Was Brian Kelly the right hire for Notre Dame?
So that’s it. It’s all over.
No more rumors, no more speculation. No more Notre Dame is interested in so-and-so, no more declining of overtures.
Move over Charlie Weis, Brian Kelly is now the talk of Notre Dame Nation.
In what many felt was a foregone conclusion, Kelly accepted the Notre Dame head coaching job late last week, ending a coaching search that technically lasted less than two weeks. But we all know better.
Kelly was always the guy because a) none of the big-name coaches were ever really serious “candidates” and b) Notre Dame wanted to make the biggest splash possible—and going 12-0 at Cincinnati constitutes being the best candidate.
Now I have nothing against Kelly as a coach, and I’m not trying to take away anything he’s done in his impressive career.
I just don’t know if he was the right candidate for South Bend.
One thing I do know for sure, however, is that Saturdays will never be the same for me again. As a lifelong ND fan, I’m going to see a completely different brand of Notre Dame football. Maybe that’s a good thing, though. After all, anything would be better than finishing 6-6 despite having an explosive offense.
My biggest worry about the Kelly hire is that athletic director Jack Swarbrick didn’t undertake a lengthy enough coaching search, instead worrying more about grabbing the hot name with the “unstoppable” offensive system and less about bringing stability to the program.
I’m trying not to be pessimistic, but I’m not so sure Kelly’s spread offense is what was needed at ND. If you only saw one game in the Weis era, you know that with the exception of his refusal to run the football, offense was never the problem for Notre Dame football in its decline since the Lou Holtz era. A strong defense, however, has been the missing ingredient to sustained success in South Bend. Why should we believe that Kelly will make defense a priority? Will he be able to land an accomplished defensive coordinator to help overhaul that side of the ball? Keep in mind that TCU, Alabama and Texas boast the top three defenses in the nation. All three are undefeated. The lesson? Defense wins, even if it's ugly football.
Meanwhile, the Irish ranked 87th in the nation in total defense this season.
I know Kelly has a defensive background from his linebacking days at Assumption College and his days as assistant at Grand Valley State. But his formative and most successful seasons at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati were made possible by the success of his spread offense—a completely foreign system to Golden Domers.
Now maybe change and innovation in philosophy is exactly what Notre Dame needs at this time in its program. But is it Midwest enough?
Many bristle at the suggestion that Notre Dame is “blue collar.” But tuition and attitude aside, kids in the Midwest and across the country from all backgrounds grow up wanting to play in South Bend. While it’s true that the increased amount of games on cable in the last two decades has helped every program not named Notre Dame gain increased exposure, kids still consider Notre Dame a special place to play during the recruiting process. I also know plenty of families who make watching the games together on Saturday a priority. I have no doubt that we’ll see plenty of scoring under Kelly. But will the Irish be able to stop anyone?
In terms of recruiting in South Bend, how will Kelly manage the tougher academic requirements at the university? He never had to worry about such strict requirements at his previous coaching stops. But as we all know, every coach at ND has had to deal with the same high academic standards for his players. In addition, will Kelly be able to scout and recruit kids from across the country and not just the Midwest?
We’ve heard the media chatter that Kelly will bring the enthusiasm and brashness, energy and passion. Didn’t Weis have that? Oh yeah, his arrogance eventually rubbed people the wrong way.
Like everything else, winning cures everything. At the end of the day, that’s all Kelly will have to worry about, as his tenure will be judged only by wins and losses.
I’m not denying that Brian Kelly is a very good coach. I just don’t know if Kelly is the right coach for Notre Dame.
Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave.