Former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly isn't unpopular to Tommy Rees

Tyler James
ND Insider
Tommy Rees, right, played quarterback at Notre Dame for head coach Brian Kelly, left, before Kelly hired him on his Notre Dame coaching staff in 2017.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tommy Rees wanted to set the record straight. 

When a reporter from Oklahoma asked Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator about the process that allowed former head coach Brian Kelly to put the football program in position to be a national contender, one line didn’t sit particularly well with Rees. 

“I know Brian Kelly is not necessary a popular figure these days around South Bend,” the reporter said preceding a question that gave Rees the opportunity to praise the job Kelly did as Notre Dame’s head coach. 

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That sentiment certainly would apply to many Notre Dame fans who feel jilted about Kelly’s sudden departure for LSU following the end of the regular season. 

Rees, who played quarterback for Kelly for four seasons (2010-13) before joining the coaching staff as a quarterbacks coach in 2017, wanted to make it clear that he’s not part of a Notre Dame crowd that now looks at Kelly as unpopular. 

“I'll start off by saying I still think coach Kelly is pretty popular and held in high regard in a lot of people that are part of this program and in people that he's impacted, myself included,” Rees said Tuesday. “Played for him. He hired me back here as a young coach, promoted me as a young coach. I know there's a lot of other individuals within our program that have been here that share that sentiment towards Coach. 

“There's really no ill will towards him throughout this entire change and process. I think what Coach did over his time at Notre Dame needs to be respected in the way that it is. Look, he built this program back up. He had two playoff appearances, a BCS championship appearance, undefeated seasons. 

“But past all of that, he built the culture into a place where it's really strong. And he built the culture into a place where it's strong to the point where we felt like we can seamlessly get into this transition because there's a very strong culture already laid down.  

“I believe Coach is going to do the same thing down in Baton Rouge. We wish him nothing but the best.” 

Rees admitted on “The Ryen Russillo Podcast” earlier this month that he seriously considered following Kelly to LSU. While there was uncertainty of who would become Notre Dame’s head coach, the challenge of coaching in the SEC appealed to Rees. But after discussions with athletic director Jack Swarbrick and learning that defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman would be promoted to head coach, Rees decided to stay at Notre Dame. 

“I felt like Notre Dame was the Alamo,” Rees told Russillo. “It was under attack. Everyone was going to die. Like I told you, I wanted to fight for Notre Dame. There was something inside me, and I’d never felt that before. It was just a new sense of like allegiance or respect; I don’t know what it was. But I was like, ‘This is where I want to be,’ and I want to support Notre Dame through this time.  

“Look, we just essentially went under attack or had our worlds completely flipped upside down. I wanted to be there to help fight through this and give the program some life, some energy that everything is going to be fine. We’re going to right this ship and keep things going in the right direction.” 

No. 5 Notre Dame (11-1) can start the Marcus Freeman Era off right with a victory over No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl (1 p.m. EST on ESPN).

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.