Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 3, 2016

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 53 of 55

54 OCT. 3, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED H ad he not entered football coach- ing, Brian Kelly acknowledges he likely would have followed a career in politics, similar to his alder- man father, Paul. In public and media relations, he comports himself with aplomb and seldom makes the politi- cally incorrect statement. Several years ago when Joe Mon- tana publicly criticized Kelly's han- dling of the Notre Dame quarter- backs 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 Tommie 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 groundswell of discontent grow- ing about the seventh year of his regime, particularly defensive co- ordinator 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 during that period, from Gerry Faust to Kelly, reached a point in their careers where the majority of the fan base concurred "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 be- hind him and a fresh new face and new blood were required to reinvigo- rate 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-pres- ent) 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 col- lege 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 wan- dering in the wilderness with insta- bility and the inability to become a "program." Kelly has been the closest answer to steering it in that direction, high- lighted 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 Fighting Irish fan base, especially be- cause 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 go- ing to happen (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 and Tom Osborne 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 fan base the way Kelly's was in 2009, but there is never a guaran- tee that this position would appeal to Herman (the same way it didn't for his mentor, Meyer). LSU and USC al- ready have been mentioned as poten- tial future destinations for Herman. And speaking of USC, even that superpower has seen six of its last seven coaching hires since 1983 ousted, and current boss Clay Helton probably already is on shaky ground. Timing is everything in coaching hires. A feud with his athletics direc- tor at Northwestern is what led Ara Parseghian to call Notre Dame in No- vember 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 sea- son at Cincinnati in 2009 also was good timing. Still, the clock is ticking for sev- enth-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 be- came burned out from needing to live up to immense expectations. After all, its fan base doesn't want to be accused of being soft. ✦ The Hard And Soft Realities Of Coaching THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at 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 JOE RAYMOND

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Oct. 3, 2016