Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 FEBRUARY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED B rian Kelly probably had no idea what kind of bargain he scored when the Notre Dame head coach decided to hire Tom Rees as his new quarterbacks coach before the 2017 season. What Kelly knew for cer- tain was that he was bring- ing back a former Irish player who, with little fan- fare and much criticism, be- came one of the best statisti- cal quarterbacks in program history as a two-year starter and a valuable backup from 2010-13. What Kelly may not have recognized is that the coach- ing checklist Rees provided stretched far beyond his campus familiarity or any X's and O's expertise. Rees' coaching gifts also included becoming a friend to his players, a confidant to them, a mentor, a sounding board and a psychologist with first-hand knowledge of what it takes to survive being QB1 at Notre Dame. One night, Rees and Irish junior starter Ian Book might be logging late hours studying game film in preparation for an upcoming oppo- nent. The next, maybe the student and teacher are out for pizza, watch- ing an NFL game. Or any other night, you might find Book at Rees' place, just hanging out and chatting about all things other than football. "Ian feels comfortable enough to come to me with things about school, about his personal life," Rees said. "And I think it helps that I have gone through some of the same things. It is something that I can relate to." Theirs is a unique relationship that's fostered because these two Irish signal-callers are only about six years apart in age and have lived and played through common circum- stances, both elevated unexpectedly from backup to starting QB at some point of a season. "Him being in the same situa- tion when he played has brought us closer," Book said of Rees. "He un- derstands what it's like to step in." Part of the perspective Rees tries to share with Book is how intensely the spotlight can shine on a Notre Dame quarterback, an occupational hazard Rees faced in spades. No successful quarterback in Notre Dame history dealt with the scrutiny and ridicule that Rees did. The vitriol toward Rees gathered faster than his win total and touch- down passes, and he's quick to re- mind Book that high praise today can flip to intense criticism tomorrow. "He'll joke about that stuff," Book said. "He'll say, 'You might have had a bad game, but people hated me here.'" This, despite the fact that Rees compiled a 23-8 record as the Irish starter and ranks second on the Notre Dame career list in touchdown passes and third in passing yardage. The perceptions became so mis- guided, a "Bench Tommy Rees" peti- tion was sent to then U.S. President Barack Obama during the 2013 sea- son, requesting that the President pardon Rees from his duties as the Irish starter, in part saying, "It should be a violation of Human Rights to force any person to witness the per- formance Mr. Rees endorses each week." For the record, the petition failed to garner the 100,000 signatures needed for any legislative action. Given the hostile treat- ment, many can't believe Rees ever set foot on campus again upon his graduation, but Kelly was persistent in his insistence that Rees would return as his quarter- backs coach. "I begged him," Kelly said of pulling Rees away from an entry-level assistant job with the San Diego Chargers. And now Kelly said the familiarity and knowledge Rees provides is at the root of Book's quick ascent and poised demeanor. "The roller coaster ride of being the quarterback at Notre Dame — Tommy has taken that trip," Kelly said. "Mutual trust," was the operative reply when Kelly and each of the other Irish offensive coaches were asked what made Book such a willing student and quick study this season. Book entered the Clemson game Dec. 29 well ahead of pace to become Notre Dame's all-time single-season record holder in completion percent- age and quarterback efficiency rating. "At its core," Kelly said, "there's a great amount of trust in both the relationship that's been built on and off the field. It just allows for a com- plete buy-in to everything that's be- ing done." "One of the biggest reasons why we're so close," Rees explained of his understudy, "is that Ian trusts what I'm telling him and I trust him. "As long as there is a mutual level of trust and respect, we'll have noth- ing but great times." ✦ Common Bond Aids Ian Book's Success UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Quarterbacks coach Tom Rees has built a strong connection with Book that has helped him thrive on the field this season. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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