Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

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

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14 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL O nce Tommy Rees made the choice, Brian Kelly prepared himself for the inevitable. In 2015, after a one-week NFL career, Rees decided to dive into coaching. And when he did, Kelly — his coach at Notre Dame from 2010-13 — was going to make good on an old promise and hire him. Not down the road, once he climbed the ladder, put in some years and paid his dues. Soon. "I was going to make sure I got him back to Notre Dame," Kelly said. "I saw him grow so much. I saw a guy that, when he decided he wanted to be in coaching, had a keen understanding of relationships with coaches, peers, staff, and understood the difference between being a player and coach." All that before he really was a coach. After just two years in the busi- ness — he spent 2015 as a graduate assistant at Northwestern and 2016 as an offensive assistant with the Los Angeles Chargers — Kelly snatched Rees and threw him into the thick of a pressure cooker. Not as a grunt worker. As the quarterbacks coach. That meant teaching. Recruiting. Game-planning. Developing. Three seasons later, still shy of age 30, Rees is running an Irish offense that entered the College Football Playoff averaging five touchdowns per game, ranked among the top 30 nationally in yards per play and had one of the 10 highest third-down conversion rates. He outfoxed one of the industry's most respected football minds, Clemson de- fensive coordinator Brent Venables, in his eighth game as a play caller. One wonders what Kelly saw. But the answer isn't found in a sin- gular moment. It's in Kelly's belief, formed over seven combined sea- sons together, that results will come when Rees is tasked with anything, because he's wired that way. He produces, and builds equity along the way. Those are the themes of Rees' football life. In every stop, he has displayed a knack for earning the unflinching faith of those around him in short order and becoming a voice that penetrates even some unwill- ing ears. His tight relationship with fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book is based on much more than their shared experiences. A coordinator is nothing without trust from his players and boss. Rees has a full supply of it. "It's not earned arrogance, because it's never arrogance with Tommy," said Mike Golic Jr., Rees' former teammate. "But it's an earned confidence in your viewpoint and the way you want to explain things that comes with con- ducting himself the way he always has. "He puts the work in and he gets to voice his opinions and have those conversations because it's earned." Rees is a teacher, a confidant, an insatiable consumer of football. Ca- pable of delivering tough love, yet calm in claustrophobic moments. Solution-oriented rather than mis- take-obsessed. A 28-year-old whose résumé may still be light, but its con- tents short-change his experience. He is trustworthy to his players because of his relatability, straight- forwardness and instructional skills. To Kelly, because of their unbending connection. To former teammates, because of his work ethic and steadi- ness. To everyone, because of his af- fability, boundless curiosity and stu- dious nature. UP AND COMING Tommy Rees' fast rise to offensive coordinator is rooted in his trustworthiness and curiosity In his first season as a play caller, Rees directed an Irish offense that produced 37.7 points and 474.4 yards per game en route to a 10-0 start. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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