and that the experience made him a better coach. After a couple years though, Kelly said he begged him again and got Rees to return home.
“He turned down my first offer for him to come here,” Kelly said. “He stayed with the San Diego Chargers. You know, he went to Northwestern first, and then he went to the Chargers. He felt like he needed more time away from Notre Dame, and I think it was the right decision.”
The work that Tommy Rees has done at Notre Dame in a short time is pretty remarkable. While the Brandon Wimbush experiment failed, the emergence of Ian Book is a testament to the coaching that Rees gives to Notre Dame quarterbacks. Rees has also managed that room with the savvy of a veteran despite being very green in coaching experience. That room could have been an issue with an entrenched starter losing his job, but thankfully Notre Dame had two quarterbacks with terrific attitudes and a coach like Rees who kept it all together.
Playing quarterback Notre Dame is a unique experience with some unique challenges – something that Rees knows all too well. He spent his entire playing career at Notre Dame being a guy people couldn’t wait to replace. In 2010 Rees was forced into action when Dayne Crist was lost for the season. In 2011, Rees was thrust back into action when Crist’s return from injury did not go as planned. During Notre Dame’s run to the 2012 BCS Championship game, Rees was one of the unsung heros for the Irish after serving as defaccto “closer” for Everett Golson when the redshirt freshman struggled. He capped off his career by filling in for Golson again when he went into academic exile.
Every step of the way along Rees’s playing career, fans were looking for someone else to take over for him. All Rees did, however, was win a bunch of games and set some records. Heading into his senior season I wrote that he was the most underappreciated signal caller of Notre Dame history.
Rees’s experience as THE quarterback at the University of Notre Dame has him uniquely equipped to guide Ian Book and the Notre Dame quarterbacks. “I think there’s a great amount of trust as it relates to on the field with the position itself and the roller coaster ride of being the quarterback at Notre Dame,” Brian Kelly said last week. “Tommy has taken that trip, and so easily identifiable is that kind of relationship.”
As a coach, Rees is thriving at Notre Dame alongside offensive coordinator Chip Long and Brian Kelly. This award is an indicator that Rees’s star is very much on the rise just as Chip Long’s is. Looking ahead just a few years, if Rees continues on his current path, he might be a potential replacement for Long when a big time program inevitably comes calling for Long with an opportunity to be a head coach. Even if that doesn’t happen, Rees has future offensive coordinator and future head coach written all over him.
Looking even further down the road, it wouldn’t be a shock if one day, years from now, Tommy Rees is occupying Brian Kelly’s office. Rees will obviously need some head coaching experience before that is even a possibility but when surveying former Notre Dame players who are rising up the coaching ranks, Rees is one name to watch over the next decade or so.
For now though, Rees is tasked with developing Ian Book even further. Book, like Rees, came to Notre Dame as an unheralded recruit, but has been thriving. Where Book differs is that physically he is more advanced than Rees was during his playing days. He’s a little bit bigger, stronger, and faster. Some still question Book’s arm but he’s got a lot of the savvy of Rees with a better arm and mobility. If Rees and Long can continue to develop that, Book has a very bright future ahead of him.