Notre Dame Football: Was Tommy Rees' Career Doomed from the Start?

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IDecember 5, 2013

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass against the Stanford Cardinal during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It wouldn't be easy to witness the ensuing carnage of a man's decision to bring a knife to a gun fight. Senior Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was forced into that proverbial scenario, stepping into a situation in which he would become the everlasting underdog and a prime target for the massive amounts of vitriol the Irish fanbase chooses to sling so carelessly and thoughtlessly at times.

To truly understand Rees and the trajectory of his career, one needs to rewind to July 7, 2009.

It was on that date the 6'2", 215-pound quarterback committed to Notre Dame. At the time, the program was under the direction of former head coach Charlie Weis, who earned a reputation as a groomer of elite quarterbacks, having molded the likes of Tom Brady, Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen.

Each of those quarterbacks thrived in pro-style offenses, in which their most coveted attribute was their ability to read and analyze defenses at warp speed.

And, as is a common facet of pro-style attacks, Brady, Quinn and Clausen were never counted upon to move the chains with their legs. Rather, they were pocket passers of the elite variety who forced defenses to respect their arm strength.

While Rees may not have initially (or ever) fit the mold of those three quarterbacks, Weis saw something in Rees that caused him to deem Rees worthy of a scholarship offer.

While the Lake Forest, Ill. native was certainly better suited for Weis' pro-style offense, Rees was dealt an unfortunate hand when, five months following his commitment, Weis was fired after compiling an underwhelming 35-27 record in five seasons on the job.

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 09:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hands the ball off to Tarean Folston #25 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on November 9, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Penn
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Ten days later, current head coach Brian Kelly was hired. It was at that moment that Rees' college career took an unexpected yet inevitable turn for the worse before he had even played a down in the shadow of the Hesburgh Library and "Touchdown Jesus."

Rather than de-commit and consider other schools, Rees stayed the course, ultimately proving he had truly committed to Notre Dame rather than Weis and his Super Bowl rings.

It was a true 40-year decision, and rightfully so. But in football terms, it wasn't the most favorable for Rees as an individual player.

Kelly brought with him to Notre Dame a reputation of being a mastermind of high-octane, high-scoring spread offenses. It was a radical shift in philosophy from the days of Weis and his implementation of the New England Patriots' offense.

The most glaring difference between the two attacks was and continues to be at the quarterback position.

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 02: Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 2, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Kelly's ideal offense includes a mobile quarterback capable of running the zone-read offense, which, when operated efficiently, keeps defenses honest. That's not to say that a mobile quarterback is a necessity for Kelly, though it's certainly desirable.

Kelly arrived at Notre Dame knowing full well that building an offense in his image would be a lengthy process. Forging a spread offense with pro-style players is an unenviable task.

Off the bat, Kelly named former quarterback Dayne Crist his starter, but Crist's season-ending knee injury in 2010 and putrid overall performance in 2011 opened the door for Rees. Had it not been for those two events, this humble writer wouldn't be penning this column.

After a turnover-plagued 2011 season—Rees accounted for 19 of the team's 29 giveaways—Kelly was ever closer to finally having "his guy" at quarterback in Everett Golson.

While Kelly initially ruled the quarterback position was an open competition during 2012 fall camp, there was never any mystery as to who would be the Irish's starter. Golson was a lock for the job regardless of the rumors or speculation stating otherwise.

Golson didn't have the same mental understanding of the game that Rees did, but he had the desired ability to make things happen with his feet. Golson's mental lapses forced Kelly to turn to Rees to earn victories against Michigan, Purdue and Stanford, with those three contests being, perhaps, the summit of Rees' career at Notre Dame.

Despite Rees displaying his value—yes, Rees was an extremely valuable asset during the Irish's run to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game—Kelly was of a "full steam ahead" attitude regarding Golson's grasp of the starting quarterback position.

Had Golson not been expelled for cheating in May, Rees would have once again played the role of "closer" when the Irish needed him in 2013, and understandably so; the Irish offense is wide open with Golson running the show.

However, through all of the circumstances during the past four years, it's tough not to feel for Rees given the circumstances and considering the proper perspective.

Rees was largely the glue that held Notre Dame together during the initial phases of Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame, and that will likely be his legacy moving forward.

That, or simply being an unfortunate victim of circumstances.