Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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18 AUGUST 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL S ometime in the 2021 season — potentially in the first month — a flood of tweets, press re- leases and articles will report the following news. Brian Kelly has passed Knute Rockne for the most wins in Notre Dame history. Kelly, the Fighting Irish's 12th-year head coach, is just four victories shy of the milestone. Even a face-plant sea- son should push him past the marker. Standing on the doorstep of be- coming the program's winningest coach is a testament to his impres- sive longevity in the chair, which wouldn't be achieved without con- sistent success. Kelly's résumé boasts five 10-win seasons and a 43-8 record since 2017. His program has reached a long-desired level of sustainability as he heads into rare air. Among Notre Dame coaches, only Rockne (13 seasons) has a longer tenure. Kelly can pass him in that category if he stays through 2023. He signed an extension in December 2019 that runs through 2024. "I'm proud of the longevity," Kelly told Blue & Gold Illustrated. "That's consistency of performance. I'm proud of the fact we've had that." Yet he looks at his upcoming achievement with perspective. To him, becoming the all-time win- ningest coach at a program rich in tradition does not make him its best- ever coach or better than the man he would pass. "I may get more wins than Knute Rockne, but personally I don't see that as a great achievement," Kelly said. "I've been coaching longer and have had more games. Some see it as a greater achievement. I don't. I see it as longevity and consistency in performance more so than achieve- ment." Rockne, of course, led Notre Dame to its first three claimed national ti- tles and elevated the then-nascent program to the nationally relevant status it has claimed for much of the 91 years since his death. Kelly has made the program consistently relevant. He has not, though, claimed a national champi- onship. When Kelly passes Rockne this year, that will be the last major item left on the checklist. And it is still the standard. Notre Dame mea- sures itself on national titles, not just being in the hunt. This season isn't starting with widespread prognostications of title contention. But it remains one of the more compelling of Kelly's tenure. The floor feels high. Kelly's spring practice and offseason focus is to push the ceiling higher. "The way I see it now is we're a good team, and good teams aren't good enough," Kelly said after the Blue-Gold Game in May. "We need to be a great team. Good teams don't win a national championship. You need to be a great team." What does getting there between May 1 and the season opener at Florida State Sept. 5 (or later) entail? Taking nothing lightly and viewing every minute as a chance to become great. "Every rep matters," Kelly said. "Every sprint matters. All the details matter. To understand how abso- lutely crucial it is for them to take this opportunity to elevate their own individual performances — in the weight room, in the classroom, on the practice field — and understand each one of those reps make a significant difference in their development. "It's really getting that laser focus on our guys that everything matters. They have to be on top of it from that perspective." One thing is clear: This season will not be a set-up for 2022 and 2023, when Ohio State and Clemson are on the schedule and touted class of 2021 recruits like quarterback Tyler Buch- ner, tackle Blake Fisher, guard Rocco Spindler, receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. and linebacker Prince Kollie will be sophomores. Those freshmen will not play just to get experience for future seasons. If they do play this year, it's because they can help the Irish be great now. Fisher and Spindler exited spring ON THE CUSP Brian Kelly is nearing a notable milestone, but discusses it with measured excitement Kelly needs just four wins to pass Knute Rockne and become Notre Dame's all- time winningest coach. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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