Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand's consistently successful recruiting pitch
Harry Hiestand is the king of anticlimax.
At Notre Dame, the same story unfolds every single signing day. Hiestand’s offensive linemen commit early, and they sign first. No surprises. Zero hesitation. If you’re looking for a twist ending, you’ll have to find it somewhere else.
And because the offensive linemen sign first, the sixth-year Notre Dame offensive line coach is the first to speak with the media. He moseys down the steps of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex auditorium — stuffed unnaturally into an olive suit, khaki pants and sneakers, the polar opposite of a line coach’s preferred uniform — and leans inelegantly on the podium at the front of the room.
He doesn’t want to be here; that much is clear. Like most offensive line coaches, Hiestand responds to cameras about as well as vampires respond to sunlight. He’d rather be poring over film, obsessing on fundamentals, making the kind of imperceptible improvement that an average fan will never notice.
But this is National Signing Day, and so he meets the media. And when the man talks, it becomes immediately clear why there are 10 consensus four-star (or higher) offensive linemen currently on the roster, and 11 once Josh Lugg arrives this summer. It’s not yet 9 a.m., but his enthusiasm — his sincerity — glows like fireflies in the darkness, illuminating Notre Dame’s virtues. For these few minutes, it’s easy to understand why the staff’s most uncomfortable public speaker can also be its most dynamic, consistent recruiter.
This is the side of Harry Hiestand that recruits and their families always see.
“It’s really pretty simple: it’s Notre Dame,” Hiestand says, when asked for the secret to his consistent recruiting success. “When guys come here and take time and are thoughtful and making decisions for the right reasons, and can separate the fantasy world of recruiting and reality, and they have a vision of what they want to do with their lives as far as the things that are important to them — when the important things to them are education, life after football, being at a place that’s going to be committed to helping them really, truly be the best they can be in every area — this place hits those guys.
“Then they come in and they meet guys like Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher that are very similar to themselves — very driven young men that want to have success in every aspect of their life and have been raised that way, have been challenged that way. When it hits them, it hits them.”
In the 2017 class, Hiestand’s pitch hit Lugg, Dillan Gibbons, Robert Hainsey and Aaron Banks. Gibbons and Lugg were two of the Irish’s first three 2017 commits, joining the class more than 17 months before National Signing Day. Banks joined on Dec. 9 but almost immediately enrolled early.
Hiestand doesn’t sell excessive facilities or a dazzling night life. He promises personal improvement and long-term security.
It isn’t sexy, but it hits all the same.
“The No. 1 thing is the university,” he said. “You come up here and spend time with people at this university and see how interested they are in your success as a human, as a young man that’s going through all the challenges of being 18, 19, 20 years old. There’s this feeling of community here. ‘Boy, if I come here I’m going to be able to reach these goals that I’ve got set.’
“They also understand that no matter how great they play and if they go to the NFL, at age 34, 35 it’s all going to be over regardless of how much money you made or how successful your career was, whichever way it goes. At age 34, 35, now what? At a place like Notre Dame, they’re able to see that there’s all kinds of opportunities created through the strength of the university degree and the people outside that have been here and are now out and around the country.”
At this point in his impromptu presentation, Hiestand has found his groove. He is an embodiment of his institution, his words dripping with a steadfast conviction. You can picture him, sitting in a messy office or dusty film room with a high school junior, inching towards an inevitable commitment.
In selling the university, he’s also selling himself.
“They’re going to get consistent, steady coaching,” Hiestand says. “The coaching is going to come in every area of their life, and the support they’re going to get as a player is the same as the support they’re going to get as a person and a student. I look at it personally as my job.
“I’m now responsible to continue them on the path that their parents started them on with doing the right things and being the best that they can be in everything that they do. That’s a charge that I take very seriously. Every day, it isn’t just about, ‘Can you get your head across that 3-technique?’ It’s about the effort that you put forth in class, that you’re on time, that you meet the responsibilities that you have as a student at Notre Dame as well as an athlete.
“That’s what I tell them in recruiting and that’s what they get when they get here, and there’s no surprise.”
No surprise. No twist ending. Just Hiestand on National Signing Day, in khakis and dark blue sneakers. Just another crop of the country’s top offensive linemen, signing on the dotted line.
Just like clockwork, he delivers the anticlimax. Next year, bright and early, he’ll do it all again.