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Getting used to it

Jan 11, 2013, 4:41 PM EDT

Kelly Swarbrick Jenkins

Brian Kelly made more than a few Notre Dame fans bristle when he eschewed a 36-yard field goal and took to the air against Tulsa in his first season as Irish head coach, letting freshman quarterback Tommy Rees target All-American Michael Floyd on a jump ball in the end zone. The result of the pass was an interception and a back-breaking loss, the low point of an era that’s seen plenty of ups and downs. When asked about the decision in the post game press conference after the game, Kelly confidently told the reporters there that we all better “get used to it.”

It was a perfect snapshot of the head coach, a man no worried about sounding tone deaf or apologetic to the masses. Kelly was a man that had run a program before, and wasn’t about to doubt the convictions that led him to one of college football’s most high profile positions when he stepped foot in the pressure cooker.

“We’ll make that play. We didn’t make it today,” Kelly said back in October of 2010. “But in time, we’ll make that play.”

Unflinching in his belief in himself and his rebuilt coaching staff, Kelly showed that same resolve this season when he took a redshirt freshman and rode him through growing pains all the way to the NCAA championship game. Winning with defense, Kelly showed tremendous versatility for a guy hired for his offensive innovator status. He turned his offense from a throw-first, spread team to a power-running group of chain movers.

Building a team through unprecedented recruiting success, excellent player development, and with a singular vision for the program for the first time since Lou Holtz, it was only a matter of time before the NFL began kicking the tires on the first Notre Dame coach to over-perform with his talent since 1988.

The whispers of NFL interest came in the days leading up to the game, though they were summarily dismissed by Irish fans too concerned about a national title run. And while certain fans are now cherry-picking quotes from the non-stop media access both team’s granted, Kelly was remarkably candid about the NFL, never issuing a zero interest statement.

So get used to it, Irish fans. Maybe even embrace it.

You’ve finally got a football program people want a piece of. Finally have a coach that runs a unified outfit filled with loyal coaches all with a singular, process-oriented mind. If you thought that a 20-plus year veteran of the head coaching ranks wouldn’t be part of the vetting process for one of seven NFL teams looking for a new leader, you were only fooling yourself.

While I don’t think Kelly is going to the NFL, I do think he owes it to himself to listen to any team that wants to have a discussion. That doesn’t make him any different than Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien, Doug Marrone, Greg Shiano, or Will Muschamp, the head coach that pulled in Alex Anzalone after the oft-waffling recruit decided to head to Gainsville instead of South Bend.

Just as important, he also owes it to himself to capitalize on his value now. Not just for the head coach, but the assistants working under him. A group that’s being vetted by athletic directors all across the country, and being paid at a price point befitting of a mid-range Big Ten school, not one of college football’s most profitable programs — now one of its best. If solidifying the financial futures of his staff, and the head coach, cost Kelly just one top prospect to Florida, call it the trade of the century. (Are Irish fans still weeping over Justin Trattou?)

Don’t get me wrong, Kelly is playing a delicate game, a high-wire act that could come back to bite him. But Jack Swarbrick isn’t stupid. And ask Boston College how giving a successful head coach an ultimatum about the NFL worked. They’re still digging themselves out of a hole. While the intel has only come through back channels, multiple reports have Notre Dame brass hard at work ironing out contract extensions and pay bumps for Kelly and his assistants. And if that’s the case, a 48-hours in limbo was well worth it.

Will it cost Kelly a few approval points among fans of the program? Any coach that openly lobbies for field turf and a Jumbotron at Notre Dame isn’t too worried about his constituents’ feelings.

So while it’s been a topsy-turvy time for Irish fans still smarting from the trouncing Alabama put on their favorite team, it’s a nice reminder that the Irish finally have a coach worth sweating over.

Now it’s up to the University to keep him.


112 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. jmfinsd - Jan 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Right after I pressed “post” for the above, I saw BFeldmanCBS twitter post – “Brian Kelly will be staying at NOtre Dame, a source just told CBS.” Now lets get down to business for B&G game and 2013 season.

  2. irishdog80 - Jan 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    The one factor that has not been talked about enough is that this week has been a “silent” period for recruiting. It makes sense that Kelly would take some time off immediately after exhausting NCG preparation and right before the stretch run for recruiting. It could be argued that a Kelly that is wanted by the NFL is a more appealing coach to potential recruits that are trying to get to the NFL. If nothing else, Kelly will know what the NFL is looking for and use that info to change his program.

    Anzalone is this year’s Lynch. He will be missed, but if he only had one foot in the door, it is better that he has chosen to move on to Florida where his Dad wanted him to go all along. If Kelly’s interview was the “last straw”, why was he not bothered by Muschamp’s interview with the Bears? He was Florida all along. The “Irish Mob” will be fine without him and we could end up signing someone that will have a bigger impact on the program.

    I just wish Kelly would make a statement. All will be well, if he is staying and finishes strong on the recruiting trail.

  3. North of Denver - Jan 12, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    Good enough for me. He’s staying and I’m happy.
    “I appreciate the Eagles reaching out to request permission to speak with Brian, and I also appreciate Brian keeping me fully informed throughout this process. We all look forward to what’s ahead for Notre Dame football.”

  4. nchdomer - Jan 12, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    Now that the coach is staying, it is interesting to reflect upon how the NFL flirtation changed the dynamic of the discussion surrounding our coach in less than a week’s time. He went from a perception of being out-coached in the BCS game to a hot NFL property. Not sure if this was intended but a lot of the negativity from the final game seems to be evaporating, with the focus returning to the amazing turnaround season.

    There may be more benefits from the past week than anyone expected. The loss of the linebacker recruit may be another addition through subtraction. He did not change his destination because of Kelly interviewing. That was the pretext used to justify a decision made some time ago to attend his father’s school – which is fine. This probably should have been his choice from the beginning but it’s tough for young people at that age. Regardless, I am very comfortable with the quality of the kids being brought in by Kelly. His eye for talent seems to be superior to that of the rating services. Golson being a prime example. He will compete for the Heisman.

  5. mungman69 - Jan 13, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    They all pay quite well.

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