A Resurrected Program
2016 served as a humbling reminder of what the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has been post-Lou Holtz — that is, despite occasional seasons of brilliance, largely mediocre.
For fans born in the from the 90s onwards, the Irish have not once been a consistently dominant team. And for a program that so often throughout its history had been the undisputed pinnacle of college football, this was highly problematic.
Notre Dame was “irrelevant,” “stuck in the past,” “soft,” and they “couldn’t compete.” These statements were, for the most part, true. Sure, irrelevant is never the case with the Irish, but the other slights bear some truth to them.
It is hard to argue that Notre Dame is not soft, and in fact can compete, when twice in a decade they put up winning percentages under 0.35. 2007 and 2016 — seasons in which the Irish put together a combined 7-17 record — might be exceptions when it comes to Notre Dame’s entire history, but the fact of the matter is that dominant programs simply don’t do that.
So, from ‘94 to 2016, it can definitely be argued that Notre Dame was not a dominant program.
But we all know what happened after the 2016 season. Amidst some offseason theatrics from fans, Brian Kelly reinvented himself and reassessed the state of the program.
He rebuilt his staff from the ground up, and rethought the approach he needed to take as a head coach. Bringing Mike Elko, Clark Lea, and Chip Long on board proved to be home run hires.
With a retooled coaching staff and a refocused team, Kelly managed to take a 4-8 squad in 2016 and bring them to 10-3 a season later.
One more season, and the Irish are sitting at 12-0. This is, as many have noted, the first time that Notre Dame has had consecutive 10-win seasons since ‘92-’93 under Holtz. Over the last two seasons, the Irish sit at 22-3. The next best mark since 1993? 21-5, under Kelly, in 2012-2013.
This isn’t to give Kelly a pass for 4-8, but rather to remind that the turnaround that has been engineered here is nothing short of spectacular. From where the program sat after USC in 2016 to where they sat after USC this year is a contrast so stark that a blind man could see it.
Kelly, Long, Elko, and Lea helped revive a program that was in a downward spiral just a couple years ago.
Now, resurrected and with their eyes set on the national championship, a warning for Clemson: Here come the Irish!
Now, onto the regularly scheduled press conference:
Notes from the Presser:
- On the Playoff confirmation: “This is what we worked for, our staff has done an incredible job, our players certainly deserve all the credit.”
- Kelly touched on the 2015 loss to Clemson, and whether it acts as motivation: “I think we’re familiar with a lot of things they do ... We have two new coordinators and they don’t ... The external things don’t really play too much into these games.”
- Kelly was concise on expectations: “We expect to win and continue to play.”
- Hitting on the offensive line’s growth: “I think there’s been steady improvement throughout the entire season. When we talk about Tommy [Kraemer], he continues to improve ... I think we expect to see that in the coming weeks, them continuing to get better. I think Liam’s [Eichenberg] ankle will get better. He’s fought through a high ankle injury.”
- On Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: “I think we’re really close [to having him available].”
- On the team’s preparation going forward: “This is like spring ball preparation, fall camp, and in-season all wrapped into one ... We have exams going on and that needs to be taken into consideration.”
- Touching on Wimbush here: “We’d like to see Brandon more involved in the game. But it’s trying to get him in the flow of the game without disrupting. If we can get him in and not disrupt the flow of the offense, we’re going to play him.”
- On the player’s accomplishments this season: “I’m happy for them. They took a process that delayed gratification in a world that wants it right now ... They put it aside and said ‘I’ll wait for that’ ... We have a group that’s special that can do that.”
- On Dabo claiming Kelly should get Coach of the Year: “Dabo is good at that. I think Dabo should get it. I didn’t get into this business to get coach of the year. I think he has done an incredible job. I think Saban has done an incredible job.”
- On the practice scheduling: “We went three days last week, weight training, we ran 7-on-7 unsupervised, what the NCAA allows. This week we’ll go four days and we’ll practice Saturday and Sunday for the first time. We have our Echoes banquet on Friday — Thursday being the last day of classes. They’ll be reporting to the site on the 24th, and then we’ll play on the 29th. We’ll fly back here together in preparation for the playoff championship.”
- On Clemson: “The offensive firepower is exceptional. Defensively, one of the best defensive lines in the country. And a team that wins and knows how to win ... A winning football culture.”
- Comparing the 2012 run to this one: “This is a better prepared football team. Our football team is much more balanced. We were going into that game on the backs of our defense ... Let’s not forget that 2012 Alabama team was pretty special. In terms of preparation, I thought our preparation was fine but the moment was really big. Flipping to that competitive mindset, I think we’re much further along.”
- Continuing on the competitive mindset: “I think the whole episode of the Miami thing was such a big moment and we weren’t ready for it. I want to make sure that we handle it in a better fashion. I want to make sure they’ll be ready for that environment.”
- On Book and his injury moving forward: “Ian, to me, is still evolving as a quarterback. He drops his shoulder and runs through a defender for a first down. That’s a guy who’s not worried about his ribs ... His B game in pretty good, we’re just going to need his A game for a couple weeks.”
- On the goals of his team: “They came here to be a national champion. You only get on that sign if you win a National Championship. For them to pat themselves on the back for going 12-0, that doesn’t give them a national championship. They get that, and want to win a national championship.”
- Hitting on recruiting: “Certainly, Notre Dame has always carried a great amount of respect in recruiting. It’s certainly a lot easier to go around the schools and get recognition [when you’re 12-0].”
- On the Clemson defensive line: “We’ve seen Clemson a lot this year. Because of the ACC, they’re part of our film exchange. Their players [on the defensive line] are really, really good. They have all the pieces. The long, athletic edge rusher, and they have the inside two-gap players with quickness. There’s no weaknesses across their front four.”