On the outside, Tommy Rees the quarterback was the picture of poise.
On the inside, he was a bundle of competitiveness bordering on chaos that had to be corralled.
So when Tommy Rees, the former quarterback, gave way this spring to Tom Rees, the Notre Dame quarterbacks coach, he had a unique vantage point to assess Brandon Wimbush, the heir to the throne.
“On the outside, I was pretty calm,” reflected Rees, who made coaching stops at Northwestern and the San Diego Chargers before joining Brian Kelly and his staff near the end of the recruiting cycle.
“I like to compete and I was pretty fiery in that sense. Brandon has much more of a calm demeanor than I probably had. He’s great with the guys and lifts them up. He’s not a huge rah-rah guy, but he has a great presence that guys really respect.”
Rees, who turns 25 in May, has been tasked with helping develop Notre Dame’s next great quarterback. Wimbush entered the spring as the hands-down starter ahead of Ian Book and Montgomery VanGorder.
Suffice it to say Wimbush’s toolshed is bursting at the seams.
“Physically, there’s not a whole lot that he can’t do,” Rees said. “Now it’s our job to make sure he has consistent days and puts everything together.”
Wimbush is more than just a great athlete, which was evident the first time he spoke with the media this spring. This isn’t your run of the mill red-shirt sophomore quarterback with five collegiate passes under his belt.
He understands what’s expected of him, learning from DeShone Kizer, who was thrown into the action much less prepared than Wimbush will be when he takes his first starting snap against Temple this fall.
“From a maturity standpoint and really grasping everything, he’s been outstanding,” Rees said. “He’s really dedicated himself to learning what we’re trying to coach and doing a great job outside the practice structure, getting in the playbook and understanding what we’re doing.
“He’s taken a bunch of steps mentally this spring.”
Now comes the hard part. The attention to detail that requires a microscopic, all-encompassing vantage point. Turning the mechanics of the position into second nature. Knowing how to lead others. Adapting to the most scrutinized position in America.
These are all things Rees lived just a short few years ago when he was a 30-game starter for the Irish from 2010-13. Never blessed with the kind of athletic skill of Wimbush, Rees had to think and will his way to success.
No matter how physically talented Wimbush is, he must extend beyond his God-given gifts and think the part as well.
“There are times when you have to get his feet set and help him understand which drops go with which throws and what our reads are,” Rees said. “If he’s mentally sharp, the physical things come.
“As long as he knows where he’s putting his eyes and knows what he’s trying to execute, the physical part will come more easily to him.”
In the short term, just getting through a spring practice efficiently is the challenge for a quarterback who threw just a handful of passes as a freshman in 2015 and then preserved a year of eligibility in 2016.
“He’s never had to take this many reps,” Rees explained. “It’s understanding a consistent approach every day, not getting too high or low. You’ve got to go from one play to the next and understand that if you don’t execute this play, you’ve got another rep coming.”
With each passing day, it comes into focus a little more clearly for Wimbush. Yes, the physical prowess is impressive and makes it easier for him than it was for Rees. But Wimbush’s maturity is reducing the learning curve.
“He understands it’s April, it’s spring ball, and these are teaching and learning moments,” Rees said. “Is he competitive and does he want to win? Of course. He’s out there competing every day and trying to make every play work. But at the same time he has enough maturity to go on to the next play and move past that.”
Rees has learned a lot about Wimbush in nine practices. He’s also learned quite a bit about Tom Rees the coach.
“When I first got here, I took a step back to make sure these guys understood what we were teaching,” said Rees, who credits Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and wide receivers coach Dennis Springer for teaching him the basics.
“Just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it will click for them. You have to understand how they learn -- on the board or on film – and how they retain it the best.
“You learn a lot about yourself. Coaching habits. How you want to lead them. I’ve got to understand everybody learns differently. I’ve got to apply different teaching mechanisms to different guys in the room.”
Rees’ year with the Chargers under head coach Mike McCoy, quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen and receivers coach Nick Siriani gave him the standard by which the players must be held.
“Nick taught me about being hard on those guys and never overlooking the utmost detail,” Rees said. “This is the expectation and you can never come below that.”
Ultimately, Wimbush may make Rees’ job a whole lot easier.
“He’s an extremely mature young man,” Rees said. “He’s even-keeled and level-headed. He understands the next play mentality. He doesn’t beat himself up. He understands we’ll move on to the next play and we’ll correct the last one in the film room.
“In the summer, you’re running it without coaches. You have to be the one to communicate it, going through the reads and your routes. If he can teach it and communicate it to the guys, you know it.
“His effort is always there. All I ask for is that he wants to learn and wants to get better, and he’s been outstanding with that.”