May 6, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
Putting the 2012 season into context will be easier the farther away it gets. Notre Dame’s unlikely run to the BCS Championship game is incredible for so many different reasons. Even if the end result was a one-sided Alabama victory, the fact that the Irish found themselves at the apex of the mountain is one of the most fascinating stories in sports.
It’s hard to look at a flagship program like Notre Dame and see an underdog story. Yet the fact that the Irish found themselves playing against Nick Saban’s Alabama program in college football’s final game, is wonderful validation for not just the head coach, but the university’s athletic mission.
At the Notre Dame club of Dallas luncheon last week, Brian Kelly spoke about last season and what it did for both the university and his football team. Our friends at Her Loyal Sons, and their editor-in-chief NDTex, did a tremendous job sharing Kelly’s thoughts.
Do yourself a favor and head over to HLS and read the whole thing, but this portion really struck me:
“2012 for Notre Dame Football was a great year. I like to call it ‘Faith Restored.’ There’s faith restored back into the principles that you can graduate all of your players and you can play the game of football the right way and you can do it to being number one in football on the field and number one in football off the field.
“That’s why I took the job at Notre Dame. I believe that you can do it. We saw that you can do it.
“Because all the things that you know about Notre Dame, they’re still occurring on a day to day basis. We haven’t changed our academic standards. We haven’t changed who we are and what our distinctions are…We can recruit young men, not having to apologize for who we are and what we stand for.
“As it relates to faith — everybody first thinks about religion, but I will tell you that there is more going on at Notre Dame than just going to church. There’s more going on because, when we talk about faith, and you can feel it when you are on campus, it’s about restoring faith in the human spirit. That faith that you can trust somebody and not be cynical or think that there’s an agenda. And that is an environment that’s energizing.
“So, just so you know, winning twelve games on the football field is still in lock-step with who we are in our identity at the University of Notre Dame and that’ll never change. I don’t want to be the football coach at Notre Dame that begins selling out on academics, taking kids that don’t want and understand the value of a Notre Dame degree. So when we’re in a home and we’re recruiting a young man, they’ve got to recognize those things.
“At Notre Dame, those principles will not change.”
For those that worry that Brian Kelly might not know what Notre Dame is about, this should answer any of those questions. Just as important, Kelly’s understanding that the marriage of winning and winning the right way is critical in this evolution.
Nobody wants to hear about Notre Dame being different and special if they lose five games a season. Teams like that belong in the Ivy or Patriot League. But the fact that Notre Dame was the first team in the modern era of college football to be both the No. 1 team on the field and the No. 1 team in Graduation Success Rate is a story that can’t be written about enough. And while it’s a lost cause to hope that this story gets even a fraction of the attention of a cat-fishing scam or a NFL job interview, that’s the world that we live in.
But whether it’s on the field, the recruiting trail, or in the NFL Draft, we’re seeing the process Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick laid out take shape. And while the football team has put 2012 in the rear-view mirror, it’s the kind of bedrock that restores a program.