Pass game specialist/tight ends coach Tommy Rees (6.13.24)

Tommy, how old were you when you were last here?

“Probably 14 years old. Yeah. Shagging Phil Dawson’s kicks and out here catching for the quarterbacks and got my first paycheck and all that, so I think my mom still has it somewhere actually, but it’s been a long time. But there’s a lot kind of still feels the same.”


Did you do anything beyond being a ball boy?

“Not really. Yeah, I mean, I was a ball boy, worked in the equipment room. A lot of simply the same faces are still there, so folded a lot of towels, brush down the footballs and shag the kicks. It was a good life when you’re 14, there’s worse things to do.”


So do you have a sense of nostalgia then for coming back here a little bit? 

“Yeah, maybe a little bit. You know, I think a big part of like when I was growing to love the game of football was watching Browns games because my dad was obviously here through some of those formative years for me. So that’s always been something that was kind of held close to. My brother was a big part of it, he was here working, he was a little bit older than I was. So, I think for him it’s pretty cool too so, for our family, it comes full circle a little bit, which is, you know, pretty neat.”


Did you think you’d be in the NFL this soon?

“It was always a goal as I kind of looked at my career. You know, I was fortunate younger to work with the (Los Angeles) Chargers for a year, and I was exposed to it and really enjoyed it. And then, you know, things in the college game, I was really fortunate to work for some really good people and have some good opportunities there, so it was always a goal to get back and, really pleased to be here with a great group of, you know, players and staff and support staff all around.”


They talk about things trickling down from NFL to college. How much have you noticed maybe a trickling up from college to the NFL as the spread offenses and the RPO’s and everything has kind of liberated the college game?

“Yeah, I think you see that over the last eight to 10 years maybe, kind of a mutual exchange of ideas going both upward and downward through the levels of football. I think the games have probably grown a little bit closer in terms of schematic things over the last five years maybe. And I think a lot of it’s centered around the quarterback position and what guys are asked to do and what they feel comfortable with doing. And it’s been really great to learn from the staff that we have here and work together closely with them and continue to have those really collaborative conversations as we move forward, get ready for the season.”


What was it like being coordinator for (Nick) Saban?

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You know, I learned so much. You know, I grew a lot, you know, being in that environment every day, learning from the greatest coach to do it. It’s something I hold in very high regard. And we grew to have a really nice relationship, we still talk today and I’m going to owe a lot to him throughout my career and I’m very happy for him for his decision and where he’s at, but that experience is something that you can’t ever really describe in words, and I’m really fortunate to have that opportunity in my career.”

He’s (Nick Saban) pretty demanding. Did you feel that pressure?

“Look, we all have pressure when you work in this profession. I think I was fortunate to be at a place like Notre Dame where you have that pressure both playing and coaching. Obviously, you demand a lot of yourself when you get into those positions. So yeah, I mean, there’s pressure to do well, there’s pressure to own your own expertise and be really good at what you do. But the one thing about coach is he’s really fair, and that’s something that I took from him. And again, like so many learning experiences through my one year there.”


You’ve been in the hot seat a couple times as the starting quarterback at Notre Dame, at Alabama, in that spot, what did you take from those experiences that kind of helped guide you today?

“Yeah, I mean, I think you build a certain callous towards some of that stuff. And I think we talk about toughness and being mentally tough, you know, especially at that position or in those jobs in terms of being a coordinator. Like, you need to have that to be able to really excel in this profession. I think you need to have that to be convicted in what you’re doing. And, you know, I think a lot of those experiences have shaped where I want to continue to grow and continue to go in this line of work.”


What do you think you can bring to the table in terms of Deshaun (Watson) as the passing game specialist in having come from the college ranks, what are you seeing or what do you feel like you can contribute and add to his repertoire?

“Yeah, I think for me it starts with the tight end position. I don’t know, I think coach (Ken) Dorsey and coach (Kevin) Stefanski have a really good pulse on what makes Deshaun tick and what they’re going to try to do with him. I think from an idea standpoint, we’ll be collaborative and bringing things that I think are friendly for the quarterback or give them opportunities to play efficiently. You know, my focus with those tight ends and then bringing ideas to the table that fit into the puzzle of what we’re going to try to put together as a really efficient offense.”


Why did you choose coaching rather than personnel?

“It’s a good question, I think honestly like my dad was a huge impact throughout my life in terms of football, and he kind of pushed me towards the coaching side of things when I was deciding to go down this route. I do think it’s important to be able to have a little bit of both in you. And I’m extremely grateful for the experience of growing up in a family where player evaluation was talked about at the dinner table quite a bit, which is probably different than a lot of 15-year-olds. But that’s a side that I’ve always been interested in. But to be on the field, to be kind of in the fray with the guys every day, I think when you play and then when you’re not good enough to play at the next level and it ends for you know, you try to find that competitiveness that you’re missing in your life. And I think that the closest thing I could find to that was being a coach and being with the guys every day.”

Was there a couple of things that worked with the year you had with coach (Nick) Saban saving that you took away, like specific, whatever it was a drill or just maybe a philosophy that he has?

“Yeah, I think the approach to players, you know, like he would say quite a bit, ‘it really doesn’t matter what, you know, if your players don’t know it, what good is it?’ And so that’s something that’s kind of stuck with me throughout. Like, you can be the smartest guy in the room, you can be a great X’s and O’s guy, but if you’re not a great teacher and it doesn’t translate to your players, then really what good is it, you know? And so that’s always stood out. I think the demand he has on the guys, the expectation he holds everybody to, the consistency there is really important. And then Coach Saban is the hardest working person I’ve ever been around. I mean, he was in his seventies when I was working for him, and his ability to continue to push himself to continue to have that work ethic. You know, it’s really motivating for a young coach like myself to see and hey, there’s no secret to why he’s had such great success, right? And you get to see it firsthand, and that was really cool for me.”


Did you have any conversations with him as you were making this decision and talking with the Browns about this? Did You talk with Nick (Saban) much about this?

“I did, yeah. We talked like three or four times after he retired and then through that couple week limbo stage, you know, I called him and he called me, probably three or four good conversations as everything was kind of unfolding on what was going to be next. And he’s somebody I’ll continue to use as a resource to help me with some of those things.”


 Did he share any Cleveland stories with you?

“Yeah, he told me some coach (Jim) Schwartz stories about back in the day, but probably not to share.”


Tell me, since spread offenses are so prevalent at the college level. Are you being trusted to contribute to the end product here in that regard?

“I think we all are going to be responsible to contribute in a certain way. It’s something I think our staff has done a nice job of working together and kind of finding where we all fit in, and hopefully we can put together a good product and all have a say in where we’re going.”


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