Dec 6, 2012, 11:48 AM EDT
As the only coach to finish college football’s regular season 12-0, the naming of Brian Kelly as the Home Depot Coach of the Year might have been a foregone conclusion. Yet when Kelly steps to the podium tonight in ESPN’s made for television award show, it’s a great validation of the process Kelly used to rebuild this football program, and the decision athletic director Jack Swarbrick made when he decided to bring the former Cincinnati coach to South Bend.
Kelly is the only coach to win the award twice, honored after his 2009 Bearcats finished their regular season 12-0. And while that team succeeded with an explosive, quick-strike offense, Kelly’s Irish squad reached college football’s summit by playing dominant defense as a first-year quarterback learned on the job.
With a third-year benchmark being a historical indicator for Irish head coaches, Kelly’s sparking 2012 season came as a surprise to many — including his athletic director — who candidly said after the team’s final victory that he thought 2013 would be the year. Yet Kelly’s progress, while seemingly incremental at best with back-to-back eight-win seasons, was being established off the field, through player development, weight room gains, and program building, things that seem like coach-speak when a team loses five games, but became a perfect alchemy this season. Kelly’s football team continued to improve throughout the year, fighting for wins as it learned about the perils of success along the way.
It may be too long ago for success-drunk Irish fans to remember, but August was a very different time for Notre Dame nation. While there was no sense of this inside the program, many fans had already begun to sour on a head coach who didn’t appear to bring many of the attributes that got him the job with him to South Bend.
Yet Kelly’s restructuring of his coaching staff — including the bold move of turning a defensive position coach into his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach — paid immediate dividends. Saying goodbye to respected coaches Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton, both of whom went to Ohio State to work with Urban Meyer, allowed Kelly to promote Scott Booker and bring in Harry Hiestand. With Booker, the staff added another hard-working young assistant, a coach already familiar with the team after spending two seasons as a graduate assistant. In Hiestand, Kelly brought in an old-school offensive line technician, a coach that would turn the Irish trenches into a game of physicality, immediately beloved by his players after not getting those results in his first two seasons.
But the biggest gamble Kelly made this season was doubling-down on himself. After spending two seasons demanding excellence from his players and riding them with a hard edge, the head of the Irish football program reconnected with his players, spending more time with them, breaking down the wall that had been erected as he put the ownership of the team back into the hands of its leaders.
With a strong group of veteran leadership, four captains led by the transcendent Manti Te’o, two years of results seen mostly off the field transitioned to remarkable success on the field.
For Kelly, the result is another large trophy that’ll impress recruits and find a spot in the trophy case inside the Gug. But for the Irish football program, it’s a validation of a coaching search that led to a choice that was disliked by many because it was so obvious.
And more important than anything, it’s the culmination of a terrific regular season, and Notre Dame’s first chance to play for a national title in over 20 years.
Oct 31, 2014, 1:59 PM EDT
As Notre Dame and Navy meet for the 88th straight time, we reach a familiar time of year and a particularly scary Saturday for the Irish. As ghosts and goblins prepare to roam the streets in search of trick or treat, the Irish coaching staff receives its annual scare in the form of a triple-option offense and a football team with nothing to lose.
Oct 30, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
With a little over 48 hours until Notre Dame and Navy play, the final pieces of installation around going in before the chess match between two coaching staffs take place. For the Irish, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder gets his first chance at stopping the triple-option in over a decade.
Oct 29, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.
Oct 29, 2014, 2:11 PM EDT
For a man that’s had more success against Notre Dame than any of his predecessors over the past two generations, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo certainly doesn’t think he’s figured out the Irish. In fact, for his Midshipmen team to win, Niumatalolo acknowledges that it takes more than just his team playing near-perfect football. He needs Notre Dame’s help as well.
Oct 29, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
With last night’s announcement had all eyes on the first announcement of the College Football Playoff rankings, the immediate concern is Navy. While we can spend the next five weeks worrying about the view from 30,000 feet, credit Brian Kelly for understanding that the Midshipmen present the most clear and present danger.
Oct 28, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
The first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday evening. And Notre Dame has some work to do. The selection committee’s first ballot has the Irish slotted in at 10th in the country, a middle-of-the-pack one-loss team according to the 12-person voting panel.
Oct 28, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
With a week off between Florida State and Navy, Brian Kelly and his coaching staff had an extra week of preparation for Ken Niumatalolo’s triple-option attack. Allowing his team to leave campus during the university’s fall break, Kelly afforded his players a chance to recharge their batteries after being on campus since June.
Oct 27, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT
Among the many reasons Charlie Weis lost his dream job coaching Notre Dame was the Irish’s stumbles in November. Even with a guaranteed 10-year contract, Jack Swarbrick couldn’t watch Notre Dame melt down in November for another year, with Weis’ final two seasons ending with Notre Dame going 1-9 after Halloween. That’s a scary movie franchise that needed killing, no matter the expense.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Before we have an Irish-free Saturday, let’s get to some questions. For those of you wondering what you should do on a day usually committed to football, the world is your oyster. Or you could watch some of Notre Dame’s opponents do battle.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:09 PM EDT
When Brian VanGorder’s name surfaced as Notre Dame looked for a new defensive coordinator, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of buzz behind the hire. While VanGorder fit many of the criteria that went along with a Brian Kelly hire, the big-picture reaction wasn’t one of universal support.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
There is no football game this weekend. For a Notre Dame football team that just played three-straight tight games, that’s a good thing. (For Irish fans, it’s a victory as well. Go buy a pumpkin and get outside in the fall weather.) As promised, let’s look back at the first eight weeks of the season. Notre Dame sits at 6-1, with a place in the College Football Playoff still very much in play.
Oct 23, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
For the second time in a week, Notre Dame’s recruiting class landed a playmaking linebacker. During a press conference streamed live on ESPN.com, Florida’s Tevon Coney pledged his commitment to the Irish, picking Notre Dame over finalists Miami and Florida.
Oct 23, 2014, 12:07 AM EDT
Drop your questions below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.
Oct 22, 2014, 11:43 AM EDT
With Notre Dame’s scheduling agreement in place with the ACC, Jack Swarbrick and the Irish athletic department can find some certainty in their future slates. That certainty was announced Tuesday, with dates for five ACC games in place through 2019 and matchups set through 2025.
Oct 21, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
After eight weeks, the forecast for the first College Football Playoff is coming into focus. After falling to Florida State last weekend, the Irish lost pole position. But as a one-loss team now likely competing for one of the final spots in the four-team event, Notre Dame remains one of the top dark horse candidates.
Oct 21, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT
At this point, it doesn’t matter that the ACC has reversed course, deciding that the pass interference penalty was on C.J. Prosise after all. And that they’ve acknowledged that the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty they missed for P.J. Williams removing his helmet should’ve set up Notre Dame with a 1st-and-goal at the 9-yard line.
We’re moving on. (I promise.)
Oct 20, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
Usually, Brian Kelly gives his team 24 hours to celebrate a win or get over a loss. That rule was likely tested — and you couldn’t blame him if it was slightly relaxed — after Saturday night’s 31-27 loss.
“We need to give our kids a break. They’ve been going since June,” Kelly said on Sunday. “Our first bye week we kept them here to stay on top of their academics. We’re going to give them a little time off. But we’ll come back recharged, ready to go.”
Oct 19, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT
Upon second inspection, Brian Kelly hasn’t gained any clarity on the offensive pass interference call that took a game-winning touchdown off the board. While the head coach has moved on, with the Irish getting some much-needed time off during fall break, Kelly’s opinion on the play — now that he’s realized the penalty was on Will Fuller, not C.J. Prosise — is even more muddled.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:37 AM EDT
With 13 seconds left, Corey Robinson caught the 4th-down pass from Everett Golson and walked into the end zone, all but uncovered. And for a moment, it looked like Notre Dame pulled off a win for the ages.
Oct 18, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
It’s finally here. Not just the biggest game of the year, but the ultimate test for this Notre Dame football team. Entering Doak Campbell Stadium against the defending national champs and Heisman Trophy winner, we’ll see if the Irish have what it takes to upset the Seminoles.