Once again, it's that time of year where optimism runs rampant in college football fan bases across the country: spring football. A time where every program seems to annually believe, both internally and externally among fans, donors, alums etc., that next year can be "the year." That a strong spring can catapult a football team from bad to good, good to great. Of course, positive perception in the offseason doesn't always equate to reality in the fall.
Speaking of positive, spring vibes, let's talk about Notre Dame Fighting Irish football.
Following the debacle that was Notre Dame's 2016 football season, Kelly engaged in, essentially, a top-to-bottom re-creation of his staff and, maybe more importantly, some changes in philosophy.
Whether it be Mike Elko's 4-2-5 defensive structure and focus on fundamentals, Chip Long's power formation, up-tempo offensive attack, or Matt Balis' complete infrastructure change of the Irish's strength and conditioning program, it is quite clear that Kelly decided a change in direction was necessary. These changes, viewed as a whole, would appear to be overwhelming positive. Most college football media pundits and analysts have lauded Kelly's recent hires and seem to think that Notre Dame is in for a bounce-back 2017 season.
One question though: why did it take Brian Kelly so long to objectively evaluate his program's deficiencies and make the necessary changes to fix the issues therein?
Was Kelly too focused on the offense and its game plan? Likely. Was he too loyal to some members of his staff- e.g. VanGorder, Booker- when it became clear things weren't working? Probably so. And, what in the Earth happened to the strength and conditioning program over the past several seasons? Was Kelly simply not locked-in on what was happening, or more aptly not occurring, in the weight room? Or, did he just absolutely defer to his prior strength staff in an area so critical to a football program's success (or failure)?
Given some of Kelly's recent comments this week that he's now more of a CEO & is focused on moving everyone in the same direction, one could logically assume that the answer to those questions is pretty simple: he lost sight of what his role as head coach needed to be.
As I said in my previous column on this blog, if Kelly could become a true CEO-type of his program and surround himself with good, teacher-oriented coaches, the on-field results Notre Dame fans so desperately yearn for would likely follow. At least on the surface, it appears Kelly has taken steps in the CEO-role direction.
I'll say it now: I'm (cautiously) optimistic. Is it merely a spring mirage or will Kelly's changes foster a successful 2017 football season? We'll just have to wait and see. For now, hope does seem to spring eternal in South Bend.