Blue and Gold Illustrated

June/July 2023

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

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Page 45 of 47

46 JUNE/JULY 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED B ack in the summer of 1985, a Miami newspaper ran an elaborate feature that had top former coaches or college football experts rank each college football coach in the nation. I studied it with great interest be- cause Notre Dame's Gerry Faust was entering his fifth season on the hot- test seat in America with a pedes- trian record of 25-20-1 (.554) and zero placements in the final Associ- ated Press poll. What struck me was how two of the mighty coaches from the 1970s and early 1980s had nosedived so dramatically. Michigan's Bo Schem- bechler plummeted from the top 20 because of a 6-6 record the previ- ous year that saw his bowl record drop to a miserable 2-10. Meanwhile, second-year Minne- sota head coach Lou Holtz was in the 30s to 40s range. He had been fired at Arkansas after a 6-5 record in 1983, and a massive rebuilding project with the Golden Gophers in 1984 com- menced with a 4-7 ledger. Four short years later in another ex- tensive feature by Don Heinrich's College Football magazine on the nation's best coaches, Holtz was No. 1 and Schem- bechler No. 2. Holtz had just guided Notre Dame to the 1988 national title, while Schembechler was coming off a Rose Bowl triumph and a top-five finish. It revealed how quickly ratings can change in the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" profession, and what a fickle endeavor they can be. This May in CBS Sports' annual rank- ings of the 65 coaches in Power Five conferences, eighth-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly plunged from No. 12 to No. 22 after the 4-8 meltdown. For most of the past decade, Kelly was in the No. 5 to No. 10 range — even No. 4 by Athlon prior to the 2013 campaign after the 12-1 season. Even Michigan State's Mark Dantonio fell from No. 5 to only No. 11 after a 3-9 record — but Spartans football history is judged differently from Notre Dame's annals. Last December, it appeared the Kelly era might have run its course at Notre Dame. A .656 winning percentage af- ter seven years revealed a lack of an "it" factor and was well below the "base" .750 standard at the school. Yet he joins Urban Meyer as the only two coaches to produce a 12-0 regular season at two different schools. That and one other reason was why I was wary and didn't support jettisoning Kelly: I was not con- fident anybody with a better track record or overall body of work would be his suc- cessor — nor want to be — and the new hire would not elicit a "wow factor." Plus: • I f d i re c to r o f a t h l e t i c s Ja c k Swarbrick promoted an assistant to the head coaching job (like Clemson's Dabo Swinney, ranked No. 3), he would have been eviscerated because "you need head coaching experience at a place like Notre Dame," as we learned with Terry Brennan, Faust, Bob Davie … • You don't want to turn to the pros — see Irish alumni Joe Kuharich or Charlie Weis — because longtime NFL coaches often lack "the college touch." Plus, Bill Belichick probably would say no. • You supposedly "can't" hire some- one outside a Power Five conference (like Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, now at Minnesota) because he "hasn't cut his teeth yet with the big boys and is low- hanging fruit." Or people from the service academies like Navy's Ken Ni- umatalolo or Air Force's Troy Calhoun that run the triple option, "which would hurt recruiting at this level." • Ideally, you want someone in his coaching prime, about 10 years of successful head coaching experience, around age 40-50 — so Duke's David Cutcliffe (62), Dantonio (61) or Kan- sas State's Bill Snyder (77) don't need to deal with this pressure cooker, nor does the deposed Les Miles (63). • So many top coaches already are at their dream job making millions either at their alma matter (Stan- ford's David Shaw, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Miami's Mark Richt, Wisconsin's Paul Chryst, etc.), at the right fit (Washington's Chris Petersen) or a place that is "home," such as Utah's Mormon coach Kyle Whittingham (who has been there since 1994), TCU's Gary Patterson or Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who have been head coaches at their respective schools since 1999 and 2000, respectively. • You can't get well-established coaches ensconced at power schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State, etc. Among the coaches ranked ahead of Kelly on CBS Sports' listing, maybe Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy (No. 12), Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (No. 16) and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen (No. 21) would have been "approachable." Yet Gundy is a native Oklahoman, Fitzgerald is a Wildcat alumnus with purportedly no affinity toward the Irish, and Mullen has done wonders at MSU but was coming off a 5-7 regular season that included a loss to South Alabama, and his hiring last December probably wouldn't have created a buzz. For now, Notre Dame and Kelly remain in football purgatory. Yet as we've learned, much can change quite rapidly. ✦ Lou Holtz went 4-7 and 7-5 with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 1984-85 before coming to Notre Dame, where he led the Irish to the national championship in 1988. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ JUNE/JULY 2017 Football Purgatory Status Remains For Now 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 wis- dom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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