Much of Notre Dame's coaching staff, led by Rees and Elston, intends to stay with Irish

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees looks on during football practice Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium.

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees isn’t going anywhere. 

The former Irish quarterback (2010-13) told the current Irish team he will be staying on staff at Notre Dame. The football program released video of Rees' announcement to the team on its official @NDFootball Twitter account Wednesday night.

"This is where my heart is, and my heart’s with you guys," Rees said in the video. "I care too much to leave this place. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to win a national championship."

The 29-year-old Rees told players that he couldn’t tell them anything else about what’s going on with the rest of the coaching staff. Then the reports on what Notre Dame's coaching staff would look like without LSU's new head coach Brian Kelly started flowing on Twitter. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman would be promoted to head coach. Defensive line coach Mike Elston, who had coached with Kelly since 2004, tweeted that he wasn't leaving.

► More:Marcus Freeman expected to become Notre Dame football's next head coach

► Hansen: ND promoting Marcus Freeman is a gamble; not hiring him was more of one

By the end of the night, more assistant coaches were reported as staying. The list included running backs coach Lance Taylor, tight ends coach John McNulty, cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens and safeties coach Chris O'Leary, all of which were confirmed by ND Insider via sources by Thursday morning.

Director of football performance Matt Balis, a key part of Notre Dame's resurgence after the 2016 season, started the wave of good news Monday night when he informed players that he was staying with the program.

The staff stability should allow Notre Dame to quickly build recruiting momentum with minimal fallout from Kelly's departure. As of Thursday morning, only 2022 defensive back recruit Devin Moore had withdrawn his verbal commitment to the Irish, which happened Tuesday. Notre Dame's commits were among the first to learn which coaches would be staying Wednesday night.

While each coach retained brings a value of their own, the commitment from Rees and Elston may resonate the most. Their loyalties to both Kelly and Notre Dame has been long established.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and defensive line coach Mike Elston during the Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Elston first joined Kelly at Central Michigan in 2004 and followed him to Cincinnati in 2007 and to Notre Dame in 2010. Elston was promoted to Notre Dame's associate head coach from 2018-20, but he was never given the official defensive coordinator title upon multiple openings. Elston did take on defensive coordinator duties during the 2016 season after Brian VanGorder was fired even though Greg Hudson was publicly given the interim title.

Elston stuck with Notre Dame through those ups and downs and could be given a chance to serve as a defensive coordinator under Freeman. With the help of his defensive line, the Irish are 1.5 sacks shy of breaking the program record of 41 sacks in a season.

Kelly recruited Rees to Notre Dame as a quarterback out of Lake Forest (Ill.) High in the 2010 class. He hired Rees in 2017 to be his quarterbacks coach and promoted him to offensive coordinator ahead of the 2020 season. 

Notre Dame finished the 2020 season ranked No. 26 in the FBS in total offense (448.5 yards per game) and No. 30 in scoring offense (33.4 points per game) with Rees calling plays. The Irish finished the 2021 regular season ranked No. 56 in total offense (415.8 yards per game) and No. 21 in scoring offense (35.2 points per game).

Rees didn't mince words about his decision in his message to the team.

"I wanted to be able to get in front of you and tell you guys that so you guys knew it," Rees said. "Some of you might be happy. Some of you might be pissed. I don’t know. Depends (muffled).  

“The most important thing to me was that you guys heard from me upfront and that you guys had confidence in going forward. I can’t tell you guys anything else about what’s going on. That’s all I can tell you. But I appreciate you guys coming in on short notice.  

“We have work to do this year. We have a lot ahead of us. For the guys that are coming back, let’s go win a (edited expletive) national championship here at Notre Dame."

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.