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Notre Dame and the Minimum Level of Acceptable Performance

“Brian Kelly has never won less than 8 games!”    

As part of a small minority of sane Notre Dame fans who are becoming less patient and more vocal in their criticism of Coach Brian Kelly, I hear this quite often. Too often. At every turn, the “8 is enough” crowd awaits, coiled and ready to strike with the force of an arbitrary number that isn’t even prime.

How was this benchmark set? Was it Jack Swarbrick who upon hiring Kelly said “Now as long as you never win less than 8, you’ll have a job here at Notre Dame.” I really hope not.

Perhaps it was an organic synthesis of fan expectations. “Well Tyrone started with 10 wins, then trended down. And Charlie started with 9 wins, then trended down. This Kelly guy started with 8 wins. Just as long as he never goes down from there, we might have our guy!”

It permeates the expectations of this fan base and it makes me sick. The number 8. A snowman. A round and fluffy number with a perceived softness that is only rivaled by the Notre Dame fanbase that tolerates it and their team’s play through the first 4 games.

It is unavoidable too. Tweet out an actual fact that at Notre Dame, Ty Willingham had a better win percentage than Brian Kelly against both Top 25 and Top 10 teams. Just wait for the replies. “But Brian Kelly has never won less than 8 Games! Willingham can’t say that!” Ok pal. I guess everything is fine.

Try to make a sensible reply to a commenter on our latest OFD podcast? Here it comes. “Even Frank Leahy and Knute Rockne have seasons with less than 8 wins, but not Brian Kelly!” Dude, have you been hanging out in smokey Ford Tempo lately?

When challenged about accepting mediocrity, one fan even retorted “If mediocre means never winning less than 8 games, than sign me up for that!” My friend, I want to sign you up for Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader.


Your favorite team has 8 wins and 5 losses. In total they played 13 games.

To calculate that season’s winning percentage you take 8, and divide it by 13.

The result is 61.5%.

Jimmy, What grade would be assigned to your math paper, if you had a 61.5%?

That’s right, a D!

What I despise most about this number is I believe it sets a minimum level of acceptable performance, possibly by University leadership, but certainly by a large segment of the fan base. It is, in effect, telling someone what is the absolute least they can do. When does that ever work?

Suppose on Saturday I told my child: “Now Margaret, I expect you to have your room totally cleaned before noon, but as long as you put your clothes away, you can have a cookie.” I can hear it already. “I put my clothes away Dad, can I have a cookie now?”

Here kid, have 8, you’re gonna need ‘em. The Irish only have 1 win and are kicking off early today.

“So they just need to win 7 more to have a great year, right Dad?”