Happy Monday. Today, as we celebrate the end of Spring Break, the return of Spring ball, March Madness, and St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to take a closer look at one of ND’s recent coaching hires and assess his impact and influence as he enters his third season under Brian Kelly. I’m referring to the Irish offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand (HE-stand). Whether its in recruiting or developing the next Zack Martin, Coach Hiestand’s record is one of demonstrated excellence. And, as the leader of the O-line, he will be responsible for keeping Everett Golson’s or Malik Zaire’s shirt clean and the running lanes clear. If he does, a run to the championship is not out of the question for your 2014 Fighting Irish.
Coach Hiestand joined Coach Kelly’s staff in 2012, after remarkable a 2011 season in which his young charges at Tennessee (2010-2011) put up a season in which they went from 116th, nationally, in sacks-allowed, to 34th. What’s really impressive is that Tennessee ran over 400 passing plays that season. Before Tennessee, Hiestand coached the O-line at Chicago (2005-2009), where his 2005 and 2006 teams were division champs.
While the 2012 season at Notre Dame was one of superlatives for all the position-groups and many players, and while it would unfair to send all the credit his way for the performance of players he neither recruited nor developed, it nevertheless bears noting that 2012 was ND’s best rushing year since 1996 in terms of yards per carry (4.9) and number of 200+ rushing games (7). While those stats took a hit last season, Coach Hiestand’s men notched what may in fact be a more impressive statistic as they allowed only eight sacks over twelve games. Again, credit to Tommy Rees for getting rid of the ball and to Coach Martin for calling the right plays, but eight sacks of a QB as (im-)mobile as Tommy against the competition they faced is nothing short of terrific.
It’s on the recruiting trail, though, that Coach Hiestand is having a perhaps even greater impact, demonstrating as he has an ability to attract top-level talent. In the 2014 cycle, Hiestand netted four players (Bars, Mustipher, Nelson, Byrne) from four different states, to include Quenton Nelson, the 29th-ranked player by Rivals.com. In 2013, Hiestand again brought in four players (Montelus, McGlinchy, Fuller, Elmer) who have already made or will make out-sized contributions along the line.
While the chances of any one player making it to the NFL are rather small, Coach Hiestand has enjoyed considerable success in getting his guys to the next level, too. In this year’s draft, alone, Coach Hiestand has six (!) former players. Along with four Tennessee players, Coach Hiestand’s men going into the draft include Chris Watt and Zack Martin, arguably ND’s best O-lineman in the last several years. Watt calls Coach Hiestand “the best thing ever to happen” to the position-group.
Clearly, Coach Hiestand brings a lot to the table and Irish fans have every reason to expect continued excellence along the line. Last season’s mediocre rushing numbers, in fact, may turn out to have been an anomalous down-tick, so long as Harry’s at the helm.