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This Guy Coaches Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly, Head Coach

Will Kelly secure a program-defining victory in 2020?

Notre Dame v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a roster full of players and coaches, and we want to talk about them all. One Foot Down’s player profile series will take a look at every single one of them, and hopefully we all learn a little bit more about these guys, and Notre Dame’s chances for the upcoming 2020 season.

Brian Kelly, Head Coach

Brian Kelly is entering his 11th season as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After concluding his playing career as a 4-year letter-winner at Assumption College, Kelly immediately moved into coaching. He coached at Assumption College from 1983-1986, holding the title of linebacker coach, defensive coordinator, and head softball coach.

Kelly moved on to Grand Valley State as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach from 1987-1988. He received a promotion to defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 1989, serving in this role until the end of the 1990 season. In 1991, Kelly was promoted to head coach at Grand Valley Sate, a position which he held until 2003. During his time at Grand Valley State, he fashioned a 118-35-2 record.

Taking note of his successful tenure, Central Michigan hired him to be their head coach in 2004. Kelly led the Chippewas for 3 seasons, culminating with a MAC Championship in 2006. Directly following the MAC Championship Game, the Cincinnati Bearcats hired Kelly away as their head coach. Kelly spent 3 seasons with the Bearcats. Over that span he captured 2 Big East Championships and led the 2009 team to an undefeated regular season.

Following the dismissal of Charlie Weis after the 2009 season, Notre Dame moved quickly and announced Brian Kelly as the next head coach of the program on December 10, 2009. The Kelly tenure has been underappreciated by many. Though he has not won a national championship, Brian Kelly has helped bring the program into the 21st century. Outside of the 2016 season, Kelly has not produced a bad season. On the flip side, he led the team to an undefeated regular season in 2012 and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Furthermore, he led the Irish to the 2018 College Football Playoff and had his teams in position for invitations in 2015 and 2017. With a handful of years left in South Bend, fans should appreciate him before he is gone.

Bowling Green v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Spirit Animal


Panther chameleon, Chamaeleonidae

Irish fans have watched Brian Kelly transform himself both personally and professionally. Outside of the magical 2012 season, Kelly’s early tenure was filled with good but not great seasons and many sideline eruptions.

brian kelly notre dame Mike Miller/One Foot Down

However, since the disastrous 2016 season, Kelly made it a priority to change some attributes of his personality, better connect with his players, and revamp his coaching staff. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Notre Dame has gone 33-6, and the program seems to be on the upswing again.

brian kelly notre dame Facebook Notre Dame Fighting Irish Athletics

Getting technical, I felt the chameleon was the best animal to compare to Kelly. When a chameleon changes colors, it doesn’t just change the pigment of its skin. Rather, the animal relies on changes at the structural level of the cell to reflect the change in color. The past 3 years indicate that the changes Kelly made go below the surface level and seem to be long-lasting improvements.

2020 Outlook

Notre Dame enters the 2020 season quietly lurking as a College Football Playoff contender. In order to get there for the 2nd time in 3 years, Kelly will have to do something he hasn’t done in South Bend, defeat a presumable top 5 team in Clemson. With the game set for an evening kickoff in early November, Irish fans couldn’t ask for a better home field advantage than what they will receive for this game.

This year’s team may be Kelly’s best yet. The Irish return a 5th year senior at quarterback, all 5 offensive linemen, and several other players on both sides of the ball. An interesting storyline to watch will be how involved Kelly becomes on offense. Will he take a more hands-off approach as he has the previous 3 seasons with Chip Long as offensive coordinator, or will he become more involved due to the lack of spring practice and having a 1st year offensive coordinator in Tommy Rees?

As we are set to embark on a college football season unlike any other in our lifetime, there is no telling how crazy the year could be. With that said, many feel a 10-2 regular season is the floor for this year’s team. Can Kelly continue the momentum from the previous 3 seasons, win a “big game”, and keep on revamping the narrative about his career in South Bend? We will find out in the coming months.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images