In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff


In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Matt Nagy's first coaching hire as head coach of the Bears is an awfully impressive one. 

A source confirmed Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is expected to be hired as the Bears' offensive line coach, a position he held under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. The Bears officially announced the addition of Hiestand to Nagy's coaching staff Wednesday evening. 

Hiestand was hired as Notre Dame's offensive line coach in 2012 and has been instrumental in the development of a number of highly-drafted players, including Zack Martin (Dallas Cowboys) and Ronnie Stanley (Baltimore Ravens). 

The timing of Hiestand leaving Notre Dame for the Bears makes sense, given the Irish will lose top guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey to the NFL Draft this year. Nelson is an elite talent and may be a top-10 pick; McGlinchey could also wind up being taken in the first round, too. 

And those guys swore by Hiestand, to the point that Zack Martin played a fifth year at Notre Dame partly because he wanted to continue learning from Hiestand. 

"He’s definitely a guy that tries to relate to you as a person and tries to understand you," Stanley said prior to the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. "He’s really good at doing that. Even when you don’t tell him anything about your life he understands you. He’s been there before, he’s coached a lot of players and he’s just one of those guys you want to build a relationship with, and you know he’s good people."

"He cares about us in the room," vouched Nick Martin, Zack's brother and a second-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2016, a few years ago. "There’s no doubt about that. I think that’s what you realize quick, yeah, he’ll get after you, but he wants the best from you to not only be the best football player you can be but also be the best person you can be. He demonstrates that and shares life lessons and really makes you a better person off the field as well as on the field, which really shows how much he cares about us as people."

Coaching NFL players is obviously different than college guys, but Hiestand was well-respected during his years in Chicago as well. When Brian Kelly went out looking for an offensive line coach after the 2011 season, Hiestand was at the top of his list. 

"Everything about the offensive line that Harry has had, those guys play hard," Kelly said in 2014. "Really hard. And so I'm always looking for coaches that their kids play really hard for. And that was the thing that I kept hearing about Harry. And I wanted an offensive line coach where those kids really, really hard good, strong relationships with him, and played really hard for."

And now, next up for Hiestand will be getting Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Charles Leno and that group to play "really hard" for him. Given his rep, it's fair to expect they will. 

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Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

USA Today

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quenton Nelson hasn’t met with the Bears yet during this pre-draft process, and doesn’t have a local visit scheduled with them. But maybe that’s not too surprising.

Harry Hiestand has better intel on him than anyone else after coaching him for the past four years at Notre Dame, after all. 

“Coach Hiestand, he’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said. “He knows everything about me.”

Could part of that intel provided by Hiestand be that Nelson has the ability to eventually play tackle?

Nelson might be the closest to a “sure thing” prospect in this year’s draft, with his reams of dominant film and off-the-charts work ethic projecting him as an All-Pro for years to come. But that he plays guard is a stumbling block, given interior positions generally don’t hold as much value as tackles in the NFL.

So here’s a potential scenario for the Bears: They draft Nelson at No. 8 — which is still "high" for a guard — and plug him at left guard in 2018. They then, under the careful watch of Hiestand, slide him to tackle in 2019. 

“I’m pretty convinced that Q could do whatever he sets his mind to,” Mike McGlinchey, a first-round tackle in his own right who's Nelson’s ex-Irish teammate and workout buddy, said. “If that’s what teams want him to play, I’m sure he’ll take that head on and perform to the best of his ability.” 

Nelson, to his credit, is confident he could make the switch to tackle (he was recruited by Hiestand as a tackle, and began his college career backing up Zack Martin at tackle). He said the only team that’s asked him about it so far is the Cincinnati Bengals, though it’s unlikely he’ll still be on the board when they pick at No. 21. 

But maybe the thought of guards being significantly less valuable than tackles is slowly becoming antiquated in today’s NFL. Four of the top 10 highest paid offensive linemen, by total contract value, are interior linemen. Three of the top 10 offensive linemen with the most guaranteed money are guards, led by Andrew Norwell, who inked a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Only one offensive lineman — Nate Solder, who just signed with the New York Giants — is guaranteed more money. 

Following the money, if teams are willing to splash down loads of cash for the best guards in the league, a team may be willing to spend a top-10 pick on a guard who could immediately be among the best at his position in the NFL. Or the calculation for whatever team drafts him may be this: Would you rather have him as a perennial All-Pro guard or "merely" a solid-to-good tackle? 

Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, Nelson is one of those supremely-talented players who takes the right approach to his craft — in other words, one of those guys you just want to get in your building. And while Nelson said he’d love to play for his hometown New York Giants — who could be interested in him with the No. 2 pick — he said getting to link back up with Hiestand would be an incredible opportunity, too. 

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He’s the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without him or be in any conversations in the draft without him, so it would mean a lot to play for him again.”