Tommy Rees hits the road recruiting in first 10 days as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

One day removed from being announced as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees contacted Blake Fisher.

The prized Irish offensive tackle commit in the 2021 recruiting class didn’t have the closest relationship with Rees. As Notre Dame’s former quarterbacks coach, Rees spent more time communicating with recruits at his position, like early enrollee Drew Pyne and 2021 commit Tyler Buchner.

Fisher and Notre Dame’s other offensive recruits were curious about what the offense would look like going forward. Rees had answers.

“It starts up front with the trenches, and we are going to run the hell out of the ball,” Rees said, according to Fisher.

Rees’ promotion won’t be official until Notre Dame concludes its standard employment process. He hasn’t been available to reporters yet either. But Rees hasn’t wasted time in reaching out to recruits and touching on his offensive philosophy.

What Fisher heard lines up with the feeling former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn had after spending time with Rees just before last season.

In ND Insider’s Pod of Gold podcast last week, Quinn suggested that Rees’ offense will have more of an emphasis on the running game while adapting to his players’ strengths.

“You just got the sense that he really does value the running game,” Quinn said. “He really does value balance and taking advantage of those looks in the running game when they’re there. And not just trying to throw the football around a bunch because you might have the personnel to do so or because you want to make a name for yourself.”

As Rees hits the road recruiting and starts to put his touch on Notre Dame’s offense, Fisher expects his message to resonate.

“I believe that (with) what we have there right now, we are going to do that. We are going to run the ball,” Fisher said. “And we are going to continue to do it until somebody stops us. I don’t think anybody will be able to do that.”

Adapting on the fly

Danny Mitchell, Buchner’s offensive coordinator at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif., has spent more time with Rees from his visits on the recruiting trail than all but maybe a few other high school coaches.

Division I football coaches are prohibited from face-to-face conversations beyond a simple hello with recruits off campus until the contact period for seniors. So when Rees stops by The Bishop’s School, he spends most of his time with Mitchell and head coach Joel Allen.

Mitchell remembers when Buchner received his scholarship offer from Rees after competing at Notre Dame’s Elite Skills Camp in June of 2018. No member of Notre Dame’s coaching staff has since connected with Buchner more than Rees, Mitchell said.

“He is who he is, if that makes sense. He’s always a consistent person,” Mitchell said. “He’s just so humble. I never thought he was ever the starting quarterback at Notre Dame at one point. You would never know. I think that’s what makes him different.

“I think all of these coaches that come by are great coaches, but sometimes you run into some coaches that think their logo puts them a little higher. Not Tommy. I can see why if I was a player still and Tommy Rees came to recruit me, I would sure as heck want to play for him.

“He just seems like a person who loves his players, loves the game of football. You can tell because he’s so genuine. He’s so consistent, and I think that’s why Tyler connects with him so well.”

Buchner’s unordinary skill of throwing passes from awkward side angles and off balance gives the Irish an unusual quarterback to harness. Rees and the coaching staff have expressed an openness to Mitchell about potentially retooling the offense if Buchner eventually becomes the starter.

How the Irish operate in Ian Book’s third year as the starting quarterback may look much different than a Buchner-led offense.

“I think those guys are really good coaches, and every really good coach understands when they have a different and special player,” said Mitchell, who also received a visit from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and director of player personnel Dave Peloquin on Tuesday. “Every great coach doesn’t peg a guy into a system. They develop the system around him.

“I think those guys are going to do a great job with his ability. He is unique. I’ve never seen a quarterback like him. You talk to more and more people, I hear all of these other coaches, not just the Notre Dame coaches but every coach I talk to that comes in and still wants to see Tyler, they say the same thing.

“He’s different. There haven’t been many like him.”

Recruiting role

Former offensive coordinator Chip Long’s role on the recruiting trail involved him having a hand in the recruitments of Notre Dame’s top targets on offense, regardless of position.

Rees seemed to function similarly in his first couple weeks as the offensive coordinator. His previous priorities were mostly quarterbacks, Illinois-based recruits and other spots in the Midwest.

Now he’s reaching out to high schoolers with whom he didn’t contact much before and expanding his recruiting territory. On Wednesday Rees even stopped by Middletown, Del., an area not known as a recruiting hotbed.

Pickerington (Ohio) Central, home of Lorenzo Styles Jr., received its first visit from Rees last Friday. Rees, 27, phoned the four-star wide receiver commit afterward in hopes to continue establishing a deeper relationship.

“He’s a younger guy, so I feel like that makes you feel a little more comfortable with him,” Styles said. “He’s a little bit more close to us. I feel like we are talking to someone that’s more our age, but he’s still our coach figure.”

Matthews (N.C.) Weddington also welcomed Rees for his first visit — alongside run game coordinator Lance Taylor — on Friday to see four-star running back Will Shipley. With as frequently as Taylor has visited Weddington High, the Irish clearly consider Shipley a top priority in the 2021 class.

No out-of-state coach has visited Shipley more than Taylor since December, Weddington head football coach Andy Capone said. Taylor stopped by Weddington in each of the past four weeks that were permitted by the NCAA. He’s spent so much time with Capone that most of their conversation on Friday extended to topics beyond football, like Netflix, Peloton bikes and intermittent fasting.

The football talk lightly detailed how Rees and Taylor would collaborate coaching the offense and recruiting Shipley. Landing four-star running back signee Chris Tyree required substantial involvement from Long to go with Taylor’s pursuit.

The same approach for Rees seems necessary for the highly-coveted Shipley.

“He’s a young guy,” said Capone of Rees, “but he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. With him and coach Taylor working together, they are going to be set up for a lot of success."

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Tommy Rees (right) was announced as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator on Jan. 14.