Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 08, 2022

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 OCT. 8, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED H ad he not entered football coach- ing, Brian Kelly acknowledges he likely would have followed a ca- reer in politics, similar to his alderman father, Paul. In public and media rela- tions, he comports himself with aplomb and seldom makes the politically incor- rect statement. Several years ago when Joe Montana publicly criticized Kelly's handling of the Notre Dame quarterbacks and the Irish head coach was asked to respond, I cringed at the potential retort. Many a coach has lashed out in such cases and instantly alienated the fan base (most recently former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini ripping Tommy Frazier). However, Kelly gave the "correct" comment. "Joe Montana is an icon," he said. "He's entitled to his opinion about our football team. I think that's all I'd say about that." A couple of days before this year's Duke game, Kelly was asked about the ground- swell of discontent growing about the seventh year of his regime, particularly defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. From the outside looking in, perhaps he maxed out his run with the Fighting Irish, with his loyalty to VanGorder his downfall. He recognized that's what he signed on for at Notre Dame. "I know what the expectations are," Kelly said. "I'm a 1-2 football coach — and if you're not criticizing 1-2, your fan base is pretty soft." In my 30-plus years with Blue & Gold Illustrated, all six football coaches dur- ing that period, from Gerry Faust to Kelly, reached a point in their careers where the majority of the fan base con- curred "it's time for a change." Yes, even with Lou Holtz (1986-96). It began with the 6-5-1 ledger in his ninth year (1994), and then 9-3 and 8-3 follow-ups escalated the evidence that his best days probably were behind him and a fresh new face and new blood were required to reinvigorate energy. We saw it in basketball, too. The final seasons of Digger Phelps (1971-91) were brutal, and just three years ago, Mike Brey's (2000-present) 15-17 finish made him the Teflon Coach because "in 14 years, he has one Sweet 16 and nothing else." Now, Brey is the lone coach in college basketball to advance to the Elite Eight in the past two years, matching Phelps' achievement in 1978 and 1979. There is better recognition now that Notre Dame is fortunate to have him. Likewise, and from my take, I don't believe Kelly has reached that "point of no return" stage yet. Twenty-five years ago yes, but for 23 years, Notre Dame football has been mainly wandering in the wilderness with instability and the inability to become a "program." Kelly has been the closest answer to steering it in that direction, highlighted by the 12-0 regular season in 2012 and 10-1 start in 2015, and the likelihood of hiring an upgrade at this point would be rolling the dice. Understandably, it might feel like limbo or football purgatory to the Fight- ing Irish fan base, especially because there tends to be an impatience about how if a coach at a top football school hasn't led you to the Promised Land by his first five years, it's not going to hap- pen (i.e., since 2000, Urban Meyer at both Florida and Ohio State, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Jim Tressell at Ohio State, Pete Carroll at USC, Les Miles at LSU, Nick Saban at Alabama, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State or even Gene Chizek at Auburn all won titles in their first five years on the job). Of course, national champions since 1970 such as Bob Devaney at Nebraska, Vince Dooley at Georgia, Joe Paterno at Penn State, LaVell Edwards at Brigham Young, Bill McCartney at Colorado, Don James at Washington, Bobby Bowden at Florida State, Steve Spurrier at Florida and Mack Brown at Texas would tell you otherwise. Houston's Tom Herman is the hot name out there among the Notre Dame fandom the way Kelly's was in 2009, but there is never a guarantee that this posi- tion would appeal to Herman (the same way it didn't for his mentor, Meyer). LSU and USC already have been mentioned as potential future destinations for Herman. And speaking of USC, even that su- perpower has seen six of its last seven coaching hires since 1983 ousted, and current boss Clay Helton probably al- ready is on shaky ground. Timing is everything in coaching hires. A feud with his athletics director at Northwestern is what led Ara Par- seghian to call Notre Dame in November 1963 and inquire about the "interim" position. Otherwise, he was likely headed to Miami (Fla.). Holtz inserted the Notre Dame clause in his Minnesota contract in 1983, but couldn't have come if he didn't lead the hapless Golden Gophers to a bowl by his second year (which he did). Kelly's availability after a 12-0 season at Cin- cinnati in 2009 also was good timing. Still, the clock is ticking for seventh- year boss Kelly because the unofficial life span of a Notre Dame coach is generally 11 years — and that's just for the legends who became burned out from needing to live up to immense expectations. After all, its fan base doesn't want to be accused of being soft. ✦ Brian Kelly said he understands the criticism that Notre Dame's rough start has elicited and noted, "If you're not criticizing 1-2, your fan base is pretty soft." PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ OCT. 3, 2016 The Hard And Soft Realities Of Coaching EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wisdom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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