Notre Dame Football: Who is Jeff Quinn?

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

We take an in-depth look into who Jeff Quinn is and why he remains an important asset to the Notre Dame football program and Brian Kelly’s staff.

Jeff Quinn has been on the Notre Dame football staff since 2015. For the majority of that time, Quinn has remained relatively anonymous, acting as just another name on the list of staffers. During his tenure with the Irish, he has held a number of different positions with the program from offensive analyst to assistant strength and conditioning coach. However, those aren’t widely viewed as positions that will make or break a program.

In 2018 Quinn was promoted, as he took over as the Notre Dame offensive line coach. Outside of the quarterbacks coach, this is arguably the most important position coach on the roster. At Notre Dame, a dominant offensive line is part of the identity, making it even more important that they’re well-coached.

Quinn assumed the role of offensive line coach the year after Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Quinn’s first season in the role coincided with the season that Notre Dame made a run to the College Football Playoff and the Cotton Bowl.

During his first season as the new role, the offensive line was very effective, until they were exposed by Clemson. In that Cotton Bowl game against the Tigers, Ian Book was sacked 6 times and Notre Dame only rushed for 88 yards. Clemson’s domination in the trenches led to the abysmal performance of the Irish offensive line.

Coming into 2019, the offensive line was an afterthought, having been dominant for years under Brian Kelly. As a result, many simply assumed that they would once again have a fully reloaded offensive line. However, it would turn out to be a weakness for the Notre Dame offense last year.

In short-yardage, Notre Dame struggled to get any push up the middle. Additionally, Ian Book didn’t seem to trust that he would have time in the pocket, and penalty issues plagued the offensive line.

Those issues fall squarely on the shoulders of Jeff Quinn, as he failed in an effort to have his players ready to compete, both mentally and physically. He seemingly continues to struggle in an effort to develop players along the line.

This has led to a lot of criticism for Quinn, and rightly so. However, despite his perceived ineptitude, it will likely take more than one down season for Quinn to get demoted or fired by Notre Dame. This is in no small part due to Quinn’s history with Brian Kelly.

The pair have worked together since 1989 when they were on the Grand Valley State coaching staff. When Kelly became the head coach at Grand Valley State in 1991, he kept Quinn on as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Quinn then followed Kelly to Central Michigan and Cincinnati. At both Central Michigan and Cincinnati Quinn became the interim head coach when Kelly left the programs for a more prestigious coaching position.

When Brian Kelly took over at Notre Dame, it became the only time that he didn’t immediately take Quinn with him to his next job. That’s because Quinn went on to be the head coach of the University of  Buffalo. Unfortunately for Quinn, it didn’t work out, as he was fired after he went just 20-36 in four and a half seasons as the head coach of the Bulls.

The following season he was back on Kelly’s staff, as an offensive analyst with Notre Dame. One could make the argument that Kelly’s early struggles to implement a high-octane offense with the Irish, similar to those he was known for early in his coaching career, was due to the fact that he did not have Quinn as part of his offensive coaching staff until later on in his tenure.

This makes it a bit surprising that Tommy Rees got the offensive coordinator job when it opened up, instead of simply putting Quinn back in a familiar role as Kelly’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

The step back in offensive line play this past season probably hurt Quinn’s chances of getting the promotion over Rees, who is widely viewed as an up and comer in the industry. Still, it would take more than one, or even a couple rough seasons for Brian Kelly to turn his back on Jeff Quinn.

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In the interim, Rees will likely utilize the expertise and experience that Jeff Quinn possesses, as he works to become fully acclimated in his new role as the Notre Dame offensive coordinator. Quinn’s experience makes him a valuable asset to Brian Kelly’s staff, regardless of what his official role is with the program.