Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 NOV. 12, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I n his first eight games a t N o t r e D a m e i n 2002, head coach Ty- rone Willingham was 8-0, ranked No. 4 in the coun- try and was one of the more exalted figures in college athletics. There were myriad Mes- sianic references to him. Notre Dame athletics di- rector Kevin White indi- cated that Willingham's hiring was a case of "divine intervention," and Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden followed suit. "Notre Dame's plugged i n to a h i g h e r p owe r," Bowden said shortly be- fore his Seminoles lost 34-24 to the Irish that year. "They've got prophet Ty. He's like some black Cath- olic Moses leading them to the Promised Land." In his first eight games at Notre Dame in 2005, head coach Charlie Weis had the Irish sitting at No. 8 in the country and caught the nation's atten- tion with a "Game of The Decade" performance in a last-second 34-31 loss to No. 1 USC. So much did the defeat symbolize the "Notre Dame Is Back!" theme, that on Oct. 29, 2005, the university rewarded Weis with a 10-year contract extension through 2015. Consequently, if there was an early "positive" about Brian Kelly's first eight games — whose 4-4 result reached its nadir with the 35-17 fiasco against Navy on Oct. 23 — it's that Irish fans won't be lulled into buying fool's gold this time. The word repeatedly used this year is "process." Throw in "growing pains," or "work in progress," too. They are phrases that often annoy the masses but also, unfortunately, tell the story. Similar to his sideline demeanor, Kelly is pretty candid on most topics. One of them is he does not believe the current football program is a house of cards or one that looks tantalizingly at- tractive before collapsing. "Listen, I'm probably one guy that won't blow smoke," Kelly said shortly after the alarming setback to the Mid- shipmen. "We are doing the things I want to do internally. Where does that show itself — absolutely in Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, 5 and 6 … I don't have to spin it for everybody. I know what we are doing." When queried about how long "the process" will take, he was realistic enough to reply, "if we play like we played defensively [against Navy], there won't be a Year 5 and 6 for me," Kelly remarked. Four days after the Navy game, the death of 20-year-old Notre Dame junior Declan Sullivan while filming an Irish football practice cast the ultimate pall on a program infinitely more than any setback on the field ever could. S u d d e n l y, q u e s t i o n s about strategy, scheme or development were ir- relevant compared to the death of a young adult with the greatest of promise for the future. In the com- ing days and weeks, the circumstances surround- ing his tragic passing raise questions that must be se- riously addressed. Never has a Notre Dame football team needed an in- season bye weekend more than this one does Nov. 6. After the loss to Navy, Kelly was asked where the team morale was. "[The psyche of the team], that doesn't even enter my mind," Kelly said. "All I talked to them was from my heart. Here is what I see, here is what happened and here is what is going to have to happen to move for- ward. Last year, you lost to Navy, and you lost the rest. That means this football team broke apart. "We aren't going to let this team come apart. I just speak from my heart and tell them how I feel. We just have to go work every day and continue to get better." Following the Sullivan tragedy, one can't help but believe that team psyche has become the central issue. The first two months of the 2010 campaign during Kelly's maiden voyage were fraught with plenty of peril and the highest form of catastrophe. The process of rebuilding now indeed will have to take on a higher power than just gridiron strategy, recruiting and de- velopment. ✦ Tyrone Willingham (above) started his first season in 2002 at 8-0 before finishing 10-3. In contrast, Brian Kelly's first team in 2010 started 4-4 before ending with an 8-5 record. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ NOV. 15, 2010 No 'Fool's Gold' In 2010 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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