Familiar face joins Notre Dame football coaching staff

Tom Noie
ND Insider

Harry Hiestand is returning to town and his old job as the offensive line coach at Notre Dame under first-year coach Marcus Freeman.

Then again, Hiestand never really left. Only kind of, sort of.

Having spent six seasons (2012-17) working with the offensive line under former Irish head coach Brian Kelly, Hiestand worked two years (2018, 2019) in a similar role with the Chicago Bears. He was fired following the 2019 NFL season.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand at Notre Dame football practice Saturday, August 15, 2015, at LaBar Practice Complex. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)

During that second tour of NFL duty, Hiestand kept a home in the South Bend area, in part so his youngest two children, son Mark and daughter Sarah, could finish their studies at South Bend Saint Joseph High School.

On Friday, multiple media outlets reported that Hiestand will return to Notre Dame for the 2022 season. It was first reported by Yahoo's Pete Thamel. Hiestand's return had been rumored for weeks.

There was no official word from Notre Dame.

“I think he’s far and away the best offensive line coach in the country," former Irish offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr., told NDInsider in 2016 about Hiestand. "I’ll put him up with anyone around the country. He’s so genuine. He’s the offensive lineman’s o-line coach. He has no aspirations of upward mobility. So much of coaching is wanting to get to that next step (in the profession), and he’s so focused on that day-to-day grind of, ‘All right, how can we get better today?’ He’s so dialed in.”

The Athletic also reported that former Notre Dame offensive lineman Chris Watt is expected to return to his alma mater in an offensive analyst/support role. 

A native of Malvern, Pennsylvania, the 63-year-old Hiestand replaces Jeff Quinn, who was not retained by Freeman following the 2021 season in which the offensive line fell under constant/heavy criticism early in the season. By year's end, the line had solidified despite starting four different players, all underclassmen, including two true freshmen, at left tackle.

Those freshmen – Joe Alt (left tackle) and Blake Fisher (right tackle) – started in Notre Dame's loss to Oklahoma State in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. Both are expected to start at the tackle spots in 2022. The Irish still are awaiting word from starting center Jarrett Patterson, the unit's most experienced lineman, who could return for one more year or declare for the NFL draft.

Junior Andrew Kristofic, who started the final seven games at left guard this season, also returns. Josh Lugg, who started every game but the bowl game at right tackle after suffering a knee injury, has indicated that he will return in 2022.

The only Irish starting offensive lineman out of eligibility is graduate student/transfer Cain Madden, who started all 13 games at right guard in his only season after arriving from Marshall.

Hiestand has tutored some of the best offensive linemen to play at a school known for interior excellence. Among the first-round NFL draft picks to work with Hiestand are Zack Martin (Dallas), Mike McGlinchey (San Francisco), Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis) and Ronnie Stanley (Baltimore). The 2017 Irish offensive line was named the inaugural winner of the Joe Moore Award, which annually honors the nation's top offensive line.

Hiestand oversaw a unit that averaged 279.1 yards rushing, seventh best in the FBS, in 2017.

Hiestand returns to Notre Dame to work under offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Hiestand worked two years at Notre Dame when Rees was the Irish quarterback. His last year in South Bend, in 2017, mirrored Rees' first year as quarterback coach.

Freeman has two spots still to fill on his coaching staff – wide receivers coach and defensive coordinator. Earlier this week, former Cincinnati special teams coordinator Brian Mason reportedly took a similar position at Notre Dame.

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI