The Chicago Bears have let go of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and I’m sure much of Notre Dame nation had the same response I did, “Bring him back to Notre Dame!”
There are pros and cons that must be considered, but it absolutely needs to be something head coach Brian Kelly must consider.
Hiestand Is An Elite Offensive Line Coach — The number one pro is obvious, Hiestand is an elite offensive line coach. Three of Notre Dame’s best rushing seasons of the last two decades were fueled by Hiestand-built lines (2012, 2015, 2017). During his six seasons at Notre Dame (2012-17), Hiestand built a line that won the 2017 Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best line, and an argument could be made that the 2015 unit was even better.
Hiestand produced four first-round NFL Draft picks, a second-round pick and a third-down pick during his tenure as the line coach at Notre Dame. Three of the four first-round picks (Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey) were top-10 picks and the fourth - Zack Martin - was picked No. 16.
He knows how to identify linemen that fit his system and he knows how to develop players. He wasn’t perfect, but there is no doubt hiring Hiestand would be a major boost for the offensive line from a development standpoint.
Run Game Would Improve — When Jeff Quinn was hired I felt he would do a good job with pass protection but I was concerned how the run game would perform under him, and that was proven correct. Notre Dame’s pass blocking the last two seasons has mostly been top-notch, but the run game has been subpar. Hiestand’s coaching philosophy would combine nicely with the current talent, and if the new offensive coordinator was about running the ball there is no doubt in my mind that Notre Dame would immediately become a much better running team with Hiestand.
Familiarity With Notre Dame And Brian Kelly — Hiestand knows who Kelly is, how he runs his program and what it takes to be successful at Notre Dame. Hiestand is a hard coach, but the players who played for him will tell you being coached by him made them better. He knows how to get the most out of players. He gets the demands on players at Notre Dame, which not all coaches truly appreciate or accept.
The current linemen have familiarity with Hiestand as well, and Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey both started for him in 2017. He knows what Notre Dame has from a talent standpoint because he recruited everyone on the current roster except for Jarrett Patterson.
Recruiting — This isn’t about whether Hiestand can recruit, there is no question about that. He was incredibly successful as a recruiter, but there was never any secret that Hiestand didn’t necessarily care for recruiting. According to sources, not having to recruit anymore was part of his decision to leave for the Bears.
Kelly would need to make sure Hiestand is willing to engage recruiting before bringing him back. There are things Kelly could and should do if Hiestand comes back that could help ease his recruiting burden, but no matter what Kelly does to take some of the recruiting pressure off the veteran coach, Notre Dame won’t recruit to the level it can and should if Hiestand isn’t willing to commit to it to at least some degree.
Would He Be Willing To Commit — Opposing coaches would use Hiestand’s departure for the NFL to negatively recruit against him. Does Hiestand really want to come back to college? Personally, I think Hiestand is a better college coach than a NFL coach, at least how things are trending right now. The pro game is becoming more passing driven while the top teams in college football are running the ball at an incredibly effective rate.
But does Hiestand view himself as a pro or college coach? That’s a fair question, and one Kelly should ask.
If Brian Kelly hasn’t already been on the phone trying to reach Hiestand then he’s not doing this right and in my view isn't serious about doing whatever it takes to build a championship team. He needs to have some important conversations with Hiestand about recruiting and commitment, obviously, but if Hiestand is willing to come back then Kelly needs to make it happen.
There would need to be some staff changes if Hiestand did return, obviously. Kelly could move Quinn to tight ends, or he could move Quinn back into an analyst role, where he would provide a veteran presence to opponent prep work. Where Quinn ends up would have to be determined by what moves Kelly makes at the offensive coordinator position, but the presence of Quinn should not in any way be a detriment to bringing Hiestand back.
Look, when coaches have a chance to bring in better players they do it. The same thing should be true with coaches. Hiestand is a significantly better offensive line coach than what Notre Dame currently has, and if he’s willing to come back this is a move that Kelly absolutely needs to make.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.