The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had one of their most disconcerting seasons in recent history last year, falling to 4-8 after a 10-win 2015 campaign. Fans praying for a bounce-back year would be best served saving their energy, though. The suffering isn’t going to stop until Brian Kelly is relieved from his head coaching duties.
When Notre Dame canned Charlie Weis and hired Brian Kelly prior to the 2010 football season, the general consensus was that the Irish had hit a home run. Sure, they were going to have to pay Weis a whopping $18.97 million to buy him out of his contract, but they were landing a rising star in the ex-Cincinnati Bearcats coach. Kelly had led Grand Valley State to two Division II national titles, Central Michigan to a conference title and the Bearcats to three top-20 finishes, two Big East championships and one undefeated season. Heck, he was even a Catholic Irish-American.
Although it’s hard to believe considering the success he’s had, it appears that in reality, Notre Dame fired Weis and replaced him with his clone. Let’s not forget that Weis too, had some success at the start of his tenure, winning nine and ten games in his first two seasons. While Kelly has had a bit more success getting the Irish into the position to compete on the national stage, let’s face it — they’ve flopped every time they’ve gotten there. Unless, of course, you count Pinstripe and Music City bowl victories.
The irony is, it may not be Weis or Kelly’s fault that Notre Dame consistently fails to crack the upper-echelon of today’s college football hierarchy. While Notre Dame’s tradition will always attract a fair number of good players — especially those in the Midwest — its rigorous academic standards may prevent it from ever truly competing for the nation’s blue-chip Southern stars. The Irish already had to vacate victories earned in the 2012 and 2013 seasons due to an academic scandal — and those were players who could get into Notre Dame.
Regardless, Kelly’s recent missteps will prevent him from many more opportunities to get the Irish back to the promised land. He’s consistently thrown his players under the bus and skirted around taking the blame for last season’s flop. For someone who’s broached the subject of accountability as often as Kelly has, it’s actually astounding that these comments end with him blaming someone else.
He’s still looking back, too. Last month, he blamed fundraising and a young defense on Notre Dame’s 2016 woes. That certainly doesn’t sound like a coach who has accepted some blame and worked on his approach to prevent a similar letdown in 2017.
Brian Kelly’s assessment of his own culpability in this case: “Zero. None."
— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) November 22, 2016
Let us be clear, Notre Dame has enough talent to have a pretty good 2017 season. The offense has a chance to be explosive and that “young defense,” while a little inexperienced up front, features some playmakers in the back seven. Eight to nine wins isn’t unrealistic. The problem isn’t the players though, it’s Kelly.
After “leading” the Irish to seven losses by eight points or less in 2016, he can’t be trusted to be composed enough to get them past Georgia, Michigan State, North Carolina, USC, NC State, Miami and Stanford. While it’s possible Notre Dame may never be a true national title contender again without lowering its academic standards, the program isn’t even going to get close with Kelly at the helm.