For Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, grandmother knows best
‘‘She is on every website; she sees all the articles,’’ Rees said. ‘‘She’ll text me or reach out to my father: ‘Hey, [the quarterback’s] feet were a little happy. What’s going on?’ She’s very into it.’’
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When young offensive coordinator Tommy Rees underwent an emergency appendectomy less than two weeks before Notre Dame’s season opener Sunday at Florida State, there was genuine concern throughout the program.
‘‘I was scared,’’ Irish running back Kyren Wililams said. ‘‘I was just getting my ankles taped, and they said coach Rees had surgery. I said, ‘What?’ ’’
Told the surgery was on Rees’ appendix, Williams immediately feared the worst.
‘‘My first question was if it was ruptured or not,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Because I know if it had ruptured, that’s a serious problem and it could lead to infection.’’
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly didn’t try to hide the severity of the episode.
‘‘He’s lucky,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We’re fortunate everything has worked out great. It wasn’t your standard, ‘Hey, we have plenty of time here.’ If this was left unattended a little bit longer, we could have had a much more serious situation.’’
Back on the practice field only two days later, Rees — who played at Lake Forest High School — again showed the toughness that made him the Irish’s starting quarterback for 31 games (23-8 record) in 2010-13.
‘‘Thankfully it didn’t rupture, and he was fine,’’ Williams said. ‘‘He missed one day, and he came back the next day. Hurting, but he was still out there limping and coaching. We know coach Rees. We are always going to play for him — whenever.He knows that.’’
No one around the program — Rees’ dad, Bill, included — could have been any more concerned about him than Margaret Rees, his 93-year-old grandmother in Evanston. His beloved Lalla’s devotion to her 29-year-old grandson runs deep.
‘‘She is on every website; she sees all the articles,’’ Rees said recently. ‘‘She’ll text me or reach out to my father: ‘Hey, [the quarterback’s] feet were a little happy. What’s going on?’ She’s very into it.’’
Rees choked up just a bit as he tried to put his grandmother’s effect on him in perspective.
‘‘She’s been a huge influence in my life,’’ he said. ‘‘She’s unbelievable. It’s been cool because I think, as she’s gotten older, that gave her something that mattered and gave her something to look forward to and gave her something to be proud of. That has meant a lot to me.’’
The weekly input from his grandmother, who will turn 94 on Oct. 5, has become less forgiving than it was during Rees’ playing days.
He’s calling the plays now, and she wonders why those young men in the gold helmets can’t do things the way her beloved Tommy drew them up.
‘‘She was a little easier back then,’’ Rees said. ‘‘I think she’s more critical now than she was when I was playing. It was her grandson out there, so it’s all love there. Now it’s a little more critical.’’
Bill Rees, Notre Dame’s director of scouting since 2017, typically serves as the go-between. There are no text messages to the younger Rees as he puts in the game plan.
‘‘She does not have a cellphone,’’ Rees said. ‘‘It’s a landline on the wall. We check in probably every couple of weeks. My dad obviously talks to her quite a bit.’’
One of the highlights of the 2020 season, Rees’ first in the coordinator role, was having his grandmother attend the Irish’s 52-0 victory against South Florida last September at Notre Dame Stadium.
‘‘It was great to get her to a game,’’ Rees said. ‘‘You never know how many games they can come to. To get her here and to have her experience it again — it’s probably been three or four years since she’s come out to a game — we just wanted to do something special for her in a tough year.’’
When the NBC cameras gave her a little TV time, that only made the experience more memorable.
‘‘She was pretty pleased to get on TV,’’ Rees said. ‘‘She did not take that lightly. When that got set up, she appreciated the limelight. She speaks about it every time I talk to her.’’
The insightful messages will resume with the game Sunday in Tallahassee. No matter the outcome, Rees knows he can count on his grandmother for unflinching feedback.
‘‘Lalla’s very important to us as a family,’’ Rees said. ‘‘She’s been there every step of the way. She’s a special lady.’’