Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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72 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI C ontract extensions for football coaches at Notre Dame have been the kiss of death since the turn of the century. At the end of the 2000 regular sea- son with a 9-2 record, fourth-year head coach Bob Davie received a five-year extension through 2005 — only to be axed 12 months later fol- lowing a 5-6 finish. Seven games into his Notre Dame tenure in 2005 (which was supposed to be Davie's ninth year), Charlie Weis was awarded a 10-year exten- sion through 2015. He was ousted at the end of 2009 after a 16-21 ledger his last three years. Now entering his seventh season at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly this win- ter signed a six-year deal through the 2021 campaign. If he fulfills that term, he would eclipse the 11-year "cap" achieved by Fighting Irish icons Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53), Ara Parseghian (1964-74) and Lou Holtz (1986-96). Whether it actually comes to frui- tion is uncertain, but the man who hired him in December 2009, director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, is confi- dent Kelly is in it for the long haul. From an expanded support staff to the growth and effectiveness of the Irish Invasion camp for recruiting, Swarbrick believes the prime years of the Kelly regime are just beginning. Where Swarbrick said Kelly has grown the most through his first six seasons with a 55-23 record (.705 winning percentage) is embracing and understanding the university and its overall mission. "It doesn't matter what your ex- perience was [in the past], you can't understand the dynamic of being the Notre Dame football coach until you actually are," Swarbrick said. "It takes time, and it doesn't matter who you are. I think he has done a phe- nomenal job of understanding the job and the place, and figuring out how to build a program that takes all of that into account. "This program is on as solid a foot- ing as it's been in a long, long time, from every aspect of it, and that is completely a tribute to Brian's abil- ity to build a program. That was the thing that attracted us to him when we hired him and what he has done so effectively here." THE 'TO DO' LIST Notre Dame hasn't fully "arrived" yet under Kelly as a program. It hasn't put together back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1991-93. A major bowl game hasn't been won since 1993. Twenty-one of the last 22 seasons have seen Notre Dame lose at least three games. And, of course, all Fighting Irish head coaches are eventually judged by whether they won a national title. On the flip side, so much ad- vancement has been made with the Swarbrick-Kelly pairing within the infrastructure — nutrition, sports science, salaries, FieldTurf, facilities, support staff, etc. — and in produc- tion: • In the 22 years from 1990-2011, Notre Dame finished unbeaten at home only once (1998). It has done so twice in the last four years. • Notre Dame finished in the As- sociated Press top-10 once from 1994-2011 (No. 9 in 2005). It achieved it in 2012 (No. 4) and probably was one of the 10 best last year even though it finished No. 11 in the AP poll (tied for the program's third- highest overall placement since 1994). • The Irish were 1-9 in bowls from 1994-2009. Since 2010 under Kelly, they are 3-3 — although still lacking a major or Big Six win. • Notre Dame joins Clemson (2015), Florida State (2013 and 2014), Alabama (2013) and Ohio State (2012) as the lone schools to produce 12-0 regular-season finishes the past four years among Power Five conference schools. Kelly and Ohio State's Ur- ban Meyer are the only two coaches to produce 12-0 records at two sepa- rate schools (Kelly was 12-0 at Cin- cinnati in 2009 before accepting the Notre Dame position). Notre Dame has clawed back to becoming a more consistent top-15 operation through Kelly's first six seasons. The next steps are more challeng- ing: consistent top-10 caliber perfor- mances with more marquee wins, College Football Playoff participation and legitimately vying for and win- ning the ultimate prize. INTERNAL STRUCTURE Notre Dame's football support staff will never be as large as Ala- bama's, which has captured four of the last seven national titles, but it has expanded considerably, includ- ing bringing in two more alumni to aid the defense this year. One was Jeff Burris, a 1993 Notre Dame captain and All-American who had worked in the NFL. The other is 1980s reserve linebacker Greg Hud- son, a defensive coordinator at East Carolina for Skip Holtz (2005-09), as- sistant head coach at Florida State (2010-12) and defensive coordinator at Purdue (2013-15). Technology today has changed so much that there are no secrets in foot- ball anymore, per Swarbrick. "Everybody has every piece of video, everybody has perfect infor- mation about every formation, how every play is run," Swarbrick said. "So the margins of victory have shifted now. It's gone away from 'sys- tems' and gone toward approaches and process. They're incredibly small margins, but that's what you have to find. "You've got to mine all the things Swarbrick (right) has confidence in head football coach Brian Kelly, evidenced by the six-year con- tract extension Kelly signed this winter that will run through the 2021 campaign. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND THE NEXT STEP ( S ) Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick believes Notre Dame's infrastructure and stability could set up the best years of the Brian Kelly era

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