Skip to content

Kelly’s Coach of the Year award a validation of the process

Dec 6, 2012, 11:48 AM EDT

Brian Kelly

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Medical redshirts announced for Michael Deeb, Mike Heuerman

    Aug 4, 2015, 5:52 PM EDT

    Heuerman

    Two veterans on the Notre Dame football team will be permanently hanging up their cleats. Linebacker Michael Deeb and tight end Mike Heuerman have both been medically disqualified, the university announced today. Both will remain at Notre Dame, staying on scholarship while working towards their respective degrees.

  2. Greg Bryant academically ineligible for ’15 season

    Aug 4, 2015, 5:31 PM EDT

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Notre Dame won’t have running back Greg Bryant this season. Already looking at a four-game suspension for violating team rules, news broke today via Irish Illustrated that the junior running back was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, ending his season before it even began.

  3. Irish A-to-Z: Isaac Rochell

    Aug 4, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    When last summer’s never-ending academic investigation froze Ishaq Williams’ football career, the next man on the defensive end depth chart was Isaac Rochell. After a mostly anonymous freshman season, counting on Rochell to be a starter looked like a stretch that exacerbated the Irish’s roster inefficiencies at defensive end.

  4. Irish A-to-Z: Corey Robinson

    Aug 4, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT

    Notre Dame v Florida State Getty Images

    Perhaps the most impressive student-athlete on Notre Dame’s roster, Corey Robinson’s sophomore campaign saw him earn first-team Academic All-American honors, a rare achievement for an underclassman. Now the goal is something perhaps more superficial—sync up his work on the field with his achievements off of it.

  5. Counting down the Irish: 20-16

    Aug 4, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Stanford v Notre Dame Getty Images

    We kicked off our list with five candidates for a breakout season. Our next installment seems to be doing one better: All five players have already started football games (or in one case, a game), now the goal is to become dominant performers.

  6. Irish A-to-Z: Max Redfield

    Aug 3, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    Terrence Magee, Max Redfield Terrence Magee, Max Redfield

    Irish fans have been waiting to see Max Redfield emerge as the star safety Notre Dame has desperately needed since Harrison Smith went to the NFL. But entering his third season, Redfield is still a work in progress.

  7. Irish A-to-Z: Doug Randolph

    Aug 3, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Doug Randolph

    Two seasons in and we have yet to see much from linebacker Doug Randolph. But after a shoulder injury slowed him at the beginning of his career and various injuries kept him from contributing more in 2014, perhaps a position change is what gets the rising junior back on track.

  8. Counting down the Irish: 25-21

    Aug 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Quenton Nelson Twitter

    As we begin our rankings, we find a cross-section of players that represent just about every type of Brian Kelly recruit. There are blue-chippers. There are “RKGs.” And there are position switches and developmental projects.

  9. Irish A-to-Z: James Onwualu

    Aug 3, 2015, 1:06 AM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Getty Images

    As a true freshman, James Onwualu found his way into the starting lineup, an unheralded freshman finding playing time by doing the little things right. As a sophomore, Onwualu made the rather unheard of transition from wideout to linebacker, and once again found himself starting football games.

  10. Counting down the Irish: Just missed the cut

    Aug 2, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    USC v Notre Dame Getty Images

    As we begin to reveal the top 25 players on Notre Dame’s roster, our raw numbers point to an intriguing amount of depth on this football team. As you consider the returning talent on this football team—only Ben Koyack, Everett Golson, Matt Hegarty and Cody Riggs depart from the Music City Bowl’s starting lineup—the depth chart and high end personnel is there, and that proof seems to be in our numbers.

  11. Irish A-to-Z: C.J. Prosise

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT

    C. J. Prosise C. J. Prosise

    Spring hero? Tough to find a bigger one than C.J. Prosise. With numbers low in the backfield this spring, Notre Dame’s emerging slot receiver transitioned to running back—and immediately became an X factor in 2015.

  12. Irish A-to-Z: Romeo Okwara

    Aug 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    For most of Romeo Okwara’s college career, the defender’s young age was mentioned when discussing the intriguing athlete’s upside. With ideal length, more than adequate athleticism and a skill set that fit in both Bob Diaco and Brian VanGorder’s defense, it was always a wait-and-see proposition for the North Carolina native, who simply needed a few years in Paul Longo’s weight room to catch up to his age.

  13. Coming Soon: Counting Down the Irish, 2015 edition

    Jul 31, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT

    Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt

    With the start of training camp right around the corner, it’s time for our annual tradition of ranking the Top 25 players on the Notre Dame roster.

  14. Irish A-to-Z: Tyler Newsome

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    247Sports 247Sports

    With Kyle Brindza gone, sophomore Tyler Newsome takes over the punting duties. And outside of seeing a few not-really live kicks in the Blue-Gold game, what that means remains to be seen.

  15. Offseason Q&A: Stanford

    Jul 31, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT

    David Shaw

    We wrap up our offseason look at Notre Dame’s 2015 opponents with the Stanford Cardinal. The postseason could come down to a late-season showdown in Palo Alto with David Shaw’s team trying to rebound from a five-loss season.

  16. Irish A-to-Z: Quenton Nelson

    Jul 31, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Quenton Nelson

    After a redshirt season, Quenton Nelson is ready to play. Jumping to the head of the line at a crowded (and talented) position, Nelson is taking his five-star pedigree and bringing it to the starting lineup.

  17. Irish A-to-Z: Sam Mustipher

    Jul 30, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Property of Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated Property of Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

    This spring, you’d have probably won some money if you had Sam Mustipher emerging as the No. 2 center. But with Matt Hegarty’s departure and some failed experiments before him, it was Mustipher who was backing up Nick Martin and snapping the ball to Everett Golson in a spring game played on Notre Dame’s practice field.

  18. Notre Dame ranked 11th in preseason Coaches Poll

    Jul 30, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT

    Malik Zaire Malik Zaire

    Notre Dame opens the season ranked No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Amway Coaches Poll. The Irish, who finished last season 8-5, return the majority of their starting lineup, providing some context for the bullish expectations. Only Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team is ranked higher among teams that finished with five losses in 2014.

  19. Irish A-to-Z: Nyles Morgan

    Jul 30, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    Last year, we saw what a talented freshman linebacker in over his head looked like. His name was Nyles Morgan, and the blue-chip recruit personified the second-half defensive collapse that flushed the Irish season down the drain. Want the good part? Stick around, as Irish A-to-Z continues.

  20. Irish A-to-Z: John Montelus

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Twitter Twitter

    When Brian Kelly plucked offensive lineman John Montelus from his hometown of Everett, Massachusetts, the Irish looked to be adding another mauler to the interior of Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. And after two seasons of reshaping his body and learning the ropes, Montelus is in a competitive two-deep, still looking for a role in this offense.