Things have gone so poorly in 2016 that troubling comparisons are starting to be made. The ironic (or is it sad?) part during times like these is that as awful as the play on the field is that message boards everywhere duplicate that atmosphere in their communities.
When things get ugly most aren’t really comfortable or satisfied keeping things in perspective or keeping criticism mostly to the results we see on the field.
Some might think this article is a defense of Kelly in comparison to his predecessor Charlie Weis. That’s not my point and certainly not my intent. In some ways, that comparison will always be there and be useful to some degree. I tend to think it’s doesn’t mean a ton (as in point number one on why you should keep your job) but it still has some meaning.
However, in recent days I’ve seen a proliferation of talk about “Is Kelly really that different than Weis?”
Let’s not walk down that road. This gray-washing (I think I just made this term up) of two coaching eras is not going to happen. The history is the history and it can’t be altered. Let’s take a look back at the past, shall we?
Top F/+ Notre Dame Wins (2005-2009)
Luckily for us the Football Outsiders F/+ rankings go back to 2005 during Charlie Weis’ first season. Certainly, this ranking system has some flaws but it’s still instructive to look back at the past.
What do you remember most about the Weis era? For me it’s always been the lack of quality wins. Don’t you remember? We literally never proved anything on the national stage. Take a look at the wins above.
Oh man, is that a lot of underachieving talented teams. Obviously, this is where F/+ kind of loses some people because, believe it or not, the top Weis wins came against teams that finished 33-30. The last three teams featured above finished under .500 on the season!
What’s also hilarious in retrospective is that if you were to say the 2005 UM game (they were ranked No. 3 at game time but suffering through the Lloyd Carr death rattle) was the biggest win then Charlie Weis literally peaked at Notre Dame in his second game.
I bet you didn’t expect to see anything from 2007 on this list, did you? Oh, but UCLA was really talented in 2007 and came into the season ranked highly with a bunch of returning starters. However, they suffered some major injuries and couldn’t overcome them. Notre Dame totaled 140 yards and still won, thanks to an incredible 9 turnovers from a hapless UCLA offense starting its 3rd-string quarterback.
Charlie Weis did beat only 1 team that finished ranked in the AP Poll by the end of the year. That was 2006 Penn State who finished 38th nationally in F/+ that season.
Top F/+ Notre Dame Wins (2010 to Present)
No you see how laughingly different things have been under Kelly, yes? The top three teams on that list were at least co-champions of their conferences and went 35-6 overall.
The Weis chart above is what you’d expect for a coach, like his predecessor, that quickly found magic in a bottle and then watched things float away like balloons during a Clemson home game. Kelly’s list looks like a coach who was really, really close to breaking through to something special.
This isn’t a small sample size, either. From mid-November 2010 through the end of 2015 Notre Dame went 51-17 (.750%) over a 5+ year period. Do the math, 18 out of the 19 games listed above came in that time frame for Brian Kelly–almost 4 good wins per year. I’ve got no time for anyone who wants to pretend this didn’t happen.
Kelly’s biggest problem is too many recent losses and no wins on this list over his last 13 games. The optimist would say there’s been losses of 2, 16, 3, 8, 3, 7, and 7 but you simply cannot have this many losses in that short period of a time in combination with no good wins. Which is why Kelly is where he is.
Again, if you think this is an ode to why Kelly deserves to stick around you’re wrong. However, when it comes down to reasons why Notre Dame would be able to hire a really good new coach in the future that list of wins in the table above might just be at the top of the list.