Head Coach Brian Kelly got his 100th win of his career at Notre Dame on November 14, 2020 versus Boston College. There haven’t been too many “100” coaches at the University of Notre Dame. There were two previous to November 14th. Knute Rockne was the first, 105-12-5 in thirteen seasons with three National Titles. Lou Holtz was second with a record of 100-30-2 and one National Championship.
And then there’s this elite group that came up just short, but won six National Titles between them. Frank Leahy fell short with a 87-11-9 record and four National Titles. The great Ara Parseghian came up just short as well with a 95-17-4 record, and two National Titles.
The Early Years
Head Coach Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame on the heels of the worst losses in Notre Dame history. The UConn Huskies traveled to Notre Dame IN, on Senior Day and beat the Fightin’ Irish 33-30. I told a buddy of mine, “UConn needs to beat ND, to start the exodus of the Charlie Weis era.” I didn’t want to happen, but something had to give. Two weeks later, Weis was out and the announcement of new Head Coach Brian Kelly was announced on December 10, 2009.
The past eleven season have not been roses and unicorns for Coach Kelly. Every program has it’s ups and downs, as well as controversies that spring up from time to time. There is a perception that Notre Dame Football is always under the microscope, whether it be on or off the field. These past eleven years are an example of just that. The one thing that continues to elude Coach Kelly is the National Championship.
Welcome To Notre Dame
As with any new Head Coach coming into a new program, it’s difficult to implement a new system. There are players from the previous coach and the players you have may not be able to play in your style of football. Coach Kelly does not get his own recruiting class until 2011. The 2010 team was still a Charlie Weis roster. After beating Purdue 23-12 on opening day, three subsequent losses shortly followed. Losing to Michigan then Michigan State and Stanford in consecutive weeks. The biggest regular season that win was at USC. Beating their rival on the road in USC’s house. Coach Kelly also gets his first bowl victory in 2010 versus Miami in the Sun Bowl.
With his first recruiting class as Freshman, the the 2011 campaign started pretty rough as well. Dropping the season opener at home against USF, then going on the road to Michigan, the Irish start the season 0-2. USC avenges their loss at home the previous season and Stanford comes is and beats ND at home on Senior Day. The Irish do get another Bowl Bid, but this time they fall to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
2012 was a magical season for the Fightin’ Irish. One that stories were written about. Faith Restored by John Heisler is one of them. Having righted the wrongs of the past by beating MSU (away), Michigan the following week (home), Stanford (home), and USC (away) the Irish finish the season 12-0 for the first time under Head Coach Brian Kelly. With Freshman Everett Golston (QB), Manti Te’o (LB) (Heisman Trophy Finalist), Stephon Tuitt (DE), Mike Golic Jr (G), and Tyler Eifert (TE)John Mackey Award winner. The team earns a bid to the BCS Championship game against Alabama.
As a Head Coach there is only so much you can manage. There was off the field distractions that plagued the team. Te’o seemed to be catfished. The story followed him all season long. And the story seemed to follow him to the BCS Championship, in which he wasn’t the same player. The Irish only loss came at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The entire season would disappear from the record books in 2018 as academic misconduct charges were imposed by the NCAA against the football team.
There was a hangover from the loss to the Crimson Tide in the 2013 season. A tough loss to Michigan (away), Oklahoma (home), Pitt (away), and Stanford two weeks later (away) The Irish finish the season 8-4. The Fightin’ Irish accept a bowl bid to the Pinstripe Bowl and win against Rutgers.
The entire season would disappear once again from the record books in 2018 as academic misconduct charges were imposed by the NCAA against the football team.
The Fightin’ Irish start the season 6-0. Key wins in the streak included Michigan (home), and Stanford (home). Then the carpet was pulled from underneath the Irish. Starting with Arizona State (away), back to back losses at home against to Northwestern and Louisville, and then away against USC. With a bowl bid accepted to play LSU in the Music City Bowl, The Irish beat the Tigers on Dec 30th.
The Second Half
Coach Kelly once again rights the ship at Notre Dame. The Irish open the season once again with a 4-0 record. Wins against Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech and UMass, the Irish then travel to Clemson. The weather was just deplorable. Notre Dame had been down 21-3 at the half and and only allowed a FG for Clemson the second half. The Irish after scoring a TD late in the fourth quarter, fall short on a two-point conversion and fall 24-22. ND was ranked sixth at the time in the country.
The second heartbreaking loss of the season was against Stanford. A 38-36 loss to the Cardinal. Having had the lead, mental mistakes by Kizer saw the game slip away from the Irish. The Irish despite finishing 10-2 on the still get a bowl bid to the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl.
2016 is a year that the Fightin’ Irish wish they had back, but that doesn’t happen. The previous two seasons seem to culminate in the 2016 campaign. Confusion on defense, and defense. The season opening game against Texas was kinda the preface of what was about to come. A double OT loss to Texas showed a team that was not ready on defense. After losses to MSU and Duke at home, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was released the Sunday after the Duke loss.
The 2016 season would be the first time that the Fightin’ Irish didn’t reach the post season under Coach Kelly. Change was in the air at Notre Dame. And the change started at the top.
The 2017 needed to be the season of change. After the 4-8 previous season, there needed to be changes. The season opened with a win versus Temple at home. It was different though, it was a decisive win 49-16. Now, the Irish being Independent, as usual they need to play a very difficult schedule.
The second game of the season was a road trip to Georgia. Georgia brought it all that night. But the offensive line could not withstand the “beefy” defensive line of the Bulldogs. Four consecutive punts in the first half killed the Irish. But there was something different. There was no give up in the loss 20-19.
The other victories in the 2017/2018 season were mostly decisive as well. Ian Book gets his first official start at Wake Forest and did just great things. But once again as in some seasons in the past, noise was creeping into the locker room. This time it was a Josh Adams Heisman Trophy run. The season fall short as the Irish lose to Miami on the road 41-8, and a loss to Stanford on the road knocking them out of contention for a National Championship chance. They do receive a bowl bid to the Citrus Bowl and win on a Miles Boykin acrobatic catch for fifty five yards and TD. Change is continuing at Notre Dame.
2018 saw the winds of change continue. The changes included a transformation in Coach Kelly as well. This team had swagger and grit. The team leaders were all on the same page and each one of them sounded like Coach Kelly. This was one of those special seasons. 12-0! The team that had been 4-8 two seasons before came back to the top of the game. Starting off with a season opener against Michigan, It was also my first season in the press box.
The Irish played solid football throughout the season. No distractions, no academic issues, no confusion, it was a season of laser focus. Executing in all facets of the game, Offense, Defense, Special Teams and most importantly the mental aspect. Change had come full circle for this team and we discussed it in an article, “Has The Missing Element Been Found” published in November. Coach Kelly and his approach to being more involved was the key to the success this team is experiencing.
The season culminated in the invitation to the Cotton Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff in Arlington against none other than you guessed it Clemson. Though they team did not prevail, they now knew what they needed to do to get back to being the best. Sometimes losing is the best thing for a team.
Coming off the loss to Clemson ND did not have the loss hangover. Going 11-2 was a little different, After playing fairly strong football, something happened on the road to Michigan. There was something different about the team. An early season loss to the Bulldogs had not the deterred the Irish. But something about the Michigan game just didn’t seem right. Post game the players appeared robotic in their answers and not the same focused players of previous weeks. Because after Michigan the team has been completely different.
Decisive play on the Offense and Defense was the style of football going all the way through their bowl victory against Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl.
Record As Of November 22, 2020 8-0 (overall) 7-0 (ACC Conference)
Now for 2020. The season has been anything but normal. With the COVID 19 issue Coach Kelly has had some major challenges in front of him. No Spring Game, students sent home, a start and stop of the prep season and a stop in the season after after COVID 19 reared its ugly head on the team. This season has taken on a different definition of adversity.
Coach Kelly has brought in a new acronym into the season W.I.N. ,What’s Important Now, What’s Important Next. Seems to be having an impact on this team. Playing through the adversity, and still focusing on academics is no small feat, while prepping to play Clemson in the late part of the season. The win over Clemson was the win this team needed, but also having to continue to build mental strength to possibly play for an ACC Championship against Clemson.
After completely trashing a set schedule. Change in venues for football games, change in fans attending games, travel schedules and how the team interacts. Not to mention that the Offensive receiving players and Running Backs have completely changed. But Coach Kelly’s desire to bring ND back to greatness is yet on another journey. One to complete the season and two be the best team in college football.
The Wrap Up
Despite all the adversity Coach Kelly has faced, clearly winning is important to him. Winning sometimes also means that you need to look at the man in the mirror. Because ultimately winning falls in the hands of the leader. The players are onboard with Coach Kelly and his staff. You hear in their press conferences and their performance on the field. It has not been an easy road for Coach Kelly. In order to be, great you need to be a great leader, have a great support staff and the ability to show what greatness takes. Right now Coach Kelly has all of that going in the right direction, it just has to duplicated and executed week after week.
Congratulations Coach Kelly on the reaching the 100 win mark on a very difficult road traveled and continued success!
Cheers and Go Irish!☘🏈🌩