Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has been named college football’s coach of the year for the 2012 season. While there were many good candidates for the award this year, it is tough to argue that leading Notre Dame back to the national championship picture does not make Brian Kelly deserving of the award.
However, the discourse that has permeated discussions about Brian Kelly’s work and Notre Dame’s season do not accurately portray the talent on this Irish team. Although Notre Dame’s undefeated season has certainly been surprising, calling it a miracle year is more a product of the Irish’s underachievement in past seasons than overachievement in 2012.
Notre Dame fans need not be reminded of the painful and heartbreaking years that preceded this fall. Coach after coach entered South Bend with plans for success, glory and Notre Dame’s resurgence into the ever-debated “relevance” of college football. And one by one they left, having failed to deliver on their aspirations and to meet the school’s lofty expectations.
And then came Brian Kelly. After his first two seasons, Brian Kelly appeared to be even worse than his predecessors. While Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis provided a couple years of excitement and optimism before spiraling into mediocrity, Kelly came out of the gates at a level his predecessors took years to stoop to.
While some fans were quick to criticize the new coach, this year has proven that Kelly’s lackluster first two years were only growing pains on the way to greater things. But calling this wonderful season a miracle orchestrated by Kelly is simply ignorant.
Despite suffering through four-, five- and six-loss seasons, the Irish have not been short on talent. Since 2008 (the earliest recruiting class that included players still on the Irish roster in 2012), the lowest ranking a Notre Dame recruiting class has received from rivals.com is 21st. Yet the on-field performance simply did not measure up to those ratings.
Consider the productive NFL players who failed to accomplish anything close to this year’s success while at Notre Dame. For a couple years, Notre Dame’s offense took the field with Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph slicing through secondaries.
And the Irish defense was starting players like Robert Blanton and Sergio Brown. Although these players are already having productive careers in the NFL, this star-studded Notre Dame lineup failed to produce much of anything on the field.
But Notre Dame has broken through this year and is on the brink of the ultimate prize in college football. And because of the turnovers, poor special teams and awful performances of past Irish teams, many have been quick to label 2012 as an unbelievable season and name Brian Kelly a miracle worker.
This is simply not true. This Irish team is loaded with talent. While that is obviously very difficult for outsiders to recognize after Notre Dame’s struggles in recent years, devoted Irish fans know better.
They know that Manti Te’o has been playing phenomenally for years. They know that Notre Dame’s depth at the running back position is among the best in the nation. And they know that players like T.J. Jones and Kapron Lewis-Moore have enormous talent and are big-impact players, despite not receiving public accolades until this season.
So do not hesitate to throw praise toward Brian Kelly, who has put the pieces together, molded this Irish team into a national power and rightfully been named the coach of the year. But do not call his work miraculous. Notre Dame’s players have far too much talent for their accomplishments this season to be called a miracle.