The 2016 season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was miserable. I mean... it was one of the worst seasons in Notre Dame history, so yeah — it sucked. While the 2007 team that went 3-9 might have been worse in terms of record and talent, how the entire 2016 season unfolded was more brutal in the way it played out.
Head coach Brian Kelly was an easy target — as was athletic director Jack Swarbrick. It was Kelly’s 7th season as the head man, and by all accounts, it looked like the program was truly going nowhere. What point would there be to keep Kelly instead of moving on and seeing what else was out there?
Kelly hadn’t done anything too fantastic in his time. Yes, the 2012 season was incredible, but the way the last few weeks of the season unfolded left a rotten taste in the mouths of fans. A blowout loss to Alabama, the Manti Te’o thing, and the news about Brian Kelly looking to jump to the NFL had most of us in a state of WTF?
Notre Dame followed up the 2012 season with a Pinstripe Bowl season, and then a second half collapse in 2014. Notre Dame ended up winning a “big” game against LSU in the Music City Bowl, but it wasn’t enough. The 2015 season felt like a corner being turned, but the three losses Notre Dame suffered were to the best three teams on the schedule.
Nothing from those three seasons merited clemency for 2016. Instead, it took some guts for both Swarbrick and Kelly to march forward — but it also took a plan. That plan is widely known now, and it has helped Notre Dame go 22-3 since 2016. It started with Brian Kelly and his inward look at who he was and what he was doing. It was such an incredible jump, that Kelly won another coach of the year award, and has the Irish in the college football playoff for the first time.
It’s been such a remarkable two year run following 2016, that Kelly continues to get questions surrounding his big changes. He got another one at Notre Dame’s “media day” for the upcoming Cotton Bowl against the Clemson Tigers.
How did you become a better coach? What was your self-evaluation?
Don’t bury your head in the sand. Be in the training room. Be in the locker room. Be present. Be present in your environment in which your players are readily available to be in conversation with, right? That’s your group. I think that’s probably the most important group to be around. I think in other areas where you continue to grow is conversations with as many coaches as possible in terms of what they’re doing with their staffs and recruiting. You’re always reaching out in those other areas outside of players, as well. But I think being present and available, and being around your guys? You can’t be gone for a month. It’s hard to do that. I now fly out and fly back. I used to be gone for three or four days recruiting. Now I’m flying out and flying back just because you feel you lose the heartbeat of what’s going on if you’re gone for too many days.
Even with the Irish sitting as a 12 point underdog, and being slighted on social media by conversation gatekeepers (ESPN), Notre Dame and Brian Kelly are continuing to follow through with the plan that is almost two years old.
It’s worked so far — but if it needs changed, I’m sure Brian Kelly is open to that more than ever.
You can watch the entire press conference in the player below.