The Athletic did its annual release of the Top 25 coaches in college football, and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was surprisingly ranked as the third best coach in college football by both Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman.
"In addition to making his second Playoff in three seasons last fall, Kelly won at least 10 games for the fifth time in six years. The Irish did that just twice in the 16 seasons prior to his arrival. Yes, his teams have been outclassed in the BCS/CFP by Alabama (twice) and Clemson, but no one farther down this list is beating those teams, either. In fact, the Irish in 2020 handed the Tigers their first regular-season loss in three years."
"No, he hasn’t led the Fighting Irish to a national title, but he’s produced a bunch of really good teams and elevated the program. Since a 4-8 clunker in 2016, he’s continued to evolve and coached the Irish to a 43-8 record."
This was quite a surprising selection, but one that will likely excite most Notre Dame fans. For me it was quite surprising to see Kelly ranked this high. I'll begin with Feldman's ranking. Kelly at No. 3 is far more reasonable than Penn State's James Franklin at No. 5 and Jimbo Fisher at No. 6. I'm not sure how you can justify having either ahead of Ryan Day (Ohio State) or even Ed Orgeron (in the case of Franklin), who at least has a national title.
The annual overrating of Franklin and Fisher continues to amaze me. At least Fisher has a national title and a playoff appearance under his belt.
I'm also confused how Feldman can place Kelly ahead of Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma. Yes, Kelly has been in the playoff two of the last three seasons, but so has Riley and Oklahoma. Riley has been to the playoff three times in four seasons, and his first two playoff teams were far more competitive than Notre Dame's two playoff appearances. Riley and Oklahoma took Georgia to overtime in 2017. Riley also has a win over Urban Meyer and Ohio State during that same period.
For me, both Day and Riley deserve to be ranked ahead of Kelly, who I would put in the No. 5 spot. Riley has more Top 10 finishes in four seasons than Kelly has in 11.
The challenge for me is ranking Kelly and Georgia coach Kirby Smart. Smart is 2-0 against Notre Dame, but when you consider how loaded his rosters have been I'd argue he's underachieved, which is why I would rank Kelly ahead of Smart, even though Smart has more wins in the last four seasons.
Looking at Mandel's ranking, he has Day No. 5, which is closer to making sense. I get that Day has only been at Ohio State for two seasons and he took over a loaded program, but he's already done some things that Meyer never did, which is beat Clemson. Day also already has more playoff victories than Kelly. Day is 23-2 the last two seasons, compared to Kelly's 21-4 record. His only two losses were in the playoff.
Here is a number I find important that shows why I think Kelly should be behind Riley and Day, but also why Franklin and Fisher are vastly, vastly overrated. It's the record against teams that finish in the Top 25:
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma - 13-5
Kirby Smart, Georgia - 11-8
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame - 10-8
Ryan Day, Ohio State - 8-2
James Franklin, Penn State - 6-10
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M - 4-12
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