New faces on the coaching staff

Author: Daniel Paglia and Matt Cotner

As Marcus Freeman assumes his head coaching duties at the University of Notre Dame, his first staff is beginning to take shape. With the departure of any head coach comes several changes among the position coaches, and the same holds true for the Fighting Irish after former head coach Brian Kelly took the job at LSU. Several former coaches have since departed for other opportunities or have not been retained — running backs coach Lance Taylor took the offensive coordinator position at Louisville, defensive line coach Mike Elston left for his same job at Michigan, Brian Polian followed Kelly to LSU as the special teams coordinator and Del Alexander and Jeff Quinn were relieved of their duties leading the wide receivers and offensive line, respectively. Even with these losses, Fighting Irish fans have something to look forward to as Freeman and company announce the hirings of new position coaches who will bring a renewed energy to recruiting and the development of players already on campus. 

Note: None of the following coaches have been officially hired by the University, but several reports confirm that these coaches are going through the hiring process and are already on campus at Notre Dame. 

Offensive Line Coach, Harry Hiestand

Harry Hiestand will reportedly join Freeman’s staff for his second stint at Notre Dame. Hiestand originally came to Notre Dame in 2012 in the same capacity after one-year at Tennessee. His coaching career extends back to 1982, bringing a level of experience that is rare on Freeman’s youthful staff. In addition to his ample collegiate experience, Hiestand spent over a year with the Chicago Bears in the NFL after leaving Notre Dame in 2017. One of the main reasons cited for his departure was his dislike for the travel associated with recruiting, but with the enthusiasm Tommy Rees and Marcus Freeman have shown so far, Notre Dame is poised to continue luring elite offensive linemen to South Bend. 

Hiestand is largely responsible for Notre Dame bolstering the “O-Line U” moniker that has been long associated with the program. During his time at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish built a reputation for developing strong offensive lines and success at the next level, including several top-10 picks in the NFL Draft. In his final season at Notre Dame, the 2017 offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, named after a former Notre Dame offensive line coach, which goes to the nation’s best offensive line. Hiestand coached several NFL All-Pro selections, as well as numerous other talented offensive linemen during his tenure at Notre Dame including Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks. 

When news broke of Hiestand’s return to Notre Dame, McGlinchey took to Twitter to celebrate with his former coach. 

“Welcome home, coach! Let’s go Irish!!” McGlinchey’s tweet stated. 

Hiestand will inherit an offensive line room that is filled with depth and potential at every single position. Notre Dame will return four starters along the offensive line in rising sophomores Blake Fisher and Joe Alt, senior Jarrett Patterson, and graduate student Josh Lugg. In addition, the Fighting Irish are loaded with depth in the trenches in the form of guards Rocco Spindler and Andrew Kristofic, tackles Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody, and five incoming freshmen that were named high school All-Americans. 

Notre Dame has already established relationships with several offensive linemen in the 2023 class as well. The retention of Rees will solidify these relationships and allow Hiestand to pick up where Quinn left off. After recruits see the presumed success of the offensive line this coming season, many will likely jump aboard to be developed by one of the most well-respected offensive line coaches in college football. 

Freeman and Rees made an excellent hire in Hiestand, and Notre Dame is poised to retain its “O-Line U” moniker going forward. 

Defensive Line Coach, Al Washington 

Initially, convincing Mike Elston to stay on as defensive line coach was a win for the Notre Dame staff, as Brian Kelly had strong ties with him dating back to Cincinnati. However, this excitement was short lived as Elston chose to leave the program to take the same position at Michigan, his alma mater, after 12 seasons in South Bend. This left the Irish in need of someone who could continue the recent success the Irish have maintained at the position. 

The hiring of Al Washington filled this role on the staff. The hire makes sense, as Washington brings 14 years of coaching experience with him to the Irish staff. Additionally, he has a relationship with Marcus Freeman, as they worked together in Cincinnati in 2017 when Freeman was defensive coordinator and Washington coached the defensive line. 

In between these two jobs, Washington coached linebackers at Ohio State for three years, adding yet another storyline when the two programs clash to open next season. 

Washington will inherit Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola, two of the biggest producers on the defensive line last season. Foskey finished the 2021 season with 11 sacks, 2.5 shy of the program record. However, the defensive line will also lose impact players Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish to the NFL Draft. Therefore, it will be up to Washington to ensure that the high-caliber line continues to improve while also introducing new talent to the squad. 

Wide Receivers Coach, Chansi Stuckey 

This position remained a top priority for the Irish to fill. After the departure of Del Alexander likely due to recruiting struggles, Notre Dame needed to fill this spot with someone who could consistently recruit at a high level. The Irish chose to pass on more likely candidates such as Purdue’s JaMarcus Shepard and Alabama’s Holman Wiggins, and rather opted for the youthful Chansi Stuckey from Baylor to fill the void. Stuckey is an interesting hire, as both Shepard and Wiggins were more experienced options that had seen prolonged success. Meanwhile, Stuckey has spent only one year as wide receivers coach at Baylor. With such an already inexperienced coaching staff, it is certainly a surprise that Notre Dame opted for another young hire. 

While lacking a proven record of success, the Irish believe Stuckey brings intangibles and the ability to recruit well. After playing college football at Clemson, Stuckey was drafted by the New York Jets in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. He bounced around the league for five years before being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. 

In 2019, Stuckey began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Clemson. According to The Athletic, Dabo Swinney vouched for Stuckey directly to the Irish coaching staff. Ideally, this background in the South will open up a new region for Notre Dame to exploit on the recruiting trail. Tapping southern connections to entice recruits that would normally end up at SEC schools is something that Stuckey will have to do to be successful at developing a position in which Notre Dame has struggled to recruit in recent years. 

These three coaches will inherit position groups with varying degrees of depth and potential, but the confidence of Freeman and Rees in each of their hires bodes well for the future of the football program. However, the work is not done yet as Notre Dame still has several openings on the new staff that will need to be filled before the Irish travel to Columbus in early September. While rumors have been circulating for weeks about who will be the next defensive coordinator, Rees will also be filling a vital position on the staff as he finds a new running backs coach. 

Whoever fills the remaining roles on the staff will be joining a younger, more charismatic staff than the one before it. Expectations will be higher than ever before from the top down, but the new faces of Notre Dame seem to be ready for the challenge.