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Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand announces retirement after one year in second Irish stint

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - APRIL 13: Chicago Bears linebackers coach Harry Hiestand talks to Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterbacks coach Tom Rees prior to game action during the Notre Dame Football Blue and Gold Spring game on April 13, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whomever Marcus Freeman hires as Notre Dame’s next offensive coordinator now has his first task ahead of him: Hire an offensive line coach after Harry Hiestand announced his retirement on Sunday evening. Hiestand returned to the Irish coaching staff just a year ago.

“I have made the decision to retire,” Hiestand said in a statement. “It is important to me to spend time with my family, as I have two kids competing in college athletics, one for his last season, and I have decided it is time for me to be a part of that.”

Hiestand working under Tommy Rees for a year made sense; the two became close when Hiestand coached the line in front of Rees as the Notre Dame quarterback in his final two years as a player. Hiestand coached the Irish offensive line from 2012 to 2017 before heading to the Chicago Bears for a couple seasons.

Working alongside Rees this past year, in a time of some uncertainty, provided Notre Dame a bit of stability offensively in Freeman’s debut season as a head coach.

“I want to personally thank coach Hiestand for coming out of retirement for my first year as a head coach and raising the standard, not only for our offensive line, but for our entire team,” Freeman said. “We are so grateful for all the work he has put in during his two stints here at Notre Dame. Coach Hiestand has experienced success at the highest levels of coaching, and I am forever grateful for the wisdom he has shared with myself and our entire coaching staff.”

With Rees now the offensive coordinator at Alabama, Hiestand’s closest tie to Notre Dame was gone, making this retirement’s timing a better fit. Now, Freeman’s hire at offensive coordinator will have a month, at most, to fill out his own staff.

Hiestand developed a lengthy list of NFL standard-bearers. Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, Zack Martin and Mike McGlinchey were all first-round draft picks. Nick Martin went in the second and Chris Watt in the third.

The 2020 line that pushed the Irish into the College Football Playoff after an unbeaten regular season was also initially developed under Hiestand, all recruited by him. Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks both went in the subsequent second round, while Robert Hainsey went in the third. Undrafted free agent Tommy Kraemer caught on with the Detroit Lions, where he started three games in 2021.

Hiestand also sought out 2019 undrafted free agents Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher to work on his Bears offensive line. Mustipher became a a three-year starter for the Bears, and Bars caught on as a starter for the Las Vegas Raiders this past season after starting half of the 2020 season with the Bears.

Similarly, if current Notre Dame left tackle Joe Alt and current right tackle Blake Fisher eventually hear their names in the NFL draft, perhaps as soon as the 2024 draft, Hiestand will deserve some credit for their successes.

The presence of two clear NFL prospects bookending the line with a two-year starter at center should make this job opening quite alluring, not to mention one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country and multiple capable running backs behind that line. Nearly anyone could work with that unit for a year and add a first-round draft pick to the résumré.

But first, Freeman needs to conclude his offensive coordinator search.

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