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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly Will Be Back in 2019. But What if He Wasn’t?

Brian Kelly will be here in 2019. But let’s look at the other candidates real quick.

Mike Miller/One Foot Down

Brian Kelly will be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s head football coach in 2019. But who would the university look at it if, say, he took another job or had to step down for personal reasons?

As we did last year, let’s look at all the candidates and see if we can come up with a list. (In a poll last year, here were our readers’ top picks: Urban Meyer, 23 percent; Chris Peterson, 15 percent; David Shaw and Dabo Swinney, both 8 percent; Gary Patterson and other, both 7 percent)


We can immediately eliminate 37 coaches on the basis that they do not have winning records at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. They are the San Jose State Spartans’ Brent Brennan, Rice Owls’ Mike Blomgren, Kent State Golden Flashes’ Sean Lewis, Oregon State Beavers’ Jonathan Smith, Rutgers Scarlet Knights’ Chris Ash, Illinois Fighting Illini’s Lovie Smith, South Alabama Jaguars’ Steve Campbell, Ball State Cardinals’ Mike Neu, New Mexico State Aggies’ Doug Martin, UNLV Rebels’ Tony Sanchez, Arkansas Razorbacks’ Chad Morris, Georgia State Panthers’ Shawn Elliott, Eastern Michigan Eagles’ Chris Creighton, Miami-Ohio Redhawks’ Chuck Martin, UTEP Miners’ Dana Dimel, Vanderbilt Commodores’ Derek Mason, ULM Warhawks’ Matt Viator, Indiana Hoosiers’ Tom Allen, Oregon Ducks’ Mario Cristobal, Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners’ Frank Wilson, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers’ Joe Moglia, Tulsa Golden Hurricane’s Philip Montgomery, Nevada Wolf Pack’s Jay Norvell, Wyoming Cowboys’ Craig Bohl, Hawaii Warriors’ Nick Rolovich, Connecticut Huskies’ Randy Edsall, Ole Miss Rebels’ Matt Luke, Buffalo Bulls’ Lance Leipold, New Mexico Lobos’ Bob Davie, SMU Mustangs’ Sonny Dykes, Colorado State Rams’ Mike Bobo, Baylor Bears’ Matt Rhule, Wake Forest Demon Deacons’ Dave Clawson, Florida State Seminoles’ Willie Taggart, California Golden Bears’ Justin Wilcox, Kentucky Wildcats’ Mark Stoops and Louisiana Ragin Cajuns’ Billy Napier.

I think we can safely eliminate 19 guys who have a career winning percentage between .500 and .600. They are Boston College Eagles’ Steve Addazio, BYU Cougars’ Kalani Sitake, Western Michigan Broncos’ Tim Lester, Old Dominion Monarchs’ Bobby Wilder, Duke Blue Devils’ David Cutcliffe (who is under .500 at Duke), Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders’ Rick Stockstill, Pittsburgh Panthers’ Pat Narduzzi, Arizona State Sun Devils’ Herm Edwards, Tulane Green Wave’s Willie Fritz, Minnesota Golden Gophers’ P.J. Fleck (who is under .500 at Minnesota), Louisiana Tech Bulldogs’ Skip Holtz, Cincinnati Bearcats’ Luke Fickell, Army Black Knights’ Jeff Monken, Air Force Falcons’ Troy Calhoun, San Diego State Aztecs’ Rocky Long*, Southern Miss Golden Eagles’ Jay Hopson, South Carolina Gamecocks’ Will Muschamp, Virginia Tech Hokies’ Justin Fuente and North Texas Mean Green’s Seth Litrell.

* Long has a .670 winning percentage at San Diego, but he’s 68 and the team went 7-6 this past year. Notre Dame has never had a coach who was in his 60s, so I don’t see them reaching into the Mountain West Conference to change that.

Total: 56 eliminated


These guys just took jobs. They’re not coming (although Manny Diaz has shown that you can take two jobs within a month, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hasty).

Total in this category: 25 coaches

Total overall: 81 coaches eliminated


Here is are coaches who are intriguing, but have fewer than four years of head coaching experience. I don’t think you want to take a chance on a coach who is playing with guys he didn’t recruit. (I call this “The Larry Coker Rule”)

Total in this category: 9 coaches

Total overall: 90 coaches eliminated

For the purposes of the poll, I’m going to separate out Lincoln Riley, who is 24-4 in two seasons for the Oklahoma Sooners and the Georgia Bulldogs’ Kirby Smart, who is 32-10 in three seasons in Athens. They fall under the Coker rule, but perhaps our readers want them.


  • Navy Midshipmen’s Ken Niumatalolo (.600 career winning percentage): The Middies have gone from 11-2 to 9-5 to 7-6 to 3-10. Niumatalolo has run the option for all but two of his 28 seasons coaching.
  • South Florida Bulls’ Charlie Strong (.609): The Bulls’ 7-6 season following a 10-2 campaign is reminding us that Strong got fired from Texas after losing to Kansas.
  • Florida Atlantic Owls’ Lane Kiffin (.622): The Owls went 5-7 this year after being 11-3 the previous year. Combine that with Kiffin’s flops with the Oakland Raiders and some ho-hum years with Tennessee and USC, sprinkle in a little Joey Freshwater and you can see how Notre Dame probably wouldn’t touch Kiffin in his current state.
  • Virginia Cavaliers’ Bronco Mendenhall (.639): The jump from BYU to Virginia has not been kind for Mendenhall, who is now 16-22 in Charlottesville.
  • Arizona Wildcats’ Kevin Sumlin (.645 career winning percentage): 5-7 in his first season in Tuscon, 8-5 or worst for four consecutive seasons in College Station
  • USC Trojans’ Clay Helton (.653): 5-7 last year in Los Angeles with all that talent. Enough said.
  • Wisconsin Badgers’ Paul Chryst (.663): Did Chryst just have a ho-hum year, or is this an indictment on his recruiting after four years in Madison?
  • UCLA Bruins’ Chip Kelly (.753): He was 3-9 in his first season at Pasadena and a complete flop on the NFL level after going 46-7 in four seasons with Oregon. Kelly is paid more in California than he would in Indiana and it’s far easier to recruit to sunny Southern California than the climes of South Bend.

Total in this category: 8 coaches

Total overall: 98 coaches eliminated


  • Iowa Hawkeyes’ Kirk Ferentz (.600): Ferentz has had 2 double-digit win seasons in the past 10. If Irish fans are unsatisfied with 8-5 seasons, then they won’t want Ferentz. He’s also 63.
  • Marshall Thundering Herd’s Doc Holliday (.601): Holliday, 61, is 20-18 in his past three seasons. He’s coached 31 of his 39 years in the state of West Virginia.
  • Arkansas State Red WolvesBlake Anderson (.609): Three consecutive seasons of 7-5 or 8-5.
  • Purdue Boilermakers’ Jeff Brohm (.651): 30-10 at Western Kentucky, but 13-13 in two seasons in West Lafayette. He did beat Ohio State, though!
  • Iowa St. Cyclones’ Matt Campbell (.613): He’s often bandied about as “up and coming” coaches, but the results on the field have been ho-hum so far. Do you really want a coach who is 19-19 in Ames?
  • Northern Illinois Huskies’ Rod Carey (.634): They may be quite content with five and six loss seasons in DeKalb, but I’m certain that won’t fly in South Bend. After two elite years - 12-2 in 2013 and 11-3 in 2014 — the Huskies under Carey have stagnated.
  • Ohio University Bobcats’ Frank Solich (.636): Solich got a bum deal at Nebraska, but he hasn’t been lighting the word on fire in Athens. His winning percentage with the Bobcats is .586, and he’s lost at least four games every year there. Plus the whole DWI thing.
  • N.C. State Wolfpack’s Dave Doeren (.641): Two fantastic seasons at Northern Illinois obscure his 44-33 record in Raleigh a bit. He’s never finished higher than second in the ACC.
  • Michigan State Spartans’ Mark Dantonio (.647): He’s 20-18 in his past three seasons in East Lansing and 62 years old. It’s fair to assume he’s passed his peak and is now on the down slope.
  • Auburn Tigers’ Gus Malzahn (.674): Does it feel like we’re going the wrong way here? Malzahn has a National Championship Game appearance, but it seems like 8-5 seasons are becoming the norm at Auburn. I’m not sure he moves the needle for people that are looking to improve upon Kelly.

Total in this category: 10 coaches

Total overall: 108 coaches eliminated


  • FIU Panthers’ Butch Davis (.606): Davis’ players being ensnared in the NCAA’s investigation of academic misconduct / improper benefits probably safely eliminates him.

Total in this category: 1 coach

Total overall: 109 coaches eliminated


  • LSU Tigers’ Ed Orgeron (.532): Orgeron appears to have wiped away his disastrous stint with Ole Miss and has now won 73 percent of his games in three seasons with the “Bayou Bengals.”
  • Syracuse Orange’s Dino Babers (.563): He’s just eight games over .500 for his career and still under .500 in upstate New York, but a 10-3 season has me thinking Babers should be at least an early consideration.
  • Northwestern Wildcats’ Pat Fitzgerald (.578): He’s an alum who just signed a 10-year contract with a university that is making a tremendous investment in its program. But, never say never!
  • Washington State Cougars’ Mike Leach (.616): He’s as hot as he’ll probably ever be following an 11-season. It’s probably important to remember he was 38-38 in Pullman before this season, however.
  • Fresno State Bulldogs’ Jeff Tedford (.623): Tedford doesn’t seem like the guy who’d come to Notre Dame. He’s coached his entire career in the Pacific, except for one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And he’s had some health issues, despite being just 57. But he’s doing great things at Fresno State, in spite of a bumpy end to his Cal tenure.
  • Penn State Nittany Lions’ James Franklin (.657): I give a ton of credit to Franklin, who has acquitted himself well in both Nashville and State College.
  • Utah Utes’ Kyle Whittingham (.663): He’s 120-61 at Utah in his 15 seasons, and probably right where he wants to be as a Mormon living in Salt Lake City.
  • Oklahoma State Cowboys’ Mike Gundy (.672): The Cowboys have certainly won more games since 2010 than the Irish have, but a 7-6 season this past year did Gundy no favors in terms of future employment outside of Stillwater.
  • Troy Trojans’ Neal Brown (.686): He’s 35-16 in four seasons in Alabama, but it’d be a tremendous leap from the Sun Belt. He’s probably one more job away from a upper-tier job like Notre Dame.
  • Texas Longhorns’ Tom Herman (.736): The results on the field speak for themselves, but the off-field distractions may cause Notre Dame pause.


Notre Dame should definitely reach out to the agents of these seven coaches and take their temperature.

I believe Harbaugh, Shaw or Saban are definitely not going to entertain that call. My guess is that Swinney’s only move would be to Alabama after Saban retires.


If Brian Kelly were not the coach in 2019, the best coach for the Notre Dame job (who is also a realistic get) is:

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Dino Babers
    (158 votes)
  • 0%
    Neal Brown
    (15 votes)
  • 9%
    Pat Fitzgerald
    (189 votes)
  • 2%
    James Franklin
    (58 votes)
  • 0%
    Mike Gundy
    (18 votes)
  • 0%
    Jim Harbaugh
    (16 votes)
  • 2%
    Bryan Harsin
    (44 votes)
  • 1%
    Tom Herman
    (34 votes)
  • 1%
    Mike Leach
    (27 votes)
  • 6%
    Dan Mullen
    (135 votes)
  • 0%
    Ed Orgeron
    (16 votes)
  • 3%
    Gary Patterson
    (68 votes)
  • 13%
    Chris Peterson
    (261 votes)
  • 2%
    Lincoln Riley
    (51 votes)
  • 2%
    Nick Saban
    (45 votes)
  • 4%
    David Shaw
    (83 votes)
  • 0%
    Kirby Smart
    (11 votes)
  • 5%
    Dabo Swinney
    (105 votes)
  • 0%
    Jeff Tedford
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Kyle Whittingham
    (28 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone from the "No Call List"
    (22 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone from the "Not Enough Experience" category
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone from the "Trending Down" category
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Someone from the "Flatlined" category
    (51 votes)
  • 18%
    Urban Meyer
    (379 votes)
  • 3%
    A past/present NFL coach (John Harbaugh, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy)
    (78 votes)
  • 1%
    A current NFL offensive coordinator/defensive coordinator
    (34 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (Suggest a name in the comments below.)
    (56 votes)
2007 votes total Vote Now