Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2015

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

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Page 102 of 105

THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI T he third season has traditionally defined which direction a Notre Dame head coach's trajectory and legacy will take. By then one either has become im‑ mortalized or on his way toward foot‑ note status. For Brian Kelly, 2015 is year six — or the second chance with another year three. It seemed almost spooky in 2012, Kelly's third season, how he had mar‑ velously resurrected the Fighting Irish to a 12‑0 regular season and the pro‑ gram's first No. 1 ranking in 19 years. The football gods appeared to have him destined for immortality, just like previous Irish icons Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz, all of whom won a national title or finished un‑ beaten, if not both, in their third sea‑ sons. It was strong evidence that Kelly was embarking into the high‑rent dis‑ trict of Fighting Irish coaching lore … until the 42‑14 thrashing versus Ala‑ bama in the BCS National Champion‑ ship Game. Regardless, the confidence soared that Kelly and Co. were on the right path. It was further reflected with a top‑five recruiting haul one month later, highlighted by the nation's top linebacker, Jaylon Smith. Momentum, stability (a dalliance with the Phila‑ delphia Eagles, notwithstanding) and structure all seemed in place. In the ensuing two years, the Irish football natives have become restless again. No returns to a major bowl and a four‑game losing streak — from which no previous Irish head coach has ever recovered — to end this regular season, capped with a 49‑14 thrashing at archrival USC, has led to a temporary foreclosure in the high‑rent coaching district and a return to more modest dwellings. In 2010, Auburn's Gene Chizik was in the lap of luxury with a 14‑0 ledger and a national title. Two years later, he was on the street. Kelly is more toward the Mark Dantonio, Mark Richt and maybe even Gary Patterson district. In 2012, it seemed Dantonio had reached his plateau at Michigan Year Three, Part II Brian Kelly and the Irish need to ratchet up their play to another level in 2015 to show that 2012 was not just a fluke. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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