Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand joining Chicago Bears

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame's seismic staff departures just keep coming.

Less than a week after defensive coordinator Mike Elko left South Bend for a lucrative raise at Texas A&M, sixth-year Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand will join Matt Nagy's staff with the Chicago Bears, the team announced on Wednesday. 

The 59-year-old Hiestand has been an offensive line coach every year since 1989, both on the college and professional level. He previously served as the Bears' offensive line coach from 2005 to 2009.

More recently, Hiestand's Notre Dame offensive line unit was honored last month with the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the premier offensive line in college football. The Irish O-line was also a finalist for the award in 2015.

According to his players, Hiestand was a primary reason why.

“He’s the best teacher” graduate student left tackle Mike McGlinchey said of Hiestand in Aug. 2016. “He coaches fundamentals, and you’ll start doing fundamentals in your sleep, because all you’re doing is thinking about them during camp.

“He’s such an incredible teacher, pays such attention to detail. He cares so much and he sets a standard for us in our room that if you don’t meet it, he’s going to hold us accountable to it. That’s what makes our group so special."

In Hiestand's final season in South Bend, Notre Dame's offensive line set quite a standard. The Irish rushed for 269.3 yards per game, which ranked seventh nationally. Senior Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson was named a unanimous All-American and one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, which honors college football's top interior lineman.

McGlinchey also took home consensus All-American honors. Both players are expected to be first round picks in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

While at Notre Dame, Hiestand also presided over the development of eventual NFL first round draft picks Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin, as well as second round pick Nick Martin and third round pick Chris Watt.

“Harry has an NFL pedigree,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of Hiestand on the same night Stanley was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the sixth pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. “He’s respected in the ranks of the NFL for developing players.

"They know when Harry gets his hands on them, that they can expect somebody who has been coached in all the fundamentals, that they’ll be ready to move on to the next level."

As for the collegiate level, Hiestand also proved himself as an elite recruiter throughout his tenure at Notre Dame, signing 15 Rivals four- or five-star offensive linemen in six recruiting cycles.

But ... how?

“It’s weird, everyone asks us that,” current starting right tackle Tommy Kraemer said in 2015, prior to signing with the Irish. “It’s hard to give an answer, but he’s so much different than any other coach. He’s not into Twitter or any of the modern recruiting. He’s just old school. He loves football.

"He loves coaching, and he wants to be an offensive line coach."

Though, not exclusively at Notre Dame.

In the 2018 cycle, Notre Dame signed two consensus three-star offensive linemen — Cole Mabry and John Dirksen — during the NCAA's new early signing period on Dec. 20. Another three-star lineman, Luke Jones, flipped his verbal commitment from Arkansas to Notre Dame on Dec. 27 and is currently scheduled to sign with the Irish on national signing day, Feb. 7.

At least two more 2018 offensive linemen — Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jarrett Patterson — are also considering Notre Dame ... though Hiestand wouldn't be the one coaching them.

As for potential replacements, it's worth noting that Jeff Quinn — who is currently on ND's staff as an offensive analyst — previously served as the offensive line coach for Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State (1991-2003), Central Michigan (2004-06) and Cincinnati (2007-09). Quinn was a 2009 finalist for the Broyles Award, which is given to college football's top assistant coach.

But it's unlikely that Notre Dame's next offensive line coach — whoever he is — will reach the standard left by its last one.

"He really and truly cares about developing guys and helping them be the best they can be," former Notre Dame offensive lineman and current ESPN Radio host Mike Golic Jr. said in Jan. 2016. "If you let me talk for 45 minutes about coach Hiestand, it wouldn’t be enough time.

"I owe so much to him as far as my development as a player at the end of my time at Notre Dame, and really so much after that. He’s a great guy and one I always look forward to seeing when I’m back on campus.”

Unfortunately for Notre Dame's current and future offensive linemen, the next time Golic returns to campus, Hiestand will no longer be there.

Have been around a lot of coaches in my life and Harry Hiestand is outstanding....he buys into his OL and they buy into him...great teacher, demands a lot but he is a difference maker...ND’s loss is Bear’s gain....

— Mike Mayock (@MikeMayock) January 10, 2018

Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand identified another offensive line target. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)