Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Harry Hiestand’s move back to the NFL is more understandable than Mike Elko’s move to Texas A&M. It’s no less of a gut punch to the fans, though, who will watch the replacement process with great interest. We’ll take a look here at possible Notre Dame offensive line candidates in a moment; first, some thoughts on why Hiestand’s move is more understandable.

  • The cheapest NFL team pays position coaches more than the most generous college program does. Hiestand is regarded as the best in the business, and the Bears reportedly will pay him like it. If you’re curious, that should translate to top college coordinator money. Yeah.
  • NFL teams have come after Hiestand every offseason. Sooner or later it was going to work; on the flipside, Brian Kelly can’t possibly be surprised.
  • Hiestand worked with the Bears previously, from 2005-09. That’s important not just because of the comfort level between franchise and coach; with a few more years in Chicago, Harry will qualify for a league pension.
  • Hiestand’s youngest is currently a high school senior. After this spring, there’s no reason to place a premium on family stability.
  • He just won the award named for his mentor and produce one unanimous and one consensus All-American. Those guys will probably be his third and fourth first-round draft picks at Notre Dame. There’s not much left to accomplish here.

It kills me to say it, but under the circumstances it would’ve been crazy for Harry to stay. So, as Kelly, Sam Mustipher, and Alex Bars did, I’ll wish him a fond farewell and hope he finds more success in the Windy City. Now, on to more pressing matters…

Our Favorite Notre Dame Offensive Line Candidates

Well, OK, my favorite. I can’t speak for everyone. The industry views the Notre Dame OL coach position as one of the top jobs available, if not the top job. In addition to all the usual trappings of a Notre Dame position, everyone is aware of the level of line talent Notre Dame naturally attracts. Coaches know they’ll be able to chase the best talent in the country, they know they’ll get it, and they know those guys will fit and perform. According to reports, many coaches have actually reached out to Notre Dame to express interest.

Kelly is in a very strong position here and won’t be in a rush or inclined to reach. Don’t expect anything to happen immediately, but do expect it to be a quality hire. Look no further than the fact that Kelly’s two Irish OL hires – Ed Warriner and Hiestand – were widely regarded as being at the top of their profession. With that in mind, here are some names that have caught our eye. We have no idea how realistic these names are, just guys who look like potentially good hires.

  • Greg Austin, Nebraska
    • 2017 stats: 36th S&P+ rushing, 9th adjusted sack rate, 21st yards per carry, 9th rushing TDs
    • Bona fides: Worked with Chip Kelly from 2010-15, hired by Scott Frost at UCF, followed him to Nebraska.
    • Prognosis: Austin is a former Nebraska lineman who just followed a fellow Nebraska alum to Lincoln. Doesn’t seem likely he’d leave, but it’s worth a phone call.
  • Justin Frye, Boston College
    • 2017 stats: 25th S&P+ rushing, 33rd adjusted line yards, 16th adjusted sack rate, 25th yards per game
    • Bona fides: GA on Urban Meyer’s Florida staff, followed Addazio to Temple and Boston College.
    • Prognosis: Lots of reasons this could make sense. He’s from Indiana and played at Indiana. He’s a stylistic fit for Chip Long. Plus, mildly important, he’s good. Those numbers above might not blow you away, but consider that BC ranked 95th in S&P+ passing and 115th in passing efficiency. Yeah.
  • Herb Hand, Auburn
    • 2017 stats: 16th S&P+ rushing, 25th adjusted line yards, 5th power success rate, 26th yards per game
    • Bona fides: Worked with Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Todd Graham at Tulsa, and James Franklin at Vandy and Penn State.
    • Prognosis: Would you leave an SEC job with a head coach who just got an extension? I probably wouldn’t either.
  • Garin Justice, Arizona/FAU
    • 2017 stats: 10th S&P+ rushing, 3rd rushing success rate, 24th adjusted sack rate, 1st rushing TDs
    • Bona fides: GA under Rodriguez at West Virginia and Bobby Bowden at Florida State, head coach at D2 Concord
    • Prognosis: Rodriguez hired Justice right after the season ended. Will whoever the new guy is at Arizona retain him? He should – Justice was phenomenal with FAU last season. He’s more of a reach than the other guys based on his pedigree, but he’s interesting.
  • John Peterson, Pitt
    • 2017 stats: 19th S&P+ rushing, 19th rushing success rate, 44th adjusted line yards, 85th yards per game
    • Bona fides: Worked with Jim Tressel at Ohio State, has been with Pat Narduzzi since he arrived at Pitt
    • Prognosis: His results have been good, not great; it’s hard to know how much of that to pin on him, and how much on Pitt. I wouldn’t be super-fired up about him but Notre Dame could definitely do worse.
  • Ryan Silverfield, Memphis
    • 2017 stats: 88th S&P+ rushing, 6th rushing IsoPPP, 34th yards per game, 20th rushing TDs
    • Bona fides: Worked with George O’Leary at UCF, Matt Campbell at Toledo, Todd Graham at Arizona State, and Mike Norvell and Chip Long at Arizona State and Memphis. Was the Vikings’s OL coach for six seasons, including Adrian Peterson’s MVP campaign, and the Lions’ OL coach for one season.
    • Prognosis: The connections to Long make Silverfield especially interesting. His reputation as an excellent recruiter doesn’t hurt either; at 62nd, he’s the only non-Power 5 assistant in 247’s top 125 recruiters for 2017. I don’t know that he’d be my first choice, but he has a pretty solid resume.

Any other guys on your own board?

Notable Exclusions

Many fans noted that there’s already an OL coach on campus with deep ties to Kelly. That would be, of course, offensive analyst Jeff Quinn. Quinn was my first thought as well, but views of him as a coach seem to be somewhat mixed. It also probably says something that Buffalo canned him in 2014 and he hasn’t gotten a sniff from anyone since then. I doubt Kelly would hand the job to Quinn; that’s a coasting-to-the-finish move, and it doesn’t fit in with the other moves he has made since last offseason.

Western Michigan OL coach Brian Kenney has popped up in a few places as well. He’s a good coach, well-regarded in the industry, but I can’t in good conscience put him on my list; he was at Penn State from 1988-2011, a.k.a Peak Sandusky. No thanks. Some have mentioned former Florida State OL coach Rick Trickett, but the consensus seems to be that he lost his fastball a while ago.

Some voices that I respect, like Pete Sampson and Jamie Uyeyama, have mentioned guys like Brian Ferentz, Tom Manning, and Andy Heck. I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t see those guys (and guys like them) as realistic candidates. Ferentz and Manning both have the OC title at Iowa and Iowa State; on top of that, Ferentz is working for his father and Manning has worked alongside Matt Campbell since 2009 in Toledo. Would they be willing to give up the OC roles and strong connections to their bosses? Andy Heck is one of the top OL coaches in the NFL. He’d be giving up a lot of money and professional prestige to come back to Notre Dame. Could it happen? Maybe. But he seems like the least likely of the home run candidates.