InsideTennessee has confirmed that Harry Hiestand, 53, Derek Dooley's offensive line coach the past two seasons, is leaving to take the same position for Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish.
The move is no big surprise. A native of Malvern, Pa., Hiestand has spent most of his coaching career in the Midwest, including three years at Cincinnati (1989-93). He was offensive coordinator in his final year with the Bearcats, the program Kelly directed before taking the Notre Dame reins two years ago.
Hiestand also coached offensive linemen for eight years at the University of Illinois (1997-2004) and for five years with the Chicago Bears (2005-2009), so many of his coaching and recruiting contacts are in Big Ten territory.
A graduate of East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University, Hiestand produced 12 All-Big Ten linemen during his stint at Illinois, with every one of his starters making it to an NFL training camp. During his stint with the Bears Hiestand coached Olin Kreutz, regarded by some as the greatest center in pro football history.
Hiestand left the Bears to join Tennessee's staff in January of 2010, inheriting an offensive line that had lost all five starters from 2009. Asked if he'd ever faced the challenge of replacing all five starters before, he deadpanned: "No. I've never heard of it. Have you?"
Hiestand evetually settled on a lineup featuring a senior (Jarrod Shaw), a sophomore (Dallas Thomas) and three true freshmen (Ja'Wuan James, Zach Fulton and James Stone). Stone wound up being named to several Freshman All-America teams, with James making most Freshman All-SEC honor rolls.
Even with three freshmen in the lineup Hiestand's troops blocked well enough to help tailback Tauren Poole tie for the SEC lead with six 100-yard rushing games on his way to a 1,034-yard season. He didn't pad his stats against weaker foes while struggling against quality defenses, either. Poole rushed for 162 yards versus an Oregon squad that went on to make the BCS championship Game, for 109 yards at LSU and for 117 yards against Alabama.
Given Poole's productivity running behind a grossly inexperienced line, Hiestand was almost universally praised by Tennssee fans for his work in 2010.
With four starters and nine of the top 10 linemen returning for 2011, Tennessee supporters expected great things from the blocking front. The O-line never met the raised expectations, however. Tennessee averaged an anemic 2.8 yards per carry and 90.1 rushing yards per game. That last figure ranked dead last among the 12 SEC programs and was 34 yards behind Kentucky, which finished 11th in the league at 124.2 rushing yards per contest.
On a positive note, Hiestand's crew did a spectacular job of pass protecting this past season. Tennessee ranked third among SEC teams in sacks allowed, surrendering just 18 in 400 pass attempts. The only teams to permit fewer sacks — BCS runnerup LSU (14 in 262 attempts) and BCS national champ Alabama (15 in 323 attempts) — threw far fewer passes than the Vols.
Despite ranking second to Arkansas in SEC pass offense at 242.6 yards per game, the Vols finished 10th in scoring (20.3 points per game) and ninth in total offense (332.7 yards per game). That put Hiestand in the cross-hairs of fans who vent on talk radio and message boards.
Hiestand is the fifth Vol aide to leave since the 2011 season ended. Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett retired, tight ends/special teams coach Eric Russell left for Washington State, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon bolted for Washington.
To date, Tennessee has added one coach to its staff. Former Vol Jay Graham has hired on as running backs coach.
Below is video of Hiestand's last interview on camera talking about the Vols' issues up front: