When the Bears were at their best under former coach Lovie Smith, highlighted by their Super Bowl run during the 2006 season, the team had Harry Hiestand in charge of its offensive line.
And now he’s coming back.
As promised, new coach Matt Nagy was aggressive in filling out his coaching staff. It started by hiring Hiestand, 59, away from Notre Dame on Wednesday. Hiestand is widely considered one of the preeminent line coaches in all of football, college or professional.
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“Getting that position coach right is paramount for the success of a new coach,” said Greg Gabriel, the Bears’ former director of college scouting, who is now a contributor for WSCR-AM (670) and Pro Football Weekly.
“You got to have a good offensive line coach, and he’s got one of the best. Nagy already hit a home run with that hire.”
Hiestand was part of Smith’s staff from 2005 to 2009. He followed ex-offensive coordinator Ron Turner to the Bears from Illinois, where they spent eight years together.
Olin Kreutz cemented himself as one of the NFL’s best centers under Hiestand. He was a first-team All Pro selection in 2006. Kreutz also was named to the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2006. Guard Ruben Brown also went to the Pro Bowl in 2006.
“He was one the better position coaches on Lovie’s staff, regardless of what side of the ball,” Gabriel said. “A great teacher, but on top of that, his players love him and really play for him. They buy into him and he buys into them. It’s a very unique group. That makes it kind of special.
“He gets the most out of his players, and he can be tough. He can rip you, but he can come right back and love you. He’s a combination of being a hard coach and a loving coach. He does both equally well.”
Hiestand joined Notre Dame in 2012 after two years at Tennessee. Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley (No. 6 pick in 2016) and Cowboys guard Zack Martin (No. 16 in 2014) are among the notable players who played for Hiestand at Notre Dame.
This year, Notre Dame has two projected first-round picks in guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Longtime NFL linemen Tony Pashos (six teams) and David Diehl (Giants) played for Hiestand at Illinois.
“He gets guys prepared to play in the NFL,” Gabriel said. “He’s shown that.”
Center Cody Whitehair, right guard Kyle Long and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. provide Hiestand with a good starting point now that he’s back with the Bears.
“Whether it stays as the same the group that’s there or they add some pieces to it, that remains to be seen, but he will get the most out of that group,” Gabriel said. “He’s one of the top five offensive line coaches in football.”
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