University President Father John Jenkins greets Harry Hiestand moments after ND’s Gator Bowl win over South Carolina, December 30, 2022. Offensive line graduate assistant Chris Watt can be seen in the background, far right. (Photo: Phil Houk)

The press release from Fighting Irish Media was time stamped at 6:21 PM Sunday, just minutes before the kickoff of the Super Bowl. Virtually no one noticed the news until halftime of the big game. Talk about burying a story! The way 40 year coaching veteran Harry Hiestand announced his retirement reflected his approach to the game: old school, no nonsense. Play the game the right way and the rest will take care of itself. He decided to retire, so it was announced. The timing didn’t matter. Sensitivity to the “needs of the media” and attention to the Super Bowl snack buffet likely was not even an afterthought.

“I have made the decision to retire,” the 64 year old Hiestand said in the press release. “It is important to me to spend time with my family, as I have two kids participating in college athletics, one for his last season, and I have decided it is time to be a part of that.”

Hiestand returned to Notre Dame for his second stint with the Irish for the 2022 season as a member of Marcus Freeman’s first staff after leaving ND in 2018 for the Chicago Bears. HIs 2022 line protected the quarterback at a high level and ran the ball exceptionally well. The 2,457 yards gained on the ground is the sixth-highest total at ND since 1996. The left side of the line manned by Joe Alt and Jarett Patterson both earned All-American honors.

During Hiestand’s first stint with the Irish (2012-2017), he had six linemen selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft (Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, Zack Martin, Mike McGlinchey Nick Martin and Chris Watt.)

On opening day 2022, 11 former ND offensive linemen who spent at least one year being coached by Hiestand were on NFL rosters. Hiestand’s 2017 offensive line, that included first round draft picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey won the Joe Moore award that recognizes the most outstanding offensive line in College football.

In 2019, Quenton Nelson who has earned All-Pro honors with the Indianapolis Colts told, “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. When I got to Notre Dame…I wasn’t very good and he just helped me improve every single day….In the meeting rooms he was very intense, with an attention to detail.”

After two mostly successful years with the Bears in 2018 and 2019, Hiestand was fired when the Bears shook up their staff after a disappointing 8-8 record. Hiestand took 2020 and 2021 off from coaching and maintained a home in South Bend. He frequently was sighted on Friday nights at his son’s South Bend St. Joseph’s football games. Mark Hiestand is now an offensive guard at the Air Force Academy.

During the 2020 season, it has been confirmed, Hiestand was sought out by and met with Notre Dame offensive linemen.

Besides ND and the Chicago Bears, Hiestand’s 40 year coaching career included stops at Penn, USC, Toledo, Cincinnati, Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee. He played at Springfield (Mass), and East Stroudsburg (Pa). He graduated from East Stroudsburg in 1983 and started his coaching career as a Student Assistant there.

Head Coach Marcus Freeman struck a complimentary tone regarding the retirement, “We are so grateful for all of 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. Coach Hiestand will be forever a part of Notre Dame football.”

Early speculation on a possible successor centered on Hiestand protégé, Chris Watt. Watt played under Hiestand in 2012 and 2013 and had a three year NFL career. Since he has had two runs as a graduate assistant at ND and one year (2021) as the offensive line coach at Tulane.

Hiestand in 2017. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

ByPhil Houk

For over 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

Leave a Reply