In his two months as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees assumed more recruiting responsibilities than he ever did.
Rees previously headed quarterback commit Tyler Buchner’s recruitment. Now the top offensive linemen, wide receivers and running backs the Irish are pursuing hear from Rees. He even visited Matthews (N.C.) High in January to see running back Will Shipley, Notre Dame’s top uncommitted target in the 2021 class.
Increased involvement has not changed Rees’ recruiting pitch much. His frank, straightforward style continues to be felt by high school coaches and players on the recruiting trail. Rees looks to be as direct as possible, even if that requires not mincing words.
That dynamic has especially become apparent in the recruitment of Pat Coogan, the three-star offensive lineman who garnered a scholarship offer from Rees last week.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Coogan attends Marist High in Chicago, Rees’ primary recruiting responsibility from a geographic perspective. Rees had been recruiting Coogan for months, but before Rees could offer him, he wanted to see how other recruitments developed.
During the winter, Rees told Coogan he ranks as Notre Dame’s third-highest priority among interior offensive linemen in the 2021 recruiting class. Coogan also learned the Irish are looking to sign four offensive linemen this cycle, including verbal commit Blake Fisher.
In a recruiting world littered with drama, being that forthright can come at a cost when pursuing those who want to feel like a top priority. But Rees’ approach resonated with Coogan, along with Buchner and his previous signees.
“It was brutal honesty, which was kind of good to hear. I respect that,” Coogan said. “It’s good to hear that honesty, because you know that when they make that offer, they mean it.”
Coogan growing up as a Notre Dame fan helped. Some of his fondest memories were from the Irish games he attended with his family throughout childhood. His first trip to South Bend as a recruit came on Sept. 14 for Notre Dame’s game against New Mexico.
Though he’s still an Irish fan, Coogan said to not expect him to pledge to Notre Dame soon. As the Irish bided time after his first visit, Coogan nearly doubled his offer count. Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford and Duke also heated up their pursuit of him.
“I also like other schools,” Coogan said. “I have opportunities to go to other great schools that I visited earlier, and they offered me earlier. I can’t just disrespect the process by saying, ‘See ya, Notre Dame just offered me,’ to those schools.
“Obviously, everyone has their own process. But I just like some other schools. I will visit them again probably and I’ll probably visit Notre Dame again.”
Replacing Chip Long’s recruiting prowess could be challenging for Rees and Co. Long emerged as one of Notre Dame’s best recruiters in his three seasons as offensive coordinator. In the 2020 class alone, Long was the primary recruiter for five-star tight end Michael Mayer, four-star running back Chris Tyree and wide receiver Xavier Watts, among others.
In Rees’ three seasons as quarterbacks coach, he served as the primary recruiter in the effort to sign wide receiver Kendall Abdur-Rahman and quarterbacks Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne. None of them reached National Signing Day with a four-star rating or higher on both 247Sports and Rivals.
Whether Rees evolves into a vaunted recruiter may depend on how his honesty is received.
“If you are going to do it this way,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of Rees’ style, “then you are always going to lose those guys. That’s not a good way to recruit. Even if they come at you, the kids are going to say that they lost the guys they really wanted.
“Unless the kid was born to play for the school, I’m not a big fan of the approach. I’m a fan of recruiting as many guys as you want and having backup plans so that you don’t get caught.”
Lemming sees a player who could outperform his ranking as the No. 36 and No. 51 offensive tackle on Rivals and 247Sports, respectively. Should Rees and offensive line coach Jeff Quinn push hard for Coogan, the Irish will be the heavy favorite to land him.
“I like him. He’s a workman-like, steady offensive lineman,” said Lemming, who has seen Coogan on an annual basis since his freshman year. “He could play inside. He could play guard. He’s a good player and a good athlete.”
Oak Park (Mich.) High’s Rayshaun Benny, Magnolia (Texas) High’s Matthew Wykoff and Coogan received Notre Dame offers last Thursday, the same day top target Landon Tengwall committed to Penn State. Rocco Spindler, a four-star offensive lineman from Clarkston (Mich.) High, considers Notre Dame his top school.
If the Irish close on Spindler and Coogan — both projected as interior linemen — they would likely look to round out the class with another offensive tackle. Both Spindler and Coogan hope to announce their commitments before their senior seasons.
By the time Coogan wants to make his decision public, he should continue to know where Rees stands.
“(Rees) said that I’m a priority now and that I check off all the boxes that they want in a Notre Dame offensive lineman,” Coogan said. “To be treated like one is going to be great. He knows what he’s getting out of me, where I come from, the background I have and what I will bring to the table. It fits the Notre Dame profile.”