Brian Kelly Is College Football's Fifth Best Coach

Bryan Driskell

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is the fifth best head coach in all of college football, so says the college football writers at CBS Sports.

"Think about the storied history of Notre Dame football. You know the names of Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz, but did you realize how close Kelly was to having more wins with the Irish than any of them? Now, officially, he's not close. The NCAA vacated Notre Dame's wins in 2012 and 2013, but in the world where we don't pretend those games didn't happen, and that Notre Dame didn't win them, Kelly has 92 wins in South Bend. That's 13 fewer than Rockne's 105, which means there's a good chance Kelly will pass Rockne during the 2021 season. He took over a program that found itself on the brink of becoming a historical relic and has restored the shine to the golden dome."

Kelly is up two spots after last season's 11-2 finish. Notre Dame is 33-6 over the last three seasons.

Three of the four coaches ahead of Kelly have won national titles. Kelly ranked ahead of Georgia's Kirby Smart, who has led the Bulldogs to a 36-7 record over the last three seasons. Of course, Smart and Georgia handed Notre Dame two of its six losses in the last three seasons.

The Case For Kelly:

Kelly inherited a dramatically different program than the other all-time greats. Rockne took over a Notre Dame program that was in its infancy stage, but the Irish were 34-5-1 in the five years prior to his arrival.

Holtz took over a Notre Dame program that was trending down, but the Irish were still less than a decade removed from its last national title.

Kelly took over a program that hadn't won a national title in over 20 years. Only Parseghian (14 years) can really match that.

What adds to Kelly's value as a coach is not just his success at Notre Dame, but it's what he did at previous stops. Kelly has also not only had success on the field at Notre Dame, he's also had a key role in bringing Notre Dame into the modern world of college football from a facilities standpoint as well.

The Case Against Kelly:

Kelly being close to Holtz, Parseghian and Rockne in career wins isn't the best argument for Kelly. None of those coaches had seasons in which they consistently coached 13 games in a season.

Kelly has coached in six more games than Rockne but trails him by 13 wins. He's coached in 12 more games than Parseghian but has three fewer wins. Holtz leads Kelly by eight wins but coached in just four more games.

Rockne (.881), Parseghian (.836) and Holtz (.765) all have significantly higher win percentages than Kelly (.719).

There is another thing those three coaches have in common that Kelly does not, and that is a national championship. I'm not as familiar with the strength of schedule of Rockne and Parseghian, but Holtz's Notre Dame squads played a significantly tougher schedule than did Kelly's.

So Notre Dame fans, what say you? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Comments (37)
No. 1-5

I believe that Kelly is the 5th most accomplished coach in college football. However, I do not believe that means that he's the 5th best coach in college football. Now, if he finishes the job, and wins a Natty within the next 3 years, the I will absolutely say he is firmly within the top 3-5 coaches in the sport.


Just to spin this another way.. curious to get the boards thoughts, and I’ll answer myself once I’m thinking more clearly (had surgery this morning)... if you’re running ND, and can have ANY coach in America, how many would you take over Kelly the next 3 years? If it’s more than 4 it’s hard to argue he’s in your top 5... and for me, it’s more than 4...


I dont think you can put him in the top 5. His resume as head coach at Notre Dame isnt good enough to put him up that high IMO but he is definitely in the top 10.

There are two reasons why I cant put him in the top 5.

The first is his win loss record in big games especially big road games. In a lot of those big games we dont just lose to our opponent we get rolled. Getting thumped in big games has become a trend for Notre Dame and we saw the playoff committee hold that against us last season despite winning out and teams in front of us losing.

I also think he comes up very short in recruiting as head coach. I dont think Kelly holds his assistants accountable as recruiters. How can you hold your assistants accountable in recruiting when you dont set the example of whats expected? Kelly wants to sit back and be a closer and not put in the dirty work and that's not working. Its failing miserably at the moment actually. I know he has a lot on his plate as head coach at Notre Dame but where Notre Dame is right now as a program in recruiting isnt good enough. You see other premier head coaches really deliver as recruiters. They get in the trenches with their assistants and put in the work. I also didn't agree with the Chip Long firing and I didn't agree with how he handled the OC search. Losing Chip Long has really set this program back in a huge way. You cant lose your best recruiter and not have a plan in place to replace him. If Chip Long was still here Will Shipley would be Irish and I highly doubt Colzie would have left and I dont think we lose a elite OL to a struggling West Va program.


I believe that BK has improved the football program especially when you consider that Davie,Willingham,and Weis were in over their heads.However to be compared to Ara,Devine,Lou,Leahy,and Rockne a national championship is a requirement.


Kelly is a very good coach and he has helped bring the program back to a level that can compete for National Championships. I still have my doubts if Notre Dame can win a championship with him as the coach. Letting assistant coaches stay who failed to recruit not developed talent, and him not being a dog on the recruiting trail are three big reasons. I am curious how Kelly would do a Blueblood school without the academic restrictions of Notre Dame.