For as long as I can remember, I perceived Notre Dame Football as trying to accomplish two things concurrently. Namely, trying to field a championship-caliber team, and go about winning said championship “the right way.” There have been many, many, many, many, many seasons where Notre Dame failed to win a title, but seasons in which Notre Dame fans could always walk away thinking “yeah, we didn’t reach the promised land, but at least we did things the right way.” Unfortunately, after a 4-8 season which had nearly as many arrests as losses, that peg no longer exists for fans to hang their hat of righteousness upon.
My brother and I, life long Notre Dame fans, walk away from this season feeling as if Notre Dame has failed both on the field and off the field. This begs the question: Is it even possible for Notre Dame to field a championship level team without selling their soul to the monster known as modern college football?
The answer is unclear. Quite frankly, Notre Dame’s goals seem unclear to us as well. In fact, in a rare concession I will make to Brian Kelly, it may even be unclear to Coach.
I think my brother’s comment in the show, that it would be easier for a championship type coach to adapt to the character requirements of Notre Dame, than it would for a character type coach to rise to the elite level needed for a title, is probably accurate. Regardless of your feeling on that statement, I hope that you would agree that Brian Kelly, and Notre Dame as a whole, are currently failing at both of those missions.
Brian Kelly is in an impossible situation at the moment. While it’s not his fault that Notre Dame is so conflicted between these two implicit goals, he did accept the job fully knowing the challenge. There may be a couple coaches in America who can satisfy both requirements, but Notre Dame has done little to convince fans that they are actually willing to find, and pay, that person.
What is becoming more apparent to fans like us, with each passing year, is that unless Notre Dame is willing to hire a top flight coach, it may just be time for the university pick a direction and commit to at least being proficient at one of those areas.
You may think this is a defeatist attitude, but I ask what evidence in the last 25 years has their been, that Notre Dame can win a championship and do it “the right way.” The 2012 season was achieved with academically ineligible players, and the wins vacated. The 4-8 season carries no ethical or moral victories.
If Notre Dame retains Brian Kelly, or decides to give the dual mandate another try, the painful truth is this might be the last experiment before abandoning one of the goals.