The 2021 season certainly hasn't gone as expected for Notre Dame, or perhaps as hoped for, but despite the team's struggles the Irish are still 5-1, ranked 14th in the nation and still have a lot of great things to play for.
I'm not talking about playing for 2022 or building for the future, I'm talking about a lot of very important things to play for in 2021. That is why the focus should be on doing whatever it takes to improve this team for a stretch run and not on building for the future.
Creating The Right Culture - What kind of message would it send to the program if the coaches decided the 2021 season was no longer important enough to focus on? Building for future success require established the right culture in the present. This team clearly has flaws from a coaching, leadership and execution standpoint but it's also still a talented team that is capable of playing much better than it has up to this point.
The focus should be on doing what it takes to maximize the current roster, which means figuring out how to get the talent to play to its potential. Creating the right culture begins with the coaches looking in the mirror, realizing the media and fans aren't the reason this team has underachieved and changing course.
Great coaches are willing and able to look in the mirror, adjust on the fly, realize what they thought this team would do isn't what this team is best at, make the necessary adjustments and then implement those changes.
That kind of change, if sold properly, would create a great deal of buy in from the player because it would show them that the coaches are willing to hold themselves accountable for what they do, which then makes it much easier to create a culture of accountability, and makes it much easier to then demand excellent from the players.
Do this and this team will take off.
Fighting Through Adversity - Notre Dame's coaches must also show the importance of fighting through adversity, whether it is in-game or more big picture. Bail on the 2021 season and what message do you send your players? The wrong one, that's the message you send. As ridiculous as Brian Polian's tweet about this "gritty" team was, he is right about this team, it has shown a willingness to fight through adversity.
Whether it's battling back in the fourth quarter against Toledo and Virginia Tech, holding off Florida State's late rally or bouncing back from the loss to Cincinnati, this team has shown a lot character in this regards.
Start making mass changes for the purpose of building for 2022 and you lose that part of your culture.
Recruiting - Notre Dame has a Top 3 recruiting class in 2022 and 2023. Notre Dame absolutely must maintain and build on its 2022 class and continue building an elite 2023 class. The best way to do that, beyond continuing to be diligent in building those relationships, is to win and start winning in more impressive fashion.
Getting this team mentally, technically and assignment correct is a must, because doing so will allow this team to finally start getting close to its potential. Do that and the Irish will start dominating and will finish the season with a lot of momentum.
Huge Postseason Opportunities Still Exist - Notre Dame still has huge postseason opportunities. Whether it is the College Football Playoff or a New Year's Six Bowl, the Irish should keep pushing for one of those opportunities.
Is Notre Dame a playoff team right now? Absolutely not! But I do believe if this team starts to play to its potential, which means coaches making changes in their approach, doing a better job teaching and coaching and then the players performing better this team could still make a run.
Do you watch other college football teams? There isn't a single team in the country that to me could compete with last year's Alabama squad, the 2019 LSU team or the 2018 Clemson team. That's what makes Notre Dame underachieving this season so much so frustrating, this was a year a team like Notre Dame could have made a run.
There's still that opportunity. Notre Dame has a chance to continue to rise up the charts, and many of the teams ranked ahead of them still have games against each other and other top games.
Will that be enough to get to the playoff? I doubt it, but it's possible, and the players should still view that as something to achieve. More practically, getting to a New Year's Six Bowl would be huge for the program, and winning it would give the Irish the kind of signature win it has lacked under Kelly, who has yet to win a playoff game or a NY6 bowl game in his previous 11 seasons.
That's huge or this program, and nothing will help them better prepare for the 2022 season than making that kind of run and winning that kind of game.
Veterans Have Futures Too - It would be incredibly unfair to veterans who have put in four and five years into the program to bail on them for the future. Part of building for this season is continuing to allow the veterans who have earned their opportunities to play for their future as well as the current team goals.
I'm not talking about playing veterans just to play veterans. If a younger player outplays a veteran you play the younger player, because that gives you the best chance to win right now. But you don't make that move if the veteran is still the best guy right now.
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