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Notre Dame Football

New OL Coach Joe Rudolph Fired up to Develop Talent, Recruit at Notre Dame

March 10, 2023
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Coach Marcus Freeman often repeats buzzwords and phrases in press conferences. He wants to “enhance” the roster through talent acquisition. He challenges coaches to “coach better” during tough times. 

Freeman’s repeat messages resonated with new offensive line coach Joe Rudolph, who joined the Irish after a single season at Virginia Tech.

“That's not always in fashion to say, 'This is an O-Line driven place and the O-Line sets the tone,'” Rudolph said. “He took a lot of pride in saying it and said it in a few of the meetings we had. That hits deep to me. It's how I grew up when I played. I felt that responsibility as a player. It really hit home for me.”

Rudolph comes to Notre Dame with nearly 20 years of coaching experience at power five programs.

Joe Rudolph Coaching Career

- 2022 Virginia Tech Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line

- 2021 Wisconsin Associate Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line

- 2015-20 Wisconsin Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line

- 2012-14 Pittsburgh Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends

- 2008-11 Wisconsin Tight Ends

- 2007 Nebraska Tight Ends

- 2006 Ohio State Strength Coordinator

- 2004-05 Ohio State Graduate Assistant

During his second stint in Madison, Wisconsin produced 212.3 rush yards per game, the fifth-ranked average on the ground among Power Five programs over his tenure. They did so with some of the most talented offensive linemen in the country. 

Tyler Biadasz won the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center in 2019. In addition, Rudolph coached nine first-team All-Big ten offensive linemen, five of which were also first-team All-Americans.

In Rudolph’s opinion, the key to developing a successful unit is meeting the individual needs of each player to set them up for success.

"Everything's important – how you approach the weight room, how you approach nutrition,” Rudolph said. “We only have so much time in a given day, but where's the biggest bang for your buck? Maybe one guy, it's flexibility and hip mobility. Maybe someone else, it's taking care of their shoulders because they have setbacks from time to time. Maybe someone else it’s more meeting time and helping them understand it and grasp it better.”

Rudolph also has a reputation as a top-notch recruiter. Wisconsin took a significant jump in this department during his tenure, largely due to his tenacity on the trail.

"Recruiting is one of the things that makes you the most excited about coaching,” Rudolph said. “You have the opportunity to bring in guys for you to coach. That fires me up. I like that journey. I like to learn about personalities and skill sets, guys who are going to maximize every bit of the opportunity they have when they walk through the doors.

“ This isn't a destination for them. This is an opportunity for them.”

The Badgers finished with a top-30 class twice in the modern recruiting era — No. 22 in 2001 and No. 29 in 2005 — according to 247Sports Composite rankings.

With Rudolph at Wisconsin, the program noticed the No. 29 class in 2019, the No. 26 class in 2020 and the No. 16 class in 2021. More importantly, 40% of the blue-chip prospects signed during that time were offensive linemen, including two five-stars in Nolan Rucci and Logan Brown.

Wisconsin Offensive Line Recruits under Joe Rudolph

Name Rank Class
OT Joe Brunner No. 85 2022
OT Nolan Rucci No. 16 2021
OT JP Benzschawel No. 113 2021
OT Riley Mahlman No. 142 2021
OT Trey Wedig No. 83 2020
OT Jack Nelson No. 104 2020
OT Logan Brown No. 17 2019
OT Joe Tippmann No. 325 2019
OG Kayden Lyles No. 207 2017
OT Cole Van Lanen No. 137 2016

Except for 2018, the top Bager recruit was an offensive lineman in every class, as were 8 of the 11 top-150 recruits the program signed during that period.

Not only did Rudolph attract top players, but he also did so by emphasizing on character.

"The first thing you do is see film that excites you,” Rudolph said. “That's the very bottom line. Then it's, 'OK, what's the character behind this, what's the work ethic, what's the want-to in the classroom and on the field?' 

“You really dive in and get to know these guys, because they're the guys you're bringing in and fill your room. They're going to have a chance to make everyone better or not. We need them to make everybody better, including themselves."

Sure, Wisconsin had a pre-established reputation for developing offensive linemen, but so does Notre Dame. 

If there’s a knock against him as a recruiter is that special teams coordinator Chris Haering is listed as the lead recruiter for a few of the offensive linemen Wisconsin signed between 2016-22. 

At Notre Dame, he’ll also need to recruit nationally more often. Six of the blue-chip offensive linemen were Wisconsin natives, and all 10 came from the Midwest. 

Rudolph is already on campus, building relationships with current players and the 2023 signees, all of whom felt a bit displaced once when former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand retired on Feb. 12.

It helps that Rudolph offered Charles Jagusah, Sam Pendleton and Sullivan Absher at either Wisconsin or Virginia Tech. 

Pendleton is the only early enrollee of the bunch, so he’s also relayed feedback to the others on Rudolph. Thus far, he seems pleased.

“He's very intentional. He's always available,” Pendleton said.  Coach Rudolph is the guy who will meet you at 9:30 in the morning or 9:30 at night and in between. He's been super great about being available to teach us what he wants to teach us. He's been a student himself. He didn't come here and change anything big. He's had to learn as much as any of us have. He had to come in to learn all of our plays and had to learn what the lingo is.”

At Notre Dame, Rudolph works with a talented group of offensive linemen. Three starters return in 2023: center Zeke Correll, right tackle Blake Fisher and left tackle Joe Alt, a consensus All-American as a sophomore last fall. 

This spring, there will be an open competition to fill the two open guard spots with the goal of getting the five best offensive linemen on the field at once.

"You'd be selling the group short if you weren't trying to find the best five,” Rudolph said. “You have to do that with some vision of how the whole group fits together. There might be someone who's competing their tail off, and they might back up Joe or back up Zeke. But if they play in a way this spring where you see they're one of those five, you can easily move them to a position and have them ready in fall camp and all summer to take that over.”

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