Friday, December 11, 2009

Notre Dame finally gets it right

In early August of 2002, I was stringing for a paper in west Michigan during my sophomore year at Grand Valley State University. I got a call one afternoon from the sports editor asking if I'd like to cover the school's preseason scrimmage and write a feature on coach Brian Kelly. I couldn't do it; I believe it was scheduled for the same day I was moving to Arizona, which obviously was somewhat of a conflict.

Just over seven years later, Kelly is the head coach at Notre Dame. That is a fucking meteoric rise, and it didn't happen because he's just a lucky guy. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kelly is one of the best coaches -- if not the best -- in the country.

Let's go through his background one more time:
  • He went 118-35-2 at Grand Valley State, including back-to-back national titles in his last two seasons (2002 and 2003) and a 41-3 record in his last three seasons. It's also worth noting that Grand Valley set the NCAA all-division scoring record in 2001 -- when they lost in the title game after QB Curt Anes blew out his knee in the semifinals -- with 58.3 points per game (lol).
  • He took over a Central Michigan team that had won a total of 12 games in the previous four seasons and went 4-7, 6-5 and 9-3 in three years, winning a MAC championship in 2006.
  • He left for Cincinnati, which had never won the Big East nor been to a BCS bowl game, and went 10-3 in his first year, 11-3 in his second year (when Cincy won the conference and went to the Orange Bowl) and 12-0 this year.
I'd been hoping for close to a month (or however long it had been since we all realized Charlie Weis was done) that the ND administration would somehow overlook Kelly or reject him because of his offense-focused background, and I was optimistic for a while. Bob Stoops? He's obviously very good, but Kelly is a lot more terrifying in the long term. Randy Edsall? Ummm ... sure.

But Jack Swarbrick apparently isn't as much of an idiot as I'd hoped. He said during Kelly's press conference on Friday that Kelly was the first coach he talked to and the only coach he offered the job to, and while there's no way to know if that's true, he'll certainly look smart when Notre Dame is winning BCS games in the near future (which they will be).

I remember reading an interview way back in about 2000, when Kelly was still at Grand Valley and was asked (I think by a writer for the student newspaper) about his Irish-Catholic background and whether, if the opportunity ever came up, he'd be interested in the Notre Dame job. I don't remember the exact wording of his response, but it was pretty clear that it was something he aspired to and would never turn down.

He reiterated that at his introduction Friday:
Kelly wisecracked that he didn't "doodle the ND diagram" at his other jobs, but he hoped he could one day run the Irish and called the job the "culmination" of 19 years of coaching.
Elite head coach with national championships on his resume? Check. Irish-Catholic? Check. Views the Notre Dame job as the pinnacle of coaching? Check. At the end of the day, he was the slam dunk of slam dunks.

Notre Dame fans ought to be thrilled ... but they're not, of course. Brian at The Sporting Blog pulls some of the best responses from ND Nation (and based on my observations from the past two weeks, this is a pretty accurate sample of the consensus opinion):
ND has said no to Gruden Saban and Stoops in the last decade
That's the kind of institution it is.
If and when Kelly is named, the focus should be on how and why we failed with Stoops.
Yeah, it was ND that turned down Nick Saban and Bob Stoops. It obviously had nothing to do with the fact that those guys had no interest in leaving better jobs to go to South Bend.
Gruden who wanted to be here and they f----- it up.
Meyer who wanted to be here and they f----- it up.
Stoops who wanted to be here and they f----- it up.

How fecking tough can it be? I think I should be the next AD. I don't know s--- about college sports, but I love ND, know how to talk to people and can close a sale.
This is a problem with the Notre Dame fan base in general: It's collectively so delusional that it's convinced EVERYONE'S dream is to lead the Irish back to glory and that the only issue involved is money. There's absolutely no grasp of reality, which is that ND has some obvious disadvantages, sky-high expectations and a ton of pressure that really doesn't align with their recent history.

You just hired a truly elite coach who has desperately wanted to coach at Notre Dame for most of his life. Stop complaining. The one concern I've heard that's somewhat valid is that Kelly's lack of experience at the D-I level limits his "network" of potential assistants, but there are two things that will probably render that irrelevant:

1. Kelly calls his own plays, so he doesn't need (and wouldn't want) a high-profile offensive coordinator.
2. It's unclear who Kelly will hire as defensive coordinator, but there's a guy by the name of Chuck Martin who was DC under Kelly at Grand Valley State, then took over as coach when Kelly left and has gone 74-6 with four perfect regular seasons and two national titles in six years.

Martin was asked just a couple days ago about the possibility of being offered a job on Kelly's staff at Notre Dame, and this was his response:
“No, I wouldn’t turn that down,” Martin said. “But I’ve turned down D-coordinator at Central and D-coordinator at Cincinnati. He may be done asking me. ...

"I wouldn’t want to be a D-coordinator (just anywhere), but I am a Chicago Catholic -- if he wasn’t already in South Bend, I’d probably beat him there.’ I grew up and that was my team.”
I never dreamed of a scenario where Grand Valley's coaching staff would be reunited at Notre Dame; I'm not quite sure how to feel about that. I don't think I'll ever be able to root for ND to be a dominant program, but my rooting interests don't have any effect on reality. They will win -- a lot -- and all the Irish fans who are sobbing over the inability to get Bob Stoops will be glad somebody else was in charge and hired Brian Kelly.

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