The first of 14 storylines as we approach the 2014 football season...
This fall Brian Kelly will become the 11th coach to reach a fifth year at Notre Dame. Unless something far worse than a terrible 2014 season occurs he is also very likely to be just the 6th person to coach at Notre Dame for a sixth season and the first to do so in nearly a quarter century's time.
We have arrived at a point where Notre Dame is a very good but not great program and has gained stability under the coaching of Brian Kelly. The main questions moving forward are how much that stability is worth, how long that stability's life lasts, and whether or not the program's ceiling can be pushed higher to any significant degree.
Does the floor not count for something? I would argue it probably doesn't looking toward the future. Even Kelly's most ardent critics (okay maybe not all of them) seem resigned to the fact that 6 or 7-loss seasons are not on the horizon and therefore have deftly spun that into a new sense of frustration.
Now we're back to stability and keywords like consistency which the program desperately needed several years ago but which are losing meaning with each passing season. Where is this train headed under Brian Kelly, how far will it go, and what can we look forward to over the next couple seasons?
Notre Dame Win Percentage (Minimum 4 Seasons Coaches)
|Frank Leahy||1941-43, 46-53||87||11||9||.855|
Kelly has been a fascinating coach insofar as he doesn't fit neatly into the black and white boxes Irish fans love to put their coaches in (hence the frustration mentioned above) especially one who is heading into a fifth year.
A 10-3 season in 2014 feels like a little bit of an optimistic outlook given the schedule and new defense but certainly not unrealistic outcome and would boost Kelly's winning percentage at Notre Dame to .723 through 5 years. That would move Kelly firmly into this huge space among long-tenured Irish coaches far above the 'bad' coaches while sitting behind 5 coaches who won National Championships.
It does seem like Brian Kelly is the modern-day Elmer Layden in a way. Except, Kelly didn't come to Notre Dame a few years removed from the program building of perhaps the game's greatest coach. Layden lasted 7 years, never won a National Championship, and had the program playing at a consistently high but non-elite level.
Is the 2014 season a 'hold the line' type of year while 2015 is shaping up to be the next big shot at glory? That appears to be the perception as the program welcomes back Everett Golson at quarterback but has to break in a new defense with some key parts lost on that side of the ball. Then again, nothing says this will be the script that plays out in real life. Whatever happens this will continue to be one of the most interesting jobs in the country relative to the future and expectations.