Notre Dame's new offensive line coach Joe Rudolph hopes to continue NFL pipeline
SOUTH BEND — Ryan Ramczyk's football career took a turn when he met Joe Rudolph.
In his fifth year as an New Orleans Saints offensive lineman, Ramczyk began his college career in 2013 at Wisconsin Stevens Point, a Division III program. After two years he transferred to Wisconsin, where Rudolph was the Badgers' heralded offensive line coach.
Ramczyk said the coaching at Stevens Point was geared more toward basic fundamentals. When he got to Madison, Rudolph taught him how to be an NFL-ready player.
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"Looking back the way he coached was very pro style," Ramczyk said in a recent phone interview. "There are many fine details as an offensive lineman as far as footwork, hand placement and body control. He was on top of all of that."
In two years Rudolph helped transform Ramczyk into a first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Rudolph, now the offensive line coach at Notre Dame, had a knack for producing NFL-caliber offensive line prospects at Wisconsin.
Ramczyk expects him to have that same impact with the Irish.
"There are certain type of coaches that are able to get their players to buy into what they are selling," Ramczyk said, "They make (players) feel confident in what we are doing and make us want to go out and play for them."
Rudolph, 50, replaces Harry Hiestand who unexpectedly retired last month after one year into his second stint at Notre Dame. Rudolph said it was head coach Marcus Freeman's offensive vision — and the importance of the offensive line to it — that lured him away from Virginia Tech after one season.
"That's not always in fashion," Rudolph said of Freeman's offensive philosophy. "He took a lot in pride in saying it, and that hits deep to me in how I grew up and played."
Rudolph was an offensive lineman at Wisconsin from 1991-94 before two short stints in the NFL with the Eagles in 1995 and the 49ers in 1997.
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He returned to Wisconsin in 2015, where he created a six-year NFL pipeline for offensive lineman. Those he developed include Tyler Biadasz, a 2020 fourth-round pick, David Edwards (2019, fifth round), Michael Deiter (2019, third round) and Ramczyk, among others.
Ramczyk said it was Rudolph's ability to create depth on the offensive line that led to that success.
While not able to play his first year at Wisconsin because of the transfer rules at the time, Ramczyk didn't know what to expect as far as attention from Rudolph during practices. To his surprise, he received just as much coaching as the starters.
"He was a great, intense, relentless coach, and it was exactly what I needed at that point in my career," Ramczyk said. "He pushed us to our full potential."
Kaleb Smith, a former Virginia Tech-turned-Notre Dame wide receiver, noticed that while crossing paths with Rudolph in Blacksburg, Va., last season before reconvening in South Bend this winter.
"He's a guy that had the most respect walking around the Virginia Tech facilities," Smith recalled. "He was the nicest person to talk to unless you are on a football field. He is the real deal and commanded respect from the offensive linemen that I have never seen before."
That is something Rudolph said he takes pride in because it has helped his former players reach their full potential.
"Every person is different," Rudolph said. "You don't coach every player the same. You create an environment where I want these guys as a group to be great together."
Rudolph walks into a situation at Notre Dame where the offensive line cupboard isn't bare.
The Irish must replace both starting guards in Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg, but return three starters, including two potential future pros at tackle in Blake Fisher and All-American Joe Alt. Starting center Zeke Correll returns as well.
The pieces are there for Notre Dame to have a strong offensive line this season and beyond. Rudolph has the track record to justify that.
"The best thing to do is put those guys in the best position to succeed," Rudolph said. "You try to mold it in the way where there's things they are confident in and want to continue to grow that."