SOUTH BEND — There aren’t many people on the current Notre Dame football staff who were there on Jan. 7, 2013, when the No. 1 Fighting Irish were embarrassed on college football’s grandest stage.
Tommy Rees is one of them.
Rees was the backup quarterback for Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to No. 2 Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. After a perfect 12-0 regular season in 2012, the Irish’s season ended in bitter disappointment.
Although he didn’t play in the championship game, Rees did see action in 11 regular-season games, including two starts. He’s also the only person on the current Irish coaching staff who went through that bowl preparation as a player. His memories from that time, though, are sparse.
“I don’t remember a whole lot, to be honest with you. I just remember taking it one day at a time, and that being the emphasis. Really just focusing on each day at practice and focusing on what was our goal for the day, whether it was a preparation day or a scrimmage day,” Rees said. “Just trying to understand what we were trying to do and how we were trying to get better. I don’t remember much about the actual preparation. I’m sure I was just trying to make sure I performed well at practice.”
He may not remember much of the lead-up to the game, but Rees can recall being in Miami Gardens that fateful Monday night.
“I remember the game. I remember running out on to the field. I remember running out of the tunnel. I remember all of that,” the former Irish quarterback said. “It was a culmination of a lot of hard work and being in a position to play for a national championship was something special. Only how many people have played in it and done it?”
Rees doesn’t think much about that game anymore, but it’s not because of how it played out.
“At that moment, I didn’t really think much about it. And to be quite honest, I haven’t really looked back at it and thought much about it,” Rees said. “That’s not the type of person I am. I just try to live it in the moment and take it one day at a time and move forward.”
It took Rees some time before he decided to come back to Notre Dame. After facing much criticism — some warranted, most not — from his playing career with the Fighting Irish, he wasn’t sure he’d ever want to come back to South Bend.
“He turned down my first offer for him to come here. He stayed with the San Diego Chargers,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “He felt like he needed more time away from Notre Dame, and I think it was the right decision.”
It took some serious convincing from Kelly before Rees decided to join his staff as the Irish’s quarterbacks coach.
“I begged,” Kelly joked.
Rees has helped oversee the development of Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book the past two seasons. Now, as the Irish prepare for the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Clemson on Dec. 29, Rees gets to go through the same experience he went through in 2012. Only this time, it’s as a coach.
“I think there’s a great amount of trust as it relates to on the field with the position itself and the roller coaster ride of being the quarterback at Notre Dame. Tommy has taken that trip, and so that kind of relationship is easily identifiable,” Kelly said. “There’s a great amount of trust in both the relationship that’s been built both on and off the field, and it just allows for a complete and total buy-in to everything that’s being done.”
The comparisons between 2012 and 2018 are inevitable. But it was six years ago, and Rees has moved on.
“2012 was a great year, a great thing to be a part of. Really now, this is the focal point and the focus for me — they’re two completely different teams. It was six years ago now. It’s just a completely different time,” Rees said.
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN