Former Irish QB Tom Rees returns to Notre Dame as quarterbacks coach

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

He left as Tommy Rees, Notre Dame quarterback.

Four years later, he's back — with a new name and title.

Notre Dame formally introduced Tom Rees as its quarterbacks coach on Tuesday, completing its renovated coaching staff.

“When I finished my playing career and graduated from Notre Dame, I wanted to do two things,” Rees said in a statement. “First, I wanted to coach, and second, at some point in my career I hoped to get an opportunity to return and do it at my alma mater.

"I didn’t know when or if this opportunity might present itself, but I’m so grateful and honored that it did. I’m ready to get things rolling with this great staff and group of student-athletes.”

That aforementioned staff includes six other newly hired Irish assistants: defensive coordinator Mike Elko, offensive coordinator Chip Long, linebackers coach Clark Lea, special teams coordinator Brian Polian (in his second stint at Notre Dame), wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander and director of football performance Matt Balis. 

As for Rees, the Lake Bluff, Ill., native broke into the coaching profession as an offensive graduate assistant at Northwestern in 2015, then served as an offensive assistant for the NFL's San Diego Chargers last season.

Now, he's back — and he brings a unique perspective.

“He has an understanding of Notre Dame and all the challenges facing the student-athletes — football and otherwise," said former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr., who played with Rees from 2010 to 2012. "He went through everything that you go through in student life at Notre Dame, too.

"He’s got a unique understanding of how difficult it is to play quarterback at Notre Dame and understands that whether you’re 4-8 or 12-0 there’s going to be scrutiny on that position. You’re going to be talked about critically a lot of the time based on your actions.

"Tommy’s a guy that weathered that every step of the way through his career with a ton of class and a ton of poise, and I think having that guy to lean on in that young quarterback room is going to be huge.”

That abundantly youthful Irish quarterback room will include the 24-year-old Rees, junior Brandon Wimbush, sophomore Ian Book and freshman Avery Davis.

When it comes to communicating effectively with 55-year-old, eighth-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, Rees should help bridge the gap.

"He speaks coach Kelly’s language, and he’ll be able to pass that along to kids," Golic Jr. said. "When you’ve got a young starter the way Brandon Wimbush is probably going to be this spring, he's a guy that’s still learning that working relationship with coach Kelly.

"Tommy’s already got such a great reserve of that built up that he can be a translator of sorts at times.”

In his four seasons at Notre Dame (2010-13), Rees started 30 games and passed for 7,351 yards with 61 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. He was the team's starting quarterback throughout his sophomore and senior seasons, passing for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2011 and 3,257 yards with 27 touchdowns in 2013.

But athleticism, arm strength and measurables aside, it was Rees' intellect and preparation that ultimately won Kelly's respect.

“I’ll be a Tommy Rees fan for life,” Kelly said following Rees' final game at Notre Dame, a 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers on Dec. 28, 2013. “He ran 90 plays in a different offense (than the Irish used throughout the rest of the 2013 season).

"He hasn’t run this offense in two years. He’s so smart."

Four years later, Kelly's opinion hasn't changed.

“I’m very excited to have Tom join our staff,” Kelly said in a statement. “He possesses an understanding of the game, and most importantly the quarterback position, that’s unique. He’s a true student of the game and great communicator that will offer immediate dividends toward guiding our quarterback room.

“As a former quarterback at Notre Dame, Tom also has a rare ability to truly relate with the quarterbacks on our roster. He’s literally sat in their seat, dealt with the ups and downs, faced the criticism, deflected the praise, and all that comes with playing the position at Notre Dame.

"He can genuinely mentor them — not only on the football field, but in the classroom and the community as well.”

Rees will be challenged in his return to South Bend to fill the void left by former Notre Dame offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, who this offseason accepted the head coaching position at Western Kentucky.

Since each staff is allowed just nine full-time contracted assistant coaches, Rees was technically hired in a graduate assistant capacity. That will likely change in mid-April, when the NCAA is expected to pass legislation allowing for 10 full-time assistant coaches.

Rees is Notre Dame's fifth quarterbacks coach in Kelly's seven-plus seasons in South Bend, joining Sanford, Matt LaFleur, Chuck Martin and Charley Molnar.

Rees' father, Bill Rees, is the director of player personnel at Wake Forest and spent 16 years as a college scout for the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns.

Football runs in the family — first for Tommy, and now for Tom.

“I don’t know if this is part of the transition to adulthood," Golic Jr. said with a chuckle of his former teammate's subtle name change. "I’ve seen a lot of my friends now having babies and doing grown-up things, but something tells me he’s always going to be Tommy Rees to the rest of us there.

"They can try to make that stick. I wish them the best of luck with that.”

Let's go! Love it.

— Mike Golic Jr (@MGolicJR57) January 24, 2017

Let's go!!!

— lOUIS NIX III (@1irishchocolate) January 24, 2017

Happy for my guy and my program!! #goirish

— Ian Williams (@IWilliams95) January 24, 2017

Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees, 11, is celebrates a touchdown pass with teammate Zack Martin during the game college football game between Notre Dame and Brigham Young on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/Robert Franklin)