With yet another Notre Dame football season well into the books, the time for looking back and analyzing what exactly happened to the 2013 football team, and looking ahead to the 2014 version, is now.
No discussion about Notre Dame football, or any college football team for that matter, can ignore the coaching aspect- and in particular, the head coach. Brian Kelly is a polarizing figure within the Notre Dame fanbase, and he figures to be another hot topic of discussion across the message boards and the Twitterverse for not only the offseason, but throughout the regular season as well.
Just the other day I read a message board post over at Rock's House and it made me scratch my head a little bit.
Are there really less people that want Brian Kelly fired than I had originally thought? As much as Mr. Cross came across as just a critic that strongly dislikes Kelly, and understands the possible disaster of another coaching search- it still bothered me.
Why? Because there is still a strong sentiment from a lot of Irish fans that they want Brian Kelly gone- one way or another. Brian Kelly, or any head coach for that matter, is not and should not ever be above reproach. They make mistakes in every game, and in other facets of the program. Where I take offense, is when every single move or decision made by Kelly that rubs someone the wrong way, is quickly followed by condemnation.
So, here I stand in defense of Brian Kelly. This will come in 3 parts/posts (the next two will have far shorter intros). Up first… STABILIZE.
With Lou Holtz's departure at the end of the 1996 season, Notre Dame football had seen 3 coaches come in, offer hope, and then help contribute to the downward spiral it was in since the early 90's. The Fighting Irish football team was seeing some of its darkest days.
Any discussion about the current head coach will always involve those before him, and the biggest shadow cast upon Brian Kelly falls from the smallest in stature in Lou Holtz. This was the same for Holtz, Faust, and Devine in respect to Ara.
Here is a simple table that compares Holtz, Davie, Willingham, Weis, and Kelly. While there were a wide assortment of stats to choose from, I thought these were some of the better ones to choose from. ("The Big 3 are USC, MSU, and Michigan. I also isolated the USC records).
|Record||Bowls||Bowl Record||Big 3||USC||AP T25 Finishes||Highest Finish||MNC|
No matter what your feelings are about Brian Kelly, he has clearly been the best hire since Holtz. Now, that's not saying much considering what the comparisons are, but if you dig a bit deeper, the answers are there.
The program was well past a laughing stock in the winter of 2009 to fans and media alike. There was no way the Irish would ever be anything more than a powerfully historical name of a present-day mediocre team. The obstacles were too great and the Irish had already fell too low.
Brian Kelly has changed that tune quite a bit. Perhaps it hasn't been as fast, as dynamic, or as "traditional" as some would like, but over the course of 4 years, Kelly has brought Notre Dame from the brink of "irrelevancy" and back into the national spotlight between the lines.
Notre Dame isn't "there" yet, as far as the standards that are set by irrational and impatient fans are concerned, but the Irish are on track to truly compete for the top of the mountain as was evident in 2012.
People either forget, or are ignorant to the fact that this job, the Head Coach of Notre Dame Football, was a job that no one of note really wanted. All of the names that have surfaced during the coaching searches such as Gruden, Stoops, and Meyer were nothing more than ego boosts for them. They didn't want the job. Brian Kelly wanted it, and he has devoted himself to it.
After 13 years of shaky ground in the post-Holtz era, Brian Kelly has put the Irish on solid ground to compete for national championships. Solid ground.
Four straight seasons of at least 8 wins. Two bowl victories. A 3-1 record versus USC. The perfect 12-0 regular season in 2012. The trip to the BCS Championship game. After a wild stretch from 1997-2009… I'll take that, and remain optimistic for even better results in the years to come.
The program has stabilized. That alone should constitute some gratitude, latitude, and a better attitude about Coach Kelly and the Notre Dame football program.