It’s about that time for some deep thoughts on the future of Notre Dame football. Ideally, I wanted to wait until the end of the season but I’m going to catch that wave right now and ride it for a while.
I was going to title this article, “Just Make the Right Hire” but I realized, well, no one can really agree on who the right hire would be. For the record, once conference championship weekend is over I’m going to be rolling out a look at potential candidates that I hope everyone will enjoy. That should be fun.
Should Brian Kelly be fired? Do I think Brian Kelly should be fired?
I’m not saying these aren’t important questions. It’s just they aren’t as important to me as other questions. It’s almost as if people think once a certain percentage of Irish fans give up on Brian Kelly a magical door is going to open up and we’ll all join hands in the world’s easiest coaching search. We just need more people to jump ship first!
They are also questions that are very inter-Notre Dame related. They’re more concerned with settling internet fights within our own than thinking about larger issues. You know the guy, he’s real opinionated and thinks Jon Gruden is the first phone call for the future. He’s two dozen deep on Brian Kelly should be fired threads this year–and if he’s not (draws in a huge breath and shouts) then it’s proof this school doesn’t care about winning!
You’ve got to love the passion but it’s full of panic, anger, frustration, and in some cases, hatred. Don’t fall into that trap.
Brian Kelly is unlikely to take this program where it needs to go. It’s okay to admit that and not lose your mind if he comes back for 2017. No Irish coach has ever been pushed down this far and turned things around, and definitely not been able to turn things around in a big way.
Heading into the 1950 season Frank Leahy was 80-7-5 throughout his career–a winning percentage of .896 that was the greatest in the history of college or pro football. He hadn’t lost in 4+ years, had the pre-season No. 1 team in the nation, and stunned the world by going 4-4-1 in 1950.
Pound for pound, with all the advantages Notre Dame was blessed with after the late 40’s, that might’ve been a worse season than what we’ve witness today in 2016. Leahy certainly didn’t fall apart thereafter but he’d never win a national title again and within 3 more years he was gone from South Bend of his own accord.
Over 5 years ago I wrote the Guide to Rebuilding Notre Dame Football with 10 keys to achieving that feat:
Develop Team Mental Toughness
Recruit Football-First Players
Decrease the Amount of Blowout & Bad Losses
Blow Out More Teams
Maintain Healthy Roster Depth
Push the Envelope with New Technology
Avoid Losing Seasons
Develop the Quarterback Position
Keep the Coaching Staff Solidified
Beat More Ranked Teams
There was a time when many of these keys were trending in a positive direction if not operating at a really high level. Today, as many as 8 of these keys are trending really poorly.
So, if Notre Dame were to fire Brian Kelly there would be enough evidence to indict him for not just losing too many games but losing some of the progress that was built earlier in his tenure.
Additionally, the Irish are likely to be breaking in a new quarterback next season, there will be a ton of starters coming back, and it feels like a breath of fresh air could do wonders right now. I have no qualms with anyone who thinks we’d be better off next year trying to re-load and climb back up the mountain ahead of that looming opener against Michigan in 2018.
However, the future is more than just next year or the year after. In times like these that can be really, really difficult for people to process. There are some coaches I’d take right now if Jack Swarbrick hired them in a few days, but I’d also wait another 12 months to get one of those coaches, too.
Nothing (within reason) is more important than really nailing this next hire.
Here are my closing lines from Rebuilding Notre Dame:
Remember, rebuilding Notre Dame football, re-setting expectations, and being patient right now isn’t about making excuses just to keep a staff around. It’s about setting the program up for future success for the current staff and for the coaches who will follow Brian Kelly.
We don’t need patience in the form of giving Brian Kelly 3 more years. He’s had plenty of time and he hasn’t earned that right. He’s very likely going to have one more year. Giving him one more year–if it means setting the program up for long-term success with a good successor–would completely be worth it.
Just do a good job with the next hire.
At this point, if you’re skeptical there are probably two issues nagging your mind:
What about Jack?
Has Swarbrick been caught off guard by this season? Is he unprepared to execute a quality coaching search? Is he too attached to Kelly to see things clearly?
The first two questions, relating to palace intrigue, are wholly uninteresting to me. It would seem pretty natural to be caught off guard a little bit especially after extending Kelly through the 2021 season. A lot of folks are caught off guard right now scratching their heads. Attempting to dig deeper into the intentions of Swarbrick’s work to this point smells more than projecting than anything else. File that away in the panic, frustration, etc. etc.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned that Kelly can get back into Jack’s good graces with a modestly successful 2017 season. Doesn’t that mean you want Kelly fired now!?? Not exactly, just that the bar should be set really freaking high next year if Kelly does come back. I know it’s a worry for many that the bar won’t be high enough.
The older I get the more I realize not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet.
What about All Those 10 Factors Above?
That’s a good point. Comparing things now to 2009 isn’t very flattering to Brian Kelly. There were certain areas we thought we’d never be able to compare to the Weis era and yet here we are.
However, things still don’t seem nearly as bad as the end of the last coaching tenure and that matters when you’re talking about pulling the plug now or in a year.
Kelly has thrown together a pair of awful losing periods to end 2014 and over the last 13 games to date. But, the line on that above graph has continued to stay pretty low and he’s not that far removed from a very legit coaching performance in 2015.
Is that reason enough to keep Kelly around another year? Not exactly, but these performances HERE have bought some national equity and the program is surprisingly stable given the current situation. If a new coach comes within a few weeks that’d be exciting, if we wait until this time next year it’s not the end of the world.
Just do a good job with the next hire.