Updated: Notre Dame loses second (and incredibly valued) assistant coach

Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, left, blocks defensive end Jay Hayes during a drill in a practice in South Bend last April. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, right, speaks with Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand during a spring practice in South Bend earlier in their careers. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

The exodus continued Wednesday from what very well could have been regarded as one of the best – if not the best, from top to bottom – coaching staffs that Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly had put together in his eight seasons in South Bend.

The University confirmed multiple reports that stated Fighting Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand was leaving the program to take the same position with the Chicago Bears.

“Harry is an outstanding coach — one of the best offensive line coaches in football,” Kelly said in a statement. “He developed young men in the spirit of Notre Dame. I know this was a difficult decision for him based upon his feelings for this program, this university and his student-athletes.”

Hiestand served in that role with the Bears for five seasons (2005 to 2009) earlier in his career.

The move followed the departure of Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko last week, who took the same position at Texas A&M.

Both changes are sure to be painful for the Notre Dame program, as Elko and Hiestand were the two most acclaimed and experienced coaches that Kelly had been able to bring into his program.

“Notre Dame has always had a high standard of offensive line play and attracted the best offensive linemen in the nation,” Kelly continued. “Harry was an excellent caretaker to that standard. While disappointed to see Harry go, I’m not surprised by his decision. We knew six years ago when we hired him that his final step in coaching could be the NFL.”

In the case of Hiestand, he has been at Notre Dame since the 2012 season, but this was his most heralded year to date.

The Irish offensive line was awarded the coveted Joe Moore Award last month, which is presented to the nation’s best offensive line as a unit.

“The thing voters felt separated Notre Dame’s offensive line this year from the other deserving units was their technique and how they consistently finished their blocks,” SEC Network Sideline Analyst and Chairman of the Joe Moore Award voting committee Cole Cubelic said in a release. “As impressive as the other finalists and semi-finalists were no one consistently finished blocks in 2017 like Notre Dame, and that really seemed to make the difference this year in the eyes of the voters.”

The Irish offensive line struggled with its chemistry and execution in 2016 and the results were evident in the program struggling to a 4-8 record. However, as the unit improved this past season, so did the team overall.

The Irish averaged 6.3 yards per rush this past season, as compared to 4.5 a year earlier.

In addition, the Notre Dame rushing attack improved from 1,960 yards gained to over 3,500.

“Harry has done a tremendous job with that group,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said recently, “just building them through the years.”

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The Joe Moore Award is named after the longtime Irish offensive line coach, who served as a mentor to Hiestand, as he grew through the profession, and that made this year’s honor even more special.

“It adds that much more knowing how important coach Hiestand is to us and the relationship that we have with him,” Notre Dame senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “Winning his mentor’s award, it was a very, very special moment for him.”

McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson became the first teammates in the history of the Football Writers Association of America to have two of its offensive linemen earn first-team All-American honors in the same season.

Also, the pair, who are projected to be selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, became the first two same-team linemen to be named first-team All-Americans by the Associated Press since 1931.

“When I first got here,” Long said, “you could just tell who the alphas of the group were and it was the (offensive) front that we have. They just did a great job every day. You won’t find a harder-working, better prepared group than that offensive line.”

Such is a compliment to their coach and his absence will be felt significantly within the Notre Dame program.

For more on Notre Dame football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.