It’s an unbelievably well-timed ironic twist that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are walking into in 2017. This year, Notre Dame will complete the massive renovation of Notre Dame Stadium called, “Campus Crossroads,” and once again, the football team itself is at a crossroad. It wasn’t supposed to be like this- but then again... it never is.
Think back to December 2012. That’s 4 seasons ago, but it feels like another lifetime. Notre Dame football was undefeated, ranked #1 in the country, and our middle linebacker and captain of a defense that was as good as we have seen in many, many years was a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame was looking to end a 24 and 25 year drought for a national championship and that beautiful bronze trophy.
Within a month, nothing was gained, and so many of those echoes that came alive fell silent once more.
Since that remarkable 2012 season, Notre Dame has gone 31-20. That is almost the very definition of 8-5 (7.75-5 to be exact). It has won the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers and the Music City Bowl against LSU. It was ran over by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, and had a season so ridiculously awful, some fans were hoping for a bowl bid on an academic technicality with a 5-7 record. Notre Dame didn’t quite make it at 4-8.
As infuriating as it has all been, it’s been even more puzzling. These last two seasons are proof enough that we may never figure out what kind of team and program this is. 2015 saw the Irish lose one starter after another and yet- they kept winning. It was an amazing run, that saw its two regular season losses happen on the road to the tune of 2 points each. Eight months later in 2016, Notre Dame played one of their softest schedules we have seen in some time, and lost 8 games.
You are not alone in thinking, “WHAT IN THE HELL IS HAPPENING HERE?”
The calls for Brian Kelly’s head came early this past season, and any goodwill capital he may have had left from the 2012 season, was all dried up for a large number of fans and alumni. For those arguing that 2016 was just an outlier, the other outlier has to be 2012. That leaves a 43-22 record for the other 5 seasons- just a wee bit better than 8-5.
So, is this the standard at Notre Dame? Is 8-5 the record we cling to? I’m sorry, but even the entire era of Davie, Ty, and Weis hasn’t knocked out the notion in my head that Notre Dame can and should be better, because they can.
All of that brings us to today. Brian Kelly has still not been fired, and will in fact coach the Irish in 2017. I do think it’s safe to say that this season is make or break for Kelly. Only Jack Swarbrick knows what the magic number is for Kelly to continue at Notre Dame, and perhaps he doesn’t even have a specific number in mind (if that number is 8 wins I will need new windows at my house).
This isn’t another “FIRE BRIAN KELLY” post. Not right now. We all feel one way or another, and I’m not trying to change your mind, nor would I change mine. The simple fact remains that we will have year 8 of Kelly in South Bend, and honestly, I have no idea how any of this is going to shake out. What I do know, is that Kelly and Notre Dame are fighting for the future of the program, and even if you hate Kelly and/or Swarbrick’s guts, I can respect what is happening right now.
Kelly is taking measures he has not only never done at Notre Dame, but also anywhere else he has been in his career. Aside from a few position coaches, Kelly is cleaning house and by my judgement, he seems to be making some good choices. I find it absurd to read or hear people discuss these changes as if he has no right to do so. People are actually pissed that he is trying to win games.
I’ve said it before... what in the hell is he supposed to do? Did you expect him to sit on his hands and do nothing and add to the narrative that fits with your anger towards him? Are you actively rooting against the Irish in hopes that Jon Gruden will come and save the program? Seems like a pretty weak-ass position to me.
When we talk about the future of the Notre Dame football program, a lot of talk veers one way or the other towards a lot of the off the field stuff. Jumbotrons, fieldturf, mums, academics, and other such things permeate each conversation. It’s not June yet, so I’ll save that for later. Right now, we are witnessing a coach fight for his job, and in doing so, he’s fighting to save the program. Until toe meets leather in September, this is all we really have to work with.
Brian Kelly is here, he’s making a lot of changes and adjustments to what has failed him and us in the recent past. Is it enough? I think it’s too early to say, and even if it is for this year- what about 2018 and beyond? The future is far more than just one season, but maybe fighting for this one season can save the future.
It’s all very confusing.
Note: The multiple coaching changes have forced the “Fixing Notre Dame Football” series to be put on hold for now until we can get a better grip on what they are doing.