Guts are part of the job requirement for offensive linemen.
That belongs to the guys who do the end-zone celebrations.
And that’s fine with Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who has been credited with elevating the toughness and attention to detail of the large men up front.
No. 1 Notre Dame battles No. 2 Alabama on Jan. 7 in the BCS championship game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
In 2007, Notre Dame was No. 1 in one offensive category, but it wasn’t anything to celebrate — the Irish were first in the country among 120 Division I teams in sacks allowed (59 in 12 games, 4.9 per game). This season, ND is ranked 94th, allowing 16 sacks (1.33 per game).
In 2007 ND’s rushing number ranked 116th at a measly 75.3 yards a game. This year the Irish are 28th at 202.5.
“It’s been unreal, the job Harry has done with the offensive line,” Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “It starts with the toughness element of trying to create a mentality of physical toughness that (head) coach (Brian) Kelly wanted. When coach (Hiestand) did the things he did in the offseason, it was for a lot of reasons, but one of them was, we want to be a physical offense.
“(Coach Kelly) hired an offensive line coach who he knew was going to bring a toughness to the players, and technically, he’s as good as anybody in the world teaching kids how to move people, and a lot of times, moving people who are bigger and stronger than you.”
Hiestand coached with the Chicago Bears when they reached the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. The 29-year coaching veteran who is a native of Pennsylvania came to Notre Dame from Tennessee. Toughness and fundamentals were the top two priorities, in that order.
“The adage that the team becomes who the coach is, that’s probably the truest saying in sports,” Martin said. “It’s who Harry is as a person. He’s a tough-minded, no-nonsense, no-excuses ever, no-any disbelief that the job can’t get done guy. With Harry, we’re going to find a way, even if it shouldn’t get done, we’ll find a way to out-work, out-flank, out-hustle, out-technique, out-will people to get the job done. He creates that mindset with his group, because that’s his mindset.”
Hiestand embraces the challenge of an offensive line coach.
“As I’ve gone on in the years, I’ve found that what we do with the offensive line is what excites me, what brings me to work every day with a good attitude to work with those guys,” Hiestand said. “It’s not to be a play caller. That’s not what motivates me every day.
“What motivates me is seeing a group of guys, and trying to help them become the best they can be as individuals, and then put an offensive line together that can go out on the field and function and help our team win. That process of working with young people to help them and do that and build a line is what really motivates me to coach.”
According to offensive tackle Zack Martin, it starts with establishing a standard — and Hiestand sets the bar high.
“Coach Hiestand has high expectations for everyone,” Martin said. “He knows what you’re capable of, and anything less than that is unacceptable. He makes that very clear. All of our offensive linemen go out every game and try to play to that standard, because he’s not going to accept anything less.”
Rigor brings out excellence in Hiestand’s world. He doesn’t have tunnel vision. Hiestand insists his players be the best they can on and off the field. Along with building character and relationships, toughness is his trademark.
“That’s something that I think the players have to understand, that you care about them, you want them to be successful, but the easy way is not going to get it done,” Hiestand said. “It’s the hard way.
“You have to strain, you have to fight, you have to scratch and claw every day. Being the same every day is one of the hardest things that teen-agers have to deal with. To be committed to something, to be focused, to be zeroed in, to be ready to go every day, when you’re 19 or 20 years old, that’s a big challenge. That’s something that I think is critically important, along with being fundamentally sound making blocks.”