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The Case for Notre Dame Hiring Les Miles

Hint: I can give you more than “one crucial reason”

NCAA Football: Miami at Notre Dame Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I read this story by Stewart Mandel the other day and I thought to myself “what a load of crap,” but I had just stayed up late watching election results and was in no mood to type.

However, this evening it was retweeted back into my timeline (follow me @IrishTightness... Shameless, I know) by Keith Arnold of NBC Sports and I finally felt the need to pick this weak argument apart like a Brian Vangorder defense.

A Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan with, what can only be described as actual standards for performance (we’re rare, but we do exist), asks why Mandel why:

“you and more of the credible national sports media have not focused your writing on the pitiful seven-year performance of Brian Kelly and the need to remove him as coach.”

Stewart rambles off a bunch of unimpressive stats about Brian Kelly, which I will address below, and ends his garble with:

So my question to Mr. E and any other Irish fan ready to put Kelly out to pasture is this: Who are you going to hire that’s an obvious upgrade? Ara Parseghian isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Urban Meyer, Chip Kelly, Bob Stoops, David Shaw or any number of other fantasy names.

That was it. His one crucial reason why Notre Dame shouldn’t run off Brian Kelly. Not because he’s a great coach. Not because he’s actually accomplished things. But because “who are you going to hire that’s an obvious upgrade.” Sometimes I wonder if that is the same reason some of these “credible national sports media” folks are still employed.

Well, if you listened to the best Notre Dame football podcast on planet Earth, earlier this week, you know my “Big 3” replacements would be Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, and Les Miles. True, as Mandel said, Ara isnt walking through that door. Neither is Lou Holtz. But as I said in the show, my Big 3 coaches all have resumes equal to or greater than that of Holtz at Notre Dame, to include the same number of titles and higher winning percentages.

Now perhaps Bob Stoops really is a fantasy name. I’ll admit that I purposely left Nick Saban and Urban Meyer out of the podcast because they absolutely are. If you want to tell me Jim Tressel is a pipe dream, for the sake of this post, I’ll concede that too. But Les Miles; See the thing is, Les Miles is an obvious upgrade, and while he’s not my number one choice... he is available.

Mandel decides to throw out a couple nuggets about Kelly “that would frame his larger tenure much differently” so lets look at them.

* Two double-digit win seasons, becoming the first Notre Dame coach since Lou Holtz in the early ‘90s to achieve that.

The second half of this statement is what is most troubling to me because anybody that thinks “since Lou Holtz” is the basis for a sound argument is deranged. My wife, a skilled artist, made a painting. A piece of art. Then my 4 and 8 year olds did some crayon “drawings.” Shortly thereafter, I came in and half-assed a painting before the brushes dried. HEY... I’m the best painter since your Mom! Let’s try and color inside the lines here, shall we?

Back to the facts. Two double-digit win seasons. That’s 2 out of 6 for 33.3% of the time, and will soon be 2 out of 7, or 28.6% of Brian Kelly’s seasons. Les Miles, on the other hand, had double digit win seasons 7 times in 11 seasons. IN THE SEC. That’s 63.6% of the time, or nearly 225% better than Brian Kelly will be at the end of 2016.

* A .667 winning percentage (.705 prior to this season). No coach since Holtz managed to reach .600.

Again with the “no coach since Holtz.” Can we get past this already? Notre Dame doesn’t play former ND teams each week. Brian Kelly isn’t being outcoached by former ND coaches each week. The benchmarks should not be inward, they should be outward, as in the rest of modern college football, and in that context a sub-.700 is mediocre at best.

Les Miles had a .770 win percentage at LSU. In a 13 game season, that equates to a 10 win season on average. Not twice in 7 years. An actual average for a tenure lasting 11 years. Brian Kelly is hovering at 8.6 at the moment, and I would imagine that goes down before the season is over.

Now you may think to yourself “hey, the difference between an 8.6 win average and a 10 game win average is less that 2 games a year!” In simple math terms, that is true, but let me put it a different way: Brian Kelly would have to go 56-5 in his next 61 games to reach a 10 win per season average. That is basically achieving Urban Meyer’s record at Ohio State (58-5) coming out of a 3-6+ season. Not gonna happen.

* “Accomplishing” all this during a period when Notre Dame played one of the nation’s 25 toughest schedules four times, per Sagarin.

Well at least Mr. Mandel earns a little bit of respect back from me here by putting “accomplishing” in quotes, because (I assume) he (like me) knows none of those above stats are actual accomplishments. Nor is getting manhandled by Alabama and Ohio State in the National Title and Fiesta Bowl, respectively. Nor is almost beating Florida State or Clemson. Ironically, Brian Kelly’s two best wins are probably 2012 against Bob Stoops and 2014 against Les Miles.

Nevertheless, lets attack this Sagarin stat. Notre Dame played “one of the nation’s 25 toughest schedules” 4 times in 6 full seasons, or 67%. I agree, Notre Dame generally does play a decent schedule. Oddly enough, 2016 is by far the weakest schedule of Kelly’s career at ND. Go figure.

Les Miles played one of the nation’s 25 toughest schedules 9 times in 11 full seasons, or 82% of the time. While Brian Kelly’s highest Sagarin rated schedule ever was last year, at #17, Miles faced 4 schedules ranked in the Top 10, and 3 of those were actually Top 5. In simple terms, the average schedule for Brian Kelly was 24.67 in 6 full seasons, and the average for Miles was 17.36.

To say that the one crucial reason to retain Brian Kelly is because “Who are you going to hire that’s an obvious upgrade,” is nonsense. Les Miles has more double digit wins, both in general and on a percentage basis. He had a dramatically higher overall win percentage at LSU than Kelly at ND. All of this while he played a tougher schedule.

Oh... and he has a title. That is “one crucial reason” in and of itself to think long and hard about Les Miles. He is one of only 5 coaches to have won the last 10 National Championships. And consider this: The average time it has taken those 6 programs (Meyer has done it twice) to win a title with a new coach is 2.83 years. Urban at Florida (2), Chizik (2), Meyer at OSU (3), Saban (3), Miles (3), and the laggard is Jimbo Fisher at 4 years.

The main arguement against hiring Les Miles at Notre Dame will inevitably be his age. Les is 63. But as I said in the podcast, I firmly believe that Notre Dame has a better chance of winning a championship in 3 years under Miles than they would in 3 more years with Kelly. I don’t think this needs to be a long-term arrangement. I believe Notre Dame should hire Miles for a quick turnaround, as nearly all these top coaches seem to do when hired (even Stoops and Tressel had a title in year 2).

Urban Meyer was a high level coach who, in the last decade, had previously won a championship within 3 years. He was able to replicate that at a second school within 3 years. Stoops and Tressel have won titles, though much longer ago. Miles best fits the Meyer template based on the relative recency of his championship and would only be 65 or 66 in that timeframe. Totally doable, and he’s looking for work.

Lastly, Miles is a good recruiter. Sure, Louisiana and the south in general is talent rich, but Miles can obviously close the deal on top flight talent. Yes, I know Notre Dame is tougher academically than LSU, you cannot tell me in good conscience that Miles couldn’t land a Jaylon Smith or Sheldon Day, or Deshone Kizer. Kelly does an adequate job, and I believe Miles could do similar. However, I’m less concerned with this and more concerned with who can take the current roster to the promised land in the next 3 years.

I believe that person is not Brian Kelly, and could be Les Miles.

As a little bonus, I charted the end of year Sagarin rankings for Jim Tressel, Bob Stoops, and Les Miles, which accounts for both wins and strength of schedule. You can compare them to my 4 year old and my 8 year old Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis, along with Brian Kelly.

I have also isolated Miles & Kelly for the sake of this post.

End of Year Sagarin Ranking
End of Year Sagarin Ranking