Brian Kelly

Official: Brian Kelly staying put at Notre Dame


After nearly 72 hours of radio silence from South Bend, Notre Dame has announced that their head football coach isn’t going anywhere. Brian Kelly will remain at Notre Dame for a fourth season, ending an agonizing wait for Irish fans waiting to hear from either the university or its coach.

Word broke earlier this week that Kelly had discussed the Philadelphia Eagles vacancy with club leadership. From there, the rumor mill took over, with anonymous sources leading the media and thousands following on Twitter in a variety of directions. All while Notre Dame and its head coach stayed remarkably quiet.

“This week, I had an incredible opportunity to speak with one of the premier organizations in sports about becoming their head coach,” Kelly said in a statement released by the university. “Like every kid who has ever put on a pair of football cleats, I have had thoughts about being a part of the NFL. However, after much reflection and conversation with those closest to me, I have decided to remain at Notre Dame.”

How that decision came to be remains to be seen. Multiple reports, including one made here, have said representatives of Kelly have been negotiating with the university on a contract extension for the past few days, something athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said was forthcoming. Yet the battle may also have included altruistic motives, with some reporting that Kelly was also pushing for a wage increase for his coaching staff as well.

No financial terms or contract extension were announced. And while some reports have said staff members were staying in touch with their head coach while he was spending a few days with his wife and family before returning for the home stretch of recruiting, two members of Kelly’s staff have told me they found out their bosses plans via Twitter, just like the rest of those waiting for news.

“This decision was motivated purely by my love for Notre Dame and the entire Fighting Irish community, the young men I have the great fortune to coach, and my desire to continue to build the best football program in the country,” Kelly continued in the statement. “We still have a lot of work to do and my staff and I are excited about the challenges ahead.”

Coming off a 12-1 season, there were rumors that Kelly’s name would be on the short list of NFL teams looking to fill their vacancies. And while nothing came out of the Irish athletic department throughout this quiet spell, Swarbrick said he was in communication with his head coach as well as the Eagles, who asked for permission to speak with Kelly.

“I was always confident that Brian would continue to lead our football program, I am very happy to have that confirmed and share Brian’s excitement about what lies ahead for our program,” Swarbrick said.

“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.”

That process was one of pure uncertainty, and a vacuum surrounding the athletic department led to a lot of guessing. As Swarbrick showed during his decision to fire Charlie Weis and the coaching search that led to the hiring of Kelly, the athletic department was leak-proof, a far cry from the group-think efforts of the past.

With Kelly returning to meet with the team on Monday, there’s work to be done for the head coach. First, he’ll have to address a staff that was largely kept in the dark these past five days. While many assumed this was a leverage play from the start, that didn’t keep staffers from worrying about finding new jobs when nearly every vacancy at the college level has been filled. Kelly will also have to get back to work closing out his recruiting class. Whether or not it was directly influenced by Kelly’s discussion with the Eagles, the Irish lost the commitment of touted linebacker Alex Anzalone during this period of uncertainty, a tough blow to the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, but one that gives the Irish another scholarship to work with in these final weeks.

Kelly is currently in Connecticut at the Walter Camp Awards, where he’s receiving the Coach of the Year award. He’ll return to South Bend and welcome five new early enrolling freshman as the semester starts Tuesday.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”