The latest Take Five dives into Brian Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame as he approaches the moment he becomes the all-time winningest coach for the Fighting Irish.
1. Flashback to 2010, Kelly’s first year as the Notre Dame head football coach: Did you ever think we’d say Knute Rockne and Kelly in the same sentence? Nope. It was a rough start for Kelly, who was viewed as inexperienced in his first season. The leap from Cincinnati was too big a bridge to climb. Early on, Kelly wasn’t always “likable” as a coach. He could be dismissive and cranky at times. The more you win, though, the “better” your personality becomes. The turning point came in 2012 when Notre Dame was undefeated in the regular season. The Irish lost to Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series. Kelly did a total reboot after a disastrous 2016 season when ND finished 4-8. Kelly has loosened up. He has total control over the program. He has taken three teams to either a BCS game or the College Football Playoff. On Saturday, he can break Knute Rockne’s record for career wins. Kelly is 105-39 at Notre Dame. He’s come a long way.
2. Kelly gets it, though. He’s still not viewed as one of the all-time great coaches at Notre Dame. He hasn’t won a national championship. It’s the lens, fairly or unfairly, through which all Irish coaches are measured. Asked about his place in history at his press conference on Monday, Kelly said: “I can tell you exactly where I sit in Notre Dame history. The coach that won more games at Notre Dame that hasn’t won a national title. That’s where I’ll sit.”
3. On the one hand, Kelly seems comfortable with his legacy. He notes that Notre Dame football is “competing for national championships” and it is “relevant.”
4. On the other hand, Kelly, like any good coach, would like to end the narrative that he can’t win the title game.
“Each year, we’ve raised the bar and we continue to build to build toward that goal of winning the national championship,” he said. “I think we have steadily worked toward that consistency year in and year out. Other than that, everything is judged, and rightly so on winning a national championship. I have no problem with that. I knew that coming in.”
5. Kelly has endured at Notre Dame.
He has lasted over 11 seasons.
Rockne was there for 13 seasons. Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz, and Ara Parseghian coached for 11 years.
Eleven seems to be the magic number. Aside from Rockne, it’s when the good coaches seem to burn out or get asked to leave. His strength as a coach is his ability to adapt and embrace the unending challenges the job presents. He has changed the modern-day narrative at Notre Dame.
Namely, that the Irish will be able to win a national title ever again. It’s been 33 years since Notre Dame won a championship. They weren’t close under Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. And they weren’t that close in the last few years of Holtz’s tenure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly leaves without a title but there is a chance. Everything has to break right for ND to win a title. If you hang in there long enough, as Kelly has, it’s possible. It would be a fitting end for him if he were to finally get one. He has put in the work.
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