According to numerous reports, Notre Dame is set to bring back Harry Hiestand as offensive line coach to replace Jeff Quinn, who was one of two coaches not retained by Marcus Freeman following the season. Hiestand previously coached Notre Dame to a Joe Moore Award in 2017 and produced several first-round picks from the Irish offensive line before leaving for the same role with the Chicago Bears.
Matt Fortuna of The Athletic was the first to report the news on Friday.
Tom Loy of 247Sports was all over this development since last month as well and had previously reported that Hiestand was all but locked up for Notre Dame. According to today’s reports, he is now officially locked up.
Hiestand’s first stint at Notre Dame lasted from 2012-2017 before the NFL came calling, and he left to be the Bears offensive line coach. During that time, four different Notre Dame offensive linemen were selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft – Zack Martin (Dallas Cowboys), Ronnie Stanley (Baltimore Ravens), Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis Colts), and Mike McGlinchey (San Francisco 49ers). Martin and Stanley already signed big-money extensions with the teams that drafted them, while McGlinchey and Nelson are still on their rookie deals.
Since Hiestand left Notre Dame, no Notre Dame offensive linemen have been selected in the 1st round. However, Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks were both 2nd round selections, while Robert Hainsey was a 3rd rounder in 2021.
The end of Hiestand’s first go-round with Notre Dame featured the heights of player development and the Joe Moore Award while recruiting tapered off in his final recruiting cycle. Conversely, Jeff Quinn’s recruiting was phenomenal along the line, while his development lacked compared to Hiestand’s.
Recruiting is really the only concern with rehiring Hiestand, and it’s only a concern because he reportedly grew tired of the recruiting grind at the time. Early in his tenure at Notre Dame, Hiestand’s recruiting efforts landed the likes of McGlinchey, Nelson, Banks, Eichenberg, Alex Bars, and others. So there’s little doubt that Hiestand can recruit at a high level.
Development-wise, it’s hard to imagine a better hire by Marcus Freeman for the Notre Dame offensive line. Hiestand got the most out of pretty much every lineman that came thru Notre Dame from 2012-2017. With the treasure-trove of talent that Quinn and Notre Dame collected over the last three recruiting cycles, it’s a safe bet that the Irish will be at least Joe Moore Award finalists for years to come.
Hiestand inherits an offensive line that struggled mightily at the start of 2021 but came into its own once true freshman Joe Alt was inserted at left tackle and Andrew Kristofic at left guard. True freshman Blake Fisher came back for the Fiesta Bowl after missing almost the entire season and remarkably played over 90 snaps at right tackle. It would be a shock at this point if Fisher and Alt didn’t continue to 1st round draft pick tradition Hiestand left behind.
The offensive coordinator played for the Irish during Hiestand’s first two seasons at Notre Dame and this hire feels like Rees’s hands were all over it. Rees has first-hand experience with Hiestand and if there’s anyone who can help fix the Irish running game that was grounded in the Fiesta Bowl, it’s Hiestand.
If Notre Dame can convince Jarrett Patterson to return in 2022, the possibilities of a line featuring Alt, Fisher, Patterson, Kristofic, and sophomore to be Rocco Spindler coached by Hiestand is beyond exciting for Notre Dame fans – especially since four of the five have eligibility beyond 2022.
Two More Positions to Fill
With Hiestand locked up, Notre Dame has just two positions on its staff to fill. Earlier this week, Marcus Freeman made another outstanding hire with Brian Mason as the Special Teams Coordinator. Wide receivers coach and Defensive Coordinator, the most critical hire Freeman will make, remain open. Several candidates have been linked to each, but there haven’t been any reports of a leader in the clubhouse for either just yet.
Notre Dame has not officially announced either hire, but they may be waiting for all four positions to be filled to announce them all at once. The wide receiver coach opening feels like the only one of the four with any real urgency since Notre Dame is likely scouring the transfer portal and late rising class of 2022 receivers following the collapse of the wide receiver that the Irish experienced in 2021 that was capped off by the 11th-hour decommitments from Amorion Walker and CJ Williams.