The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 25, 2022 12:20 am

He's back: Harry Hiestand to coach Irish OL again

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Harry Hiestand will return to Notre Dame to coach the offensive line, the same position he held with the Irish from 2012 to 2017, Notre Dame announced.

Hiestand, 63, helped establish Notre Dame as a home for elite offensive linemen, developing, among others Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Quenton Nelson, all of whom have gone on to earn All-Pro honors in the NFL after playing for the Irish. Nelson was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, taken three picks ahead of former teammate Mike McGlinchey. The pair of top 10 selections were part of the Notre Dame offensive line that, under Hiestand's tutelage, won the Joe Moore Award in 2017 as the best offensive front in the country.

“Harry built the standard of excellence for the Notre Dame offensive line and we are excited to have him back in our program,” Irish coach Marcus Freeman said in a statement. ”Our focus is on player development and pushing our players to reach their full potential and that is where Harry excels.”

Hiestand left South Bend following that '17 season to become the offensive line coach for the Chicago Bears, a position he had also held from 2005 to 2009. He was with the Bears in 2018 and 2019 and then took the last two years off of coaching before returning to Notre Dame.

The Irish had several solid offensive lines under Hiestand's replacement, Jeff Quinn, including a group that was one of three finalists for the Moore Award in 2020 and then saw three of its linemen – Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey – selected in the first 95 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft.

But the line, replacing four starters, faltered in the early part of 2021, struggling to open holes for the run game and protect quarterback Jack Coan. While Notre Dame improved significantly as the season wore on, Quinn drew criticism for his performance and the Irish opted to go in a different direction.

Hiestand will have plenty of talent with which to work when he gets back to campus. Notre Dame returns All-American center Jarrett Patterson and a pair of tackles, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, who started as true freshmen in 2021 and were stout in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. Along with Andrew Kristofic, who will reprise his role as Notre Dame's starting left guard, that's the basis of a very good line. Josh Lugg and soon-to-be redshirt freshman Rocco Spindler, a top recruit in the 2021 class, will likely battle for the right guard spot vacated by Cain Madden. With Hiestand at the helm, there is reason to believe one of 2021's weaknesses (at least for a good chunk of the season) will be much improved in '22.

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